In a vacant lot in Roseland, 10 teenagers are hammering, drilling, and sawing two-by-fours. Their goal: to build a playground for their neighbors. As explained in an article in the Chicago Tribune, these young women are participants in Demoiselle 2 Femme’s STEM projects. As part of the program, they designed and built a playground squished between two storefronts to help provide a safe place for kids in the community to play, while putting the engineering principles they had learned through the program into action. These design projects are representative of Demoiselle 2 Femme’s larger goal for its participants, reflected in its French name–to turn “young ladies to women.”
Though Demoiselle 2 Femme’s founders started only with a few volunteer mentors in a local church, Sherida Morrison and Romanetha Looper envisioned a comprehensive program that would lead girls along the path from childhood to adulthood. Today, the founders and their group of coordinators work with numerous adolescent girls to help them think systematically and make productive life decisions. Their programs focus on the problems and challenges that girls can face in society, ranging from the prevalence of drugs and STDs to nutrition and family connectedness. An after school program provides weekly workshops on life skills and interpersonal relationships, project hopeful trains participants in financial literacy, and the Femme 2 STEM program empowers girls to pursue science, technology, engineering, and math through community transformation workshops.
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Toy Box Connection aims to help all children receive the gift of a toy or a book year-round, serving as the connection between the families and businesses that donate these items and the children who need them. After accepting new and gently used toys, Toy Box Connection sorts and cleans them at its warehouse, then redistributes the toys and books to its partner nonprofit organizations. From there, the items are given directly to the children in need. Special projects include donating toys to children in the hospital, families of returning troops, and children in special needs or foster camps.
The Greater Chicago Food Depository strives to end hunger in Chicago communities by distributing food through a network of 650 pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters. Volunteers and employees inspect, sort, and repackage all donated food to ensure safety, and distribute the food every weekday to its member agencies. Along with community kitchens and food pantries, the organization organizes children's programs and partners with Chicago Public Schools to distribute fresh produce and other nutritious food at food pantries located in schools. Last year, the food depository distributed 64 million pounds of nonperishables, fresh produce, daily products, and meat—the equivalent of 134,800 meals each day to people in need in Cook County.
Through its fix-to-own program, Chicago Velo Campus partners with local schools such as Epic Academy to host a six-week program where youth can gain new skills in bike mechanics. Classes meet twice weekly, and Chicago Velo Campus supplies all the necessary materials for students to bring previously used bicycles back to life. Participants keep their finished bikes after the program, providing them with a safe and efficient means of transportation to school or work.
The Teen Center is a fresh, new program that offers students a semistructured setting in which to engage the arts, establish new friendships, and bolster a stronger school community. Supporters have secured a dedicated space, time, and a staff person for the endeavor, but budget constraints prevent purchasing the resources and equipment necessary to strengthen the program. Among its needs are visual art supplies and music materials, technological resources, and resources for community-building activities.
In August of 2003 more than 75 residents and community leaders from the North Kenwood, Oakland, Douglas, and Grand Boulevard neighborhoods of Chicago came together to discuss the current state of their communities and devise methods for improvement. That marked the formation of the Quad Communities Development Corporation (QCDC), and today the team of individuals strives to bring together residents, local organizations, businesses, and government institutions to make the North Kenwood, Oakland, Grand Boulevard, and Douglas neighborhoods more sustainable, healthy, and economically diverse.
As the lead agency for the New Communities Program, QCDC worked with more than 400 community residents and stakeholders to establish a 10-year quality-of-life plan. In addition to guiding the implementation of this plan, the organization continues to focus on economic development, education, and employment services throughout communities. These three targets have led to initiatives such as the Bronzeville Community Market, academic-based support for low-income students, and life-skills and job-placement services.
Will Allen has worn many hats in his lifetime. The son of a sharecropper, he founded his urban farming foundation Growing Power in 1993 after a brief career in professional basketball, going on to earn a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and a spot on Time magazine's Top 100 of 2010 list. From Milwaukee to Chicago, his city farms thrive, tended by a volunteer team of all ages who gain the all-too-uncommon satisfaction of knowing the "who, when, where, and how" of their vegetables’ origins. Besides providing the seeds, tools, and educational resources to green the thumbs of any willing student, the farms also foster community bonds by filling the pantries of select local restaurants and locavore squirrels.