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.
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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On the corner of 47th and Greenwood stands a striking combination of modern and classical architecture, a white stone arts studio with large bay windows welcoming community artists. Founded by Monica Haslip—one of Chicago Magazine’s 2004 Chicagoans of the Year and recipient of the White House’s Youth Violence Prevention “Champions of Change” Award—the Little Black Pearl Workshop offers young people a diverse program curriculum that includes music, ceramics, drawing and painting, and glass-blowing classes. In the Network Café, a vibrant mural overlooks teenagers learning to create, display, and collaborate on digital and multimedia art, and the instructors foster ambitions with an emphasis on the “business of art.”
Besides teaching valuable artistic skills, the workshop’s classes place high value on community-building. The ongoing Collateral Damage project honors Chicago students lost to senseless violence, and the environment encourages peaceful, healthy interactions. By providing a safe place for personal expression and cooperative creation, the Little Black Pearl Workshop helps youth of all ages build lifelong friendships and lasting neighborly bonds.
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.
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.
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.
With the vision that empowered, confident girls will become independent women who can support themselves, their families, and their communities, GirlForward mentors and supports adolescent refugee girls in Chicago. Individual mentorship and educational programs—such as Camp GirlForward, a summer program that includes English, math, and computer-skills instruction—help foster confidence among participating girls and provide them with a supportive community.