Faith-based community organization Bethel New Life released its latest report examining the state of Austin and other West Side communities on Tuesday, which also coincided with an announcement of a grant Bethel has received from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Bethel’s Key Indicators Report, the fifth one the organization has released in the last 20 years, analyzes the West Side socially and economically.

At a Tuesday morning press conference at the Garfield Park Conservatory’s Golden Dome, 100 N. Central Park Ave, Bethel representatives announced both the report and that they have received a Justice Department grant for a “Weed & Seed” initiative to address some of the issues presented in the report.

The report itself presents a statistical synopsis of where communities, such as Austin and East and West Garfield Park, rank in terms of housing, education, employment and quality of life issues, compared to the city as a whole.

“The [report] allows us all to read from the same playbook,” said Bethel New Life CEO Steven McCullough. “It provides a tangible way for everyone committed to sustainable development for the residents of the West Side to measure the impact of their own programs on the same scale.”

Among the report’s findings:

In 2005, West Side residents spend on average 61 percent of their income on housing even though Chicagoans overall pay only 47 percent.

In 2005, 38 percent of third-grade children were reading at grade level compared to 55 percent of Chicago students.

In 2005, 51 percent of high school students on Chicago’s West Side graduated from high school compared to nearly 60 percent in Chicago.

Using the information provided within this data, McCullough said Bethel plans to address many of those issues using the federal grant.

“Weed & Seed” is a Justice Department strategy to transform high-crime areas into safer havens for educational programs and business growth.

Bethel will use a part of the $1 million grant -which will be awarded over a five-year period – to fund the “weeding”, or identifying, of high-crime areas, and allocating manpower to neutralize them, as well as curbing the problem of student truancy.

This, McCullough said, would be followed by “seeding” or putting programs into place to positively impact job growth, beautification, and home ownership.

This will also start with after school and treatment programs for those who need them.

Bethel New Life will also work with the 11th District Police to impart the plan.

“We were immediately interested when Bethel came to us to be a partner because we want to support the community, and felt the ‘Weed & Seed’ would have an immediate effect on the parts of the West Side that needed it,” said 11th Dist. Cmdr. James Jackson.

Jackson added that Bethel members, the 11th District police and Chicago Public Schools members are forming a steering committee to discuss the most practical ways to impart initiatives throughout the community.

Among the confirmed committee members already confirmed is Bethel Senior Director Mildred Wiley, and James Deanes, CPS director of attendance and truancy.

Deanes referenced two West Side natives who went on to become high-ranking CPS officials when speaking about the elevated rate of truancy within West Side schools.

“Current CPS Board President Rufus Williams, and former Board President Michael Scott, both grew up mere blocks from where this press conference is taking place right now,” said Deanes. “They went on to lead the third largest school district in the country.

“Their commitment to the students of the West Side allowed them to make great strides in helping open new schools and start programs for the community,” added Deanes. “We are seeking to do similar things through the ‘Weed & Seed'”.

For more information on the Key Indicators Report and the Steering Committee, contact Marcia Turner from the Bethel New Life at 773/473-7870 or visit