Something good in the Austin neighborhood
Too many times the articles that come out of our community are the ones filled with doom and gloom. The stories are generally about how something went wrong or about how someone has done somebody wrong, but the story that I am about to tell you is one of success — success in the face of all odds and of victory through hard work. This story is also about how when we as a community work together we can achieve greatness for us all.
I had the pleasure last week to be invited to the grand opening of the new expansion of Betty’s Daycare Academy located in the 5700 block of Chicago Avenue. I was so excited to see the fruits of the labor of longtime Austin residents, the Hughes family. For those of you who can remember, just a few years ago, the 5700 block of Chicago Avenue had fallen on hard times and the most notable business was the Salvation Army store located on the southwest corner of Chicago Avenue and Parkside. At one time there had been a record shop, but it had long since been vacated and then there was old Mr. Hunt’s “everything” shop. I remember buying my first stove from Hunt way back in the day. After Hunt passed away, those properties fell on hard times.
In steps Betty Hughes, a soft spoken woman of faith. Where others saw a vacant and unusable building which some say should have been torn down, Hughes had a vision of hope and restoration. For ten years Hughes had run her daycare from her house, but it was evident to her very early that she would outgrow her home because more and more parents began telling their friends about the excellent child care they had found. Hughes began the task of looking for a commercial location. With the help of Ford Desired Realty and now state Representative LaShawn Ford, she was able to purchase and totally rehab the old record shop at 5725 W. Chicago Ave.
Ms. Hughes opened her daycare in this location and was able to operate there for four years.
Hughes told me that God gave her a vision of kids playing in the property next door which was then owned by Hunt. So she went to Hunt, while he was still living, and told him of her vision. She told him that he may as well sell it to her because it was already hers, he just was occupying the location. Hunt began to negotiate the sale of the property, but shortly thereafter, he fell ill and made some bad business decisions about what to do with the building.
The City of Chicago wanted to demolish the properties. Hughes then called the Austin African American Business Networking Association (AAABNA) and asked if there was anything that they could do to help save the property. AAABNA called Rev. Lewis Flowers who was down the street at the Westside Ministers Coalition (WMC) and together they sprung into action, gathering support from local business owners via a petition to the court to stay the demolition of the property.
They also wrote personal letters to the judge about the need to halt the demolition of other properties in business districts. AAABNA and WMC got the state’s attorney’s community justice office involved. Through their link with the Troubled Building Department the state’s attorney began to follow the building case and advocate for a stay of demolition.
While many were working to save the property on Chicago Avenue, Hughes was encouraged to go speak with the new alderman in her ward, Deborah Graham. Ald. Graham said that this was a personal project and she would get right on it. With everyone working together, the City of Chicago decided to stay they demolition and Hunt’s estate also decided to quit-claim the property to Hughes. That alone would be enough to celebrate, but then Hughes got word about the Small Business Improvement Fund Grant (SBIF), a pool of money for business improvement.
Hughes applied for the available funds and was approved. Her application was later disapproved on a technicality. But Ald. Graham helped to clear the way for Hughes to receive the funds.
So now when you drive through the 5700 block of West Chicago Avenue, and the brightly colored windows of Betty’s Day Care Academy catch your eye (courtesy of Corbin, the sign man) you can feel a sense of community pride.
Malcolm Crawford is executive director of the AAABNA
CONTACT: 773-626-4497; firstname.lastname@example.org