West Side Bridge held their monthly networking meeting on Thursday, January 15, 2015 from 7:30am to 9:00am at the new Community Room at Wednesday Journal Publications in Oak Park. Community members and professionals from Chicago and many surrounding suburbs attended the gathering.

The main topic of discussion was services for ex-offenders. Chicago has a very high rate of prisoners being released then ending up back in prison, so group members talked about how to help end that cycle. One new member, Mica Battle, the Executive Director of Bridge to Freedom, explained how her organization provides programs to help ex-offenders integrate into society. Another member mentioned Sweet Beginnings, a subsidiary of the North Lawndale Employment Network that offers full-time transitional jobs for formerly incarcerated individuals and others with significant barriers to employment in a green industry – the production and sales of all-natural skin care products featuring urban honey cultivated at their Chicago location.

Several partnerships were initiated at this meeting. For example, several members expressed interest in hosting or participating in some of the workshops and classes offered by Industrious Anarchy, a group that engages with communities interested in learning the processes of creating socially and environmentally sustainable textiles. They offer events that revolve around skill sharing, sustainable resourcing, and social implications of cloth. Members were also eager to help The Monroe Foundation share the news of its services that include free Credit Score workshops. Other organizations that were mentioned included the Community Justice Center, Bethel New Life and their many classes available to the community, and the Austin Manufacturing Training Center at Austin Polytechnical Academy that offers programs for both high school students and adults.

West Side Bridge is part of the Austin Weekly News’ West Side Business Network, a collection of networking groups whose mission is to facilitate connections across either side of Austin Boulevard. The Network is free to join and includes many benefits, like the chance to include a flyer in the Weekly Update email to the group. Email Alicia at alicia@oakpark.com to join.