On April 29, the Chicago Police Department’s 15th District hosted a Block Club and Community Resource Fair at Michele Clark Academic Prep Magnet High School, 5101 W. Harrison St.

The fair helped provide community residents with resources to build bridges with police officers and neighbors. The event featured information on how to create and maintain viable community block clubs along with over a dozen vendors who passed out information on a wide array of resources.

Dwayne Betts, the 15th District commander, said he recognized that some individuals were interested in learning more about block clubs, so the police designated a room at the event where people could get instructions on starting the clubs.

He said there will be follow-up efforts to help citizens continue with the progress made at the event and suggested that block clubs can “help decrease some of this violence”. The district has partnerships with community organizations like the Westside Health Authority and BUILD Chicago, Betts said.

Tonya Collins, a 15th District CAPS officer, echoed Betts’ sentiments and stressed the importance of trust-building and partnerships between the police department and community.

She said the goal of the fair was to give local residents information and resources regarding health, jobs and mental health awareness. She praised Michele Clark for being a “tremendous help” to 15th District within the Austin neighborhood.

“Michele Clark has been a building block for the past year as we host events here,” said Collins. “This is a central location for the residents here at Austin to be a part of the event and also a part of the Chicago Public School system as well.”

Carmen Mahon, project manager at Michele Clark, said their first event with the 15th District was a back-to-school event which attempted to bridge the gap between police and students. She called the officers from the 15th District “rock stars” for conducting two panel discussions around police and student relationships, and for their time volunteering and serving as mentors.

“With our new administration, we’ve really tried to reach out to the community to make sure that our students are taking advantage of the resources here, but also that this is more of a welcoming environment for the community,” said Mahon.

“This particular piece is to strengthen block clubs,” she added. “Community members can take back their blocks and students can understand that they are a part of the larger community. It’s not just Michele Clark, it’s not just Austin. We’re unified.”

Linda Toles, an outreach worker with the Westside Health Authority’s Good Neighbors Campaign initiative, was at the fair to offer suggestions to visitors on how they could form their own block clubs.

“One of our goals is to connect neighbors with neighbors and connect block clubs so that one block at a time we can take back our community,” she said.