Cleanslate’s Ward by Ward initiative has been in effect within the 29th Ward for less than a year, but it has already accumulated a fan base. The organization is a subsidiary program of Cara, a nonprofit founded in 1991 by entrepreneur Tom Owens. 

Cleanslate works with residents who have trouble getting permanent jobs, hiring them to work in a cleaning crew while helping them find more permanent employment. The program also teaches participants skills that will allow them to not only keep those jobs, but to keep going up the career ladder.

With the Ward by Ward initiative, Cleanslate uses its crews to clean up streets in the selected wards for three years. According to a quarterly report posted on Ald. Chris Taliaferro’s (29th) Facebook page, the crews collected over 560 bags worth of trash and 306 bags worth of recyclable waste, emptied 291 trash receptacles and removed 281 signs. 

Cleanslate managing director Brady Gott said that the program has garnered praise from residents and businesses throughout the 29th Ward. So far, local businesses have been able to hire nine local residents for the cleaning crew, and with the help of Taliaferro, two Cleanslate participates were able to land permanent, better-paying jobs at the Neslie plant in Galewood.

Cleanslate’s Ward by Ward initiative was originally launched in August 2017 in the 27th Ward. It expanded to the 29th ward in May. The expansion was the result of $300,000 in private donations from 12 local entrepreneurs. 

Gott said that the crews are made up of one supervisor and five workers. Each crew member works three days a week. On the days they don’t work, they get job placement support from Cara, learning how to put together resumes and taking workshops on networking and leadership skills and other skills that will come in handy. Ideally, Gott said, Cleanslate wants to place them on permanent jobs within four months.

The idea, he explained, was to keep providing job opportunities and helping more and more people get permanent jobs. Gott noted that they hire for the clean-up crews year-round — the trash happens no matter the weather or the season, and, during winter, the crews shovel sidewalks and bus stops.

“The good thing about [the program is that it] will provide ongoing, constant employment,” he said. “It keeps people working year-round and it’s the kind of thing people need to sustain their families.”

The crews are currently focusing on major corridors in 29th Ward portions of Austin and Galewood, including Central Avenue, North Avenue, Madison Street, Chicago Avenue, Roosevelt Road, Division Street and Lake Street. 

“It creates a sense of community pride,” Gott said. “Our streets are cleaner, we have this crew out there doing something positive; they are our extra eyes on the street, so it creates positive vibes for residents and business community.”


Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...