The business corridor at Madison and Pulaski in the West Garfield Park neighborhood on April 29, 2021.(Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago)

The Garfield Park Community Council, Garfield Park Rite to Wellness collaborative are working with the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) Chicago to develop the first-ever West Garfield Park Quality of Life Plan.

Since the late 1990s, LISC has been working with community organizations throughout Chicago – including in Austin, East Garfield Park and North Lawndale – to figure out the best way to address local needs and priorities. This year, LISC looked at the applicants that were previously rejected, which is how Rite to Wellness, which applied to get help with a West Garfield Park plan in 2021, got a second shot.

The planning process has an ambitious timeline – the groups plan to release the first draft of the plan this fall. But officials from organizations argued that their groups and many other organizations in West Garfield Park had already done plenty of planning – it’s just the question of bringing it all together, figuring out the priorities they agreed on and getting more public input to flesh it out.

LISC’s website describes Quality of Life plans as “visions for a community’s future created and owned by the community [that] have served as a guide for investments and actions.” In every case, it teams up with a “lead agency” – usually a community organization – and brings other organizations on board. LISC previously teamed up with Garfield Park’s community council in 2005 to develop the East Garfield Park Quality of Life Plan. More recently, it worked with the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council and the Austin Coming Together coalition to develop the second North Lawndale plan and the first-ever Austin plan, respectively.

The Garfield Park Rite to Wellness Collaborative was established by a group of West Side nonprofits, including the community council, “to identify, promote and implement strategies to increase health and wellness” for East and West Garfield Park – though much of their efforts have been focused on the latter.

La Shone Kelly, who currently serves as Rite to Wellness’ interim executive director, said her organization and the community council applied for the Quality of Life Plan assistance in 2021. When they weren’t accepted in that year’s cohort, they were determined to do some kind of plan, since West Garfield Park’s needs were simply too great. The collaborative developed the Sankofa Village plan, which sought to revitalize the neighborhood’s long-struggling Madison/Pulaski corridor with a combination of healthcare, business development, nutritional and recreational amenities. But Kelly said they were still interested in doing something more comprehensive.

“This year, to our delight, LISC did a different type of program,” she said. “They went through applications [from organizations] that already applied and began selecting applicants in line with what LISC was interested in supporting.”

Jake Ament, who heads the corporation’s neighborhood programs, said it was looking for communities where there is already “momentum” towards the plan and to build off the planning efforts that are already there.

Lauren Lewis, who is heading LISC’s West Garfield Park planning, said the feedback the organization got over the years was that the planning process didn’t involve local youth from the beginning to end.

“So, the mission here, is to make sure that the youth are present in the room and at the table, in the [planning process], all throughout,” she said.

Lewis also said the planning process “is not in the silo” — they will be working together with organizations in North Lawndale and Austin, and while the plan will focus on West Garfield Park, it won’t necessarily be bound by the neighborhood borders.

She and Ament said the plan will include some concrete actions the organizations can take in the near term, so the plan doesn’t end up gathering dust.

LISC announced this year’s selections, which also include plan updates for Belmont-Cragin and Little Village, on May 8. While the community council and Rite to Wellness are leading the planning process, they brought on board a whole slew of institutions and organizations that are either West Garfield Park-based or have significant presence in the neighborhood. Many of them, such as MAAFA Redemption Project and West Side United, are members of the collaborative.

Marshall Hatch, Jr., MAAFA executive director, said he appreciated the bottom-up approach LISC was taking with the Quality of Life plan.

“It’s not often that it happens,” he said. “Usually, you have organizations parachuting in and [saying] this is the way it’s going to be. It has a paternalistic aspect.”

The planning process is currently in the early input-gathering stages. The group is tentatively planning two in-person meetings and one virtual meeting for stakeholders, and discussing a “community tour” in July, but no firm details have been set.

Angela Taylor, the community council’s wellness coordinator, who is involved in planning community meetings and outreach for the plan, said they will be doing some early in-person outreach during the June 6 end of the school year event at East Garfield Park’s Beidler Elementary School, 3151 W. Walnut St.

Kelly said it was very important for them to reach as many people as possible and give them a chance to weigh in.

“We’re using all the tools in the bag — knocking door to door, using our partners in network [to get the word out], going to schools, faith-based groups, businesses,” she said. “We’re not leaving any stones unturned. So, if we miss someone and they don’t hear from us, it would not be for the lack of effort.”

Kelly added they also plan to use the Citizen Space phone application to engage with residents and gather their ideas.

Taylor said she doesn’t expect the planning process to take too long because thinking of ways to improve the quality of life in the community is a daily reality for them, and their organizations have already been thinking of strategies.

Kelly agreed, comparing the process to bringing together “pieces of the puzzle, so we can have a Mona Lisa at the end of the day.”

“You got the 10 to 15 heaviest hitters in West Garfield Park [and] East Garfield Park stepping out of their silos,” she said. “We’ve been imagining it for a long time, but we’ve been doing it in our own little corners.”

To sign up for the latest updates on the West Garfield Park Quality of Life Plan, visit

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...