On June 7 about 200 children from Howe School of Excellence, 720 N. Lorel Ave., stepped outside their school’s doors to find an array of fun activities on the street.
It was a block party organized by community partners who brought games, fun, music and food to celebrate their last day of school.
The event was funded through a city of Chicago PlayStreets grant, distributed to Austin Youth Travel Adventures by local nonprofit BUILD Chicago. PlayStreets grants are provided to community-based organizations and city blocks to host pop-up events on streets in the West and South sides of Chicago where youth and families can be physically active, learn and have fun.
Crystal Dyer, president of Chicago Austin Youth Travel Adventures, worked with notable community partners including Austin Coming Together, Antidote, BUILD and the 15th Chicago Police District CAPS office to organize the event. Over the summer, her organization will host five more activations in Austin in partnership with the 11th and 15th police district’s CAPS offices. This partnership is an example of an ongoing collaboration between the police department and community organizations to reduce violence in Austin.
The event was announced at the 15th District faith-based meeting held on June 6, among many other events and initiatives. This monthly meeting is an opportunity for faith leaders and community members to share valuable information and resources with the community. Many of these events are organized by or supported by the 15th District community policing office. The 15th District’s top leader, Cmdr. Andre Parham is also in support of these efforts.
“In the 15th District, we all work together,” Parham told approximately 40 attendees at the faith-based meeting. Parham said the police department continuously works with community leaders to address many of the community’s needs and bring resources to prevent violence.
Steve Epting, pastor of Hope Community Church, shared an opportunity for faith leaders and caregivers of older adults to participate in a free online faith-based training program by Boston University. This course teaches participants to understand and identify the mental health needs of older adults, a population that many faith leaders in the Austin area serve.
“If there is one thing we all have in common is we’re getting older,” Epting said as he urged faith leaders at the meeting and community members to participate so they can use that knowledge to support seniors in their congregations and families.
Youth programming was also heavily discussed at the faith-based meeting, with faith leaders and community members urging everyone to engage with youth.
Chris Thomas, founder and CEO of YourPassion1st and Tina Augustus, co-founder of the Chicago West Side Chamber of Commerce, shared key findings on youth needs. Thomas and Augustus are part of the 15th District’s youth committee, which surveyed 212 young adults in Austin to understand their needs, concerns and motivations.
The surveyed youth said one of their main motivations is spending time with their family and friends, they want help to increase their confidence and they want to see less violence in their community.
“We’re taking this data to craft events for youth,” Thomas said. On July 29, more than two dozen community and public organizations, including YourPassion1st, Chicago Westside Sports, SLAM, BUILD Chicago, Project Exploration, the 15th Chicago Police CAPS, Illinois Department of Human Services, Chicago West Side Chamber of Commerce, will host a youth empowerment music festival at Columbus Park.
Thomas said all quantitative and qualitative data is being analyzed by the youth committee and will be presented to the faith-based committee later this summer so they can use it to create “meaningful experiences” to engage youth.
Dorin “Pastor Mac” McIntyre of Mount Olivet Missionary Baptist Church said the yearly violence prevention campaign 100 Blocks/100 Churches will return this summer. In 100 Blocks/100 Churches, faith leaders and community members occupy spaces identified to have high violence or crime levels, known as hot spots, on recurring dates and times. They come together to unite for peace, engage with people who are in the area and oftentimes, bring information and valuable resources to share.
Earlier in May, the faith-based committee hosted two training sessions where representatives from approximately 42 organizations learned to safely engage with people on the streets and connect with community members.
Other events prepared for residents and youth this summer include job fairs, mental health events and youth-focused festivals. For more information, residents can contact the 15th District CAPS office at CAPS015District@chicagopolice.org or call 312-743-1440.