WHEN THINGS WENT OFF COURSE FOR THE BETTER
Intentionally written in the first-person.
I moved to Albany Park in June 2016 and signed a one-year lease. With graduate school applications filling my spare time, I only imagined spending a year in Albany Park. By Fall 2017, I expected to be buying text books again.
Later that summer, 2nd Story, where I worked as the Managing Director, established plans to move to Albany Park and occupy one of the storefront spaces at Lawrence Ave. and Sacramento Ave. Albany Park embodied 2nd Story's Core Values of Craft, Courage, and Inclusion. Many of 2nd Story's company members lived in Albany Park and we spent months cultivating authentic relationships with community stakeholders. It was the perfect location for 2nd Story's move from a tucked-away office to a beautiful storefront. Even still, my residency in Albany Park felt temporary.
Then, November 2016 happened, and my world shifted and all future plans changed.
I decided to pause all graduate school plans and double down on my commitment to education and community building. All of my energy and spare time was re-focused to serve my community the best way I know how: by listening first and doing second.
Below is a timeline of what I have been up to since January 2017, organized by my most recent activities.
On Friday, October 12, I was invited by Ingenuity, Inc. to speak at their panel on giving folks the tools and tactics to be better advocates for the arts. It was an incredible day spent with local and national leaders in the world of arts education. My talk focused on the #FiveFastFacts campaign (described in detail below).
Canoe & Clean
On Saturday, September 29, Erin and I participated in Canoe & Clean, an on-the-river clean-up initiative hosted by the 33rd Ward Office of Alderman Mell. It was an incredible event, and the Friends of the Chicago River are doing incredible things to improve the health of the Chicago River. Over the course of three hours, we pulled out trash of all shapes and sizes out of the river!
We’re All in this Together
In June, I joined the steering committee for a community-wide event focused on creating a trauma-informed community. The event, We’re All In This Together, brought together leaders and experts who represented the following organizations: Cook County Health and Hospitals, The Kedzie Center, Lawrence Hall, North Park University, and the North River Commission. I represented 2nd Story on the committee. Through months of work and planning, we crafted an event that used evidence-based research and personal narratives to create a dialogue with 175 neighbors. This event, produced on Wednesday, September 26, 2018, was a crucial first step toward building a more resilient community.
On Wednesday, August 22, the Friends of Roosevelt High School, hosted its first neighborhood cultivation event. #Ravenswood4Roosevelt was a recruitment opportunity to introduce the Friends of Roosevelt to the Ravenswood Manor Community. Manor residents could learn about the Friends of Roosevelt by visiting the information table and by making purchases at local businesses donating a portion of that days sales to the Friends of Roosevelt. Participating businesses included Bru Coffeeworks, Lena Rose Natural Beauty, and Steingold’s Chicago.
On Saturday, August 11, my partner Erin and I organized another neighborhood clean-up and BBQ through our work with the West River Park Neighbors. The clean-up had 15 participants and over a dozen bags of trash were picked up.
In July 2018, I was accepted as a 2-year term member of Ingenuity, Inc.'s Public Affairs Collective Impact Panel. This panel is responsible for two main areas:
Supporting the design and implementation of advocacy strategies that will help to advance the CPS Arts Education Plan within schools and communities.
Supporting better creation and implementation of policies that drive the sustainable investments necessary to guarantee equitable access to arts education for every student in every Chicago public school.
On behalf of 2nd Story, I participated in a roundtable discussion on community safety in Albany Park with the Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx and the 33rd Ward Alderman Deb Mell. Other participants at the table included the 33rd Ward Youth Council, Communities United, The Kedzie Center, the North River Commission, and SEL Chicago. The conversation focused on community safety through the lens of education, mental health, and law enforcement.
On Saturday, June 30, I stood with a crowd of 60,000, demanding the United States change its immigration policy. We have to do better as a country, and as a body of people, we have to stay active and vigilant.
On Sunday, June 24, my partner Erin and I walked with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Planned Parenthood of Illinois in the 48th annual Chicago Pride Parade. It is an incredible display of unity at a moment when there seems to be so much division, and it was an honor to walk with these to organizations doing essential work in our communities.
June 2018 Education Newsletter
I continued to highlight the amazing work being down by schools, students, teachers, and community leaders in North River and create another Education Newsletter in June 2018.
During the spring of 2018, I became more involved with West River Park Neighbors, a neighborhood improvement association on the north side of Chicago. With other neighbors, my partner Erin and I organized the first Neighborhood Trash Pick-up and BBQ on Saturday, June 23. We had over 10 participants and picked up 12 bags of trash!
May 2018 Education Newsletter
In an effort to share the amazing work facilitated by the NRC's Education Committee, I created Education Connections, a quarterly newsletter that highlights the recent activities, organizations, and students making a difference in our community.
The first issue highlights the American Indian Center and their work with the Chicago Botanic Gardens, Roosevelt High School senior Ruby Ruiz, and 'Seniors Serving Seniors,' a partnership between the culinary students at Roosevelt High School and the senior citizens at Mayfair Commons. Click on the images below to view larger.
Friends of RHS
Along with several other neighbors and community stakeholders, the Friends of Roosevelt High School is officially formed and I assumed the position of Chair. Our goal is to bolster communication between parents, community members, staff, and administration at Roosevelt High School. Our group will provide support by raising funds for students’ educational and recreational needs, promote open communication, and strive to bring Roosevelt High School from a good school to a great school.
Friends of the Chicago River
On Saturday, May 12, my partner Erin and I participated in our first Chicago River Day. Hosted by the Friends of the Chicago River, Chicago River Day is a citywide clean-up that spans the river’s 156-mile system with over 60 locations. This begins our impromptu and frequent trash pick-ups during walks through Ronan Park and our neighborhood.
I am re-elected to serve on the Local School Council for Albany Park Multicultural Academy.
March for our Lives
On Saturday, March 24, I attended the March for Our Lives rally and march in Chicago, IL. Like many, gun violence is a personal issue and one that has directly impacted my friends and family. A longtime supporter of commonsense gun reform, I believe this country is long overdue for a bipartisan bill that protects our citizens from the gun violence epidemic.
Along with the chair of the North River Commission Education Committee, I presented the Education Committee's Initiatives for the 2018 calendar year at the North River Commission February 2018 Community-wide meeting.
2018 Education Initiatives:
The Branding and Marketing of our Neighborhood Schools
Identifying Fundraising Opportunities
Arts Partner Programming and Networking
Local School Council Support
Five Fast Facts
The North River Commission Education Committee officially debuted the Five Fast Facts campaign. The Five Fast Facts Campaign is a social media campaign that seeks to increase student enrollment, promote vertical integration, and combat negative stereotypes about northwest side schools. The first schools to be highlighted are Hibbard Elementary, Albany Park Multicultural Academy, and Roosevelt High School. Click the images to view them larger.
You can see the 'Five Fast Facts' about Northwest side schools here. As of June 2018, we have highlighted 17 schools.
I officially joined the Board of Directors at the North River Commission (NRC) as the Vice President of Education in December 2017.
The North River Commission is the nonprofit community and economic development corporation for the northwest side of Chicago, from the Chicago River to Cicero and Addison to Devon. Founded in 1962 by concerned residents and neighborhood institutions, NRC unites over 100 civic associations, businesses, schools, institutions and places of worship to improve the quality of life in our community by creating affordable housing, quality education, arts & cultural endeavors, open spaces, and thriving neighborhood businesses.
Five Fast Facts
I was lucky enough to observe adult facilitator interviews for the 33rd Ward Youth Council, an initiative being led by two incredibly young Roosevelt High School students. At one point during the conversation, the interviewee asked the student what was one thing she wished she could change about her school. This student responded, "I feel like there is a dark cloud hanging over Roosevelt High School. There are so many good things happening at Roosevelt, but no one knows about them." And so, on October 26, 2017, I sent the following email, with the subject line '3am idea,' to Brienne Ahearn, the NRC Education Coordinator:
Great meeting last night!
I spent a lot of last night thinking about the image of Roosevelt, Hibbard, and other schools in the neighborhood. (I have been thinking about it since meeting with Ruby during the interviews.) It got me thinking about what press relations look like for schools and how press can change the image of a school. Then, I thought about the following campaign:
5 fast facts that you didn't know about ___________.
For Roosevelt, it could be things like the ROTC program or the Culinary Program. For APMA it could be the after school program. For Hibbard, the engaged Friends of Group.
Perhaps this is a pie in the sky idea, but maybe it is one we can brainstorm further? I am also not suggesting you take this on by any means!
I officially joined the Local School Council at Albany Park Multicultural Academy.
I officially joined the North River Commission Education Committee.
I attended my first Local School Council meeting at Albany Park Multicultural Academy in May 2017. Local School Councils are responsible for the following:
Approving the school based academic plan (CIWP)
Approving the alignment of budgetary resources to the CIWP
Engaging in the annual evaluation of contract principal’s professional practices
Selecting or renewing contract principals
I continued attending Local School Council meetings at Albany Park Multicultural Academy throughout the rest of the school year.
NRC & CMAP
Hosted by the North River Commission, I attended a Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) meeting to discuss the development of a strategic neighborhood plan. Attendance at such meetings is essential. Neighbors, business owners, and local stakeholders gather to share their vision for Albany Park, North Park, North Mayfair, Mayfair, and Ravenswood Manor, and to express concerns and ask questions that relate to diversity, affordable housing, transportation, economic development, and the environment. A big question on many participants' minds was how do we best preserve and promote the diversity in our community.
My passion for education started at an earlier age. I can still hear my grandmother saying to me, "Remember Lauren, the only thing a person can't take away from you is your education."
I attended my first North River Commission Education Committee workshop in January 2017. This workshop focused on how to create Friends Of groups. The information I gathered that night would be essential a year and a half later during the formation of the Friends of Roosevelt High School.
Women's March 2017
I attended the Women's March on January 21, 2017, in Chicago, IL. At the march, I asked a nearby protester, who was adorned with protest pins and buttons from the 1970s and 1980s, how can we sustain this level of activism. She looked at me and said, "We have to love, we have to show up, and we have to write checks."
I attended my very first Albany Park Neighbors meeting, and the turnout was incredible. It appeared that many neighbors, quite like myself, felt the urge to become more connected to their community. I am so thankful for the space that Albany Park Neighbors creates and for their efforts to bring together Albany Park residents of the 33rd, 35th, and 39th Wards.