A Catholic church that straddles Oak Park and Austin will host a dinner May 12 to talk about issues and solutions in the community.
The event at St. Catherine of Siena-St. Lucy is part of a larger project called On The Table, spanning the city of Chicago and surrounding suburbs.
The Chicago Community Trust is planning what it describes as “a most imaginative public square” to kick off its centennial campaign.
Thousands of people will meet in homes, churches, libraries – anywhere a host chooses – to have a meal and a conversation about their neighborhood. Five hosts have signed up to host dinners in Austin, with more residents signed on to participate as guests.
The idea is to avoid lectures or panel discussions, said Daniel Ash, chief marketing officer at the foundation.
“We want to create a platform where everybody has the opportunity to share; I’ve always felt voices get missed when you have a large, grandiose setting,” Ash said.
Creating a space where people can be comfortable is even more vital in communities like Austin and North Lawndale because those communities have been marginalized, he said.
The Chicago Community Trust will document the issues and ideas at each dinner. Ash said it’s important for the foundation to align its efforts with what the community needs. The information that comes out of this event will inform how the organization moves forward with its work, he said.
“If our agenda isn’t consistent with what everyday citizens are concerned about, we’re not doing our jobs,” he said.
The Rev. George Omwando got St. Catherine-St. Lucy involved after some parishioners approached him about the project.
Father Omwando said he thought his church would be the perfect place to host one of the dinners because it’s on the border of Austin and Oak Park – two very different communities in terms of income and education, he said.
The dinner at St. Catherine-St. Lucy will host about 12 people from the congregation and surrounding community. People from outside the church might approach issues differently than Catholics, and that’s a good thing, Omwando said.
Omwando has lived on the border of Austin and Oak Park for two years, and said he sees problems like high crime and the lack of quality education and political leadership.
That’s one of the reasons he said he’s happy to host the event.
“I always feel that if you know the problem, it’s half solved,” he said.
One of his biggest problems in the community – something he said he hopes to see addressed once the dinner is over – is the number of community organizations in Austin.
“There’s so many, and they don’t communicate what they’re doing. They’re not centralized; how can we pool our resources together?” he said.
But he said he doesn’t want the event to just act as a Band-Aid.
“I want to stop the bleeding. We need the wound to heal, not just bandage it. We need to find out how to treat the wound,” he said.
For more information about hosting your own dinner, click here.