Twenty-nine Austin community groups will receive more than $100,000 in grants from the Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities program.
The Austin organizations are among 164 groups throughout the West and South sides selected to receive a total of $1 million in grants.
Deborah Bennett leads the Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities, a strategy of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities. She described it as a “rapid response fund” for community organizations in areas with high levels of gun violence.
Grants from the Chicago Fund support organizations in “community building, peace building activities, activities that create safe spaces for young people,” Bennett said.
Organizations that are receiving the grants this year are trying to build a stronger sense of community in their neighborhood. Research has shown that “communities with strong bonds have less violence,” Bennett said.
Many of the groups have had to modify their original plans for the grant money to adapt to the challenges posed by COVID-19.
Debra Taylor, a leader of the 40+ Block Club, located on the 5900 block of West Ohio Street, said her group, which received $2,500, had to get creative.
One idea is to hold a community art show. The block club will provide each family with painting supplies and have them post the art they made outside their home. Then “neighbors can kind of walk through and look at the different paintings and vote on the best painting,” Taylor said.
The Mayfield Community Garden, administered by Third Unitarian Church of Chicago, was already well suited to social distancing activities. Roger Masson, the garden chief, noted that during a recent volunteer day it was easy for people to maintain social distancing thanks to Mayfield’s two large gardens.
Mayfield Community Garden received $5,000, which Masson said will help implement irrigation for the garden and buy a shredder to turn the compost into top soil.
Additionally, a portion of their raised beds have been in use since the garden was started 11 years ago. They are starting to fall apart and need to be rebuilt.
The garden is important because it provides a break from daily pressures. Masson said “gardening, being outside, doing some light exercise and all those kinds of things, that helps reduce stress.” People need that now more than ever, he said.
The Mayfield Community Garden hosts monthly volunteer days. Some of the food grown is donated to Fraternité Notre Dame’s food pantry.
For Cardean Jenkins, vice president of the Austin Adams Block Club, the big concern has been consistency. They were trying to avoid a situation where “we have this great big event, and then we shut down and you don’t hear from us anymore until another year,” she said.
This year, they’ve pivoted from traditional block parties to activities such as showing movies in nearby parks. It allows people to maintain social distancing while still bringing them together.
Austin Coming Together assisted 24 Austin organizations, including the Austin Adams Block Club, in successfully applying for the grants.
Jai Jones, community engagement coordinator for ACT, said the Chicago Fund grants help people engage with one another and hear each other’s story.
“This funding, it not only provides hope, but it provides opportunity for those who are doing good work to be able to continue the good work they’re doing,” Jones said.
These Austin organizations received a combined total of $115,500:
100 N. Long Block Club
1400 N. Lockwood Block Club
1400/1500 N. Long Blues on the Blocks
1500 N. Latrobe/Laramie Block Club
300 Block Club Lotus
300 N. Mason Block Club
300 N. Pine Block Club
40+ Ohio Block Club
4800 W Crystal St. Block Club
5800 Rice St. Block Club
800 Block Club of Kedvale
Arthur Lockhard Resource Institute
Austin Adams Block Club
Central Austin Neighborhood Association
Chicago Chess Foundation
The Echo Center
Excel Community Development Corp.
Fathers Who Care
Increase the Harvest Inc.
Jehovah Jireh 1
Power Peace Block Club
Redevelopment Management Resources Inc.
South Austin Neighborhood Association
The Garden of Love
Third Unitarian Church and the Mayfield Community Garden
What About Us Charitable Enterprises Inc.