Two days after learning about a $750,00 grant from Congressman Danny K. Davis, Bethel New Life hosted an event that promoted health equity.
Bethel received the money through Davis’ community project funding that awarded grants to 15 organizations in the 7th district. The grant money went to non-profit or government organizations with a maximum award of $2 million.
“The majority of it is for our capital campaign,” said Sharif Walker, Bethel New Life’s president and CEO. “Specifically, the first stage of our campaign is building our horticulture center.”
The center will be on Bethel’s nine-acre campus, 1150 N. Lamon Ave., as part of its Mildred Wiley Wellness Hub. The hub is named after Wiley, the longtime West Side leader who died in 2019. She worked for years at Bethel New Life and was the founding chairwoman of the board of directors for Austin Coming Together.
Walker said the horticulture center will include a garden and a kitchen for commercial and demonstration use. A design meeting will be held later this month to collaborate with Austin Community Gardens, Austin Coming Together and the Entrepreneurship Academy.
“We want to make sure we’re engaging the community and that they know their opinions on what that building becomes really matters,” Walker said.
University of Illinois Extension, which has an office on Bethel’s campus, will provide nutrition programs to teach healthy eating. It will also provide certification programs for anyone looking for culinary jobs.
News of the grant came just before Bethel New Life’s community peace and healing festival, which was held last weekend and featured several partners, including U of I Extension, Amazon, Project Exploration, Rush University Medical Center and Malcolm X College.
Rush provided on-site evaluations that connected attendees to SNAP, primary care and community health services, while Amazon handed out free boxes of food from Top Box Foods.
Amazon is opening a new distribution center at Division Street and Kostner Avenue in West Humboldt Park. Sarah Glavin, Amazon’s head of community engagement, said the distribution center will partner with Bethel, Malcolm X College and Wright College to provide job training for other careers, such as social services and health care.
“We are looking for ways to be the connective tissue and way finder for the community,” Glavin said.
The center aims to open in August and hire 500 employees. A West Side coalition is pushing Amazon to further benefit the community by committing to hire 60% of its workforce from the surrounding neighborhoods, pay workers a starting hourly wage of $28.50, build a community center and pay residential property taxes.
Rush community benefit specialist Julia Bassett promised that everyone who participated in the screening would get a call from a social worker the following Monday.
“We want to make you feel like we’re wrapping our arms around you,” Bassett said.
State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford and the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority also participated in last week’s festival to discuss mental health and re-entry programs in the community.
Bethel aims to use their space for monthly events to help educate residents on specific health concerns. Bethel event manager, Francisco Celis Yanez, books space for anyone wanting to hold “celebrations of life,” including weddings and parties. Bethel also provides non-profit incubator office space for new organizations to grow.
“We look for ways to help each other and help us,” Yanez said.