The Westside Health Authority partnered with Hustle Mommies, a Chicago nonprofit serving mothers in the city, last week to bring free food, fun and laughter to the Austin Pop Court, 5257 W. Chicago Ave.
Ariel Rainey, the 35-year-old founder of Hustle Mommies, said her organization has been hosting Paint the Hood Orange events for three years. Even though she’s a South Sider, she wanted to make the nonprofit’s presence felt on the West Side, too.
“When we think about the West Side, we think about Chicago Avenue,” Rainey said. “Austin is historic, and it has its own culture and swag. It reminds me of Englewood, where I’m from.”
Rainey said she reached out to Vanessa Stokes, WHA’s economic development director and the manager for Special Service Area 72, about hosting her event in the Austin Pop Court. The collaboration also included the Good Neighbor Campaign, the Kindness Campaign and corporate sponsors like Nike.
Rainey said that she gave out free chicken wings and set up a free candy store, among other fun features. Stokes said at least 200 people attended the event, including 4-year-old Jamere Clark, who was at the Pop Court with his grandmother, Shirley Howard, 69.
“I just got a haircut, and I love this,” said Jamere, who lives with his grandmother just down the street from the Pop Courts. “This is so fun.”
“We just want a safe space for people to hang out and be outside,” said Stokes, adding the event is the latest culmination of the Pop Court’s evolution as a positive space for community members. She said the space went from a vacant lot to a vibrant gathering space.
“This is what I wanted,” she said. “I purposefully did not put a fence around this because I want people to walk through this and be empowered to pick up garbage. And it’s working. Folks will tell me that they’ll come over here if they see garbage and pick it up.
“So people see this as theirs. The vision was how do we make a conscious, intentional investment toward the community so the community can see that things aren’t the same. They’re different now.”