Free Spirit Media developing documentary filmmakers

This summer ten aspiring filmmakers from Free Spirit Media (FSM) produced documentaries with the support of journalists from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Over the course of seven weeks, the teen documentarians worked with FSM staff and their assigned journalist to story map, plan, shoot and edit their seven to ten minute documentaries. Their work explored a range of issues: from gender discrimination and gun violence, to graffiti and art and culture wars.

“I am continually delighted by the bonds built between the Pulitzer journalists and the Free Spirit Media participants,” says Free Spirit Media
founder Jeff McCarter. “The stories this summer were powerful and relevant both locally and globally.”

At the end of the program, the Foundation for Homan Square supported a documentary viewing party for the family and friends of the filmmakers, as well as their interview subjects and mentors. The evening included dinner and an awards ceremony.

YWCA empowers job seekers

The YWCA North Lawndale’s commitment to empowerment is constantly defying expectations. Recently they hosted a Career and Resource Fair to address the various needs of people seeking employment. Employers attending the fair not only promoted job opportunities, but also provided career coaching on both getting and keeping a job. Community organizations also attended and promoted resources available for housing, after-school programs, career pathways, expungements and other solutions to common obstacles for job seekers. The whole day emphasized networking as a powerful tool for job seekers. The YWCA Julian Grace Innovation and Technology Institute is a vital asset to the community.

Gallery Nights

No community can thrive without the arts. Artists and creators play an important role in helping to define the shared life of a community and contribute broadly to economic development. To support the burgeoning North Lawndale art scene, the Foundation for Homan Square and the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council (NLCCC) are sponsoring Gallery Nights at the Homan Square Community Center. These fun events offer a showcase for local artists and highlight the collaborative programming done by the School of the Art Institute (SAIC). The NLCCC Arts & Culture Committee, led by Sheila McNary, play a vital role in planning and hosting these inspiring events.

WBEZ: Chicago Has A Plan To Build Near CTA Trains. But Who Does It Help?

Some of Chicago’s most vibrant neighborhoods are around CTA ‘L’ stations.

Land near transit is special, and five years ago, the city wanted to spread the magic. It passed an ordinance called Transit-Oriented Development, or TOD. It’s a wonky term, for sure, but the ordinance allows developers to increase density and to reduce the number of required parking spots for new housing.

Developers like it because they can spend less money on parking. The city likes it because those savings, in theory, attract more developer interest. On top of that, less parking means fewer cars, a healthier environment, and more walkable neighborhoods.

Continue reading on WBEZ’s website.

Growing Job Opportunities for Returning Citizens

For too many North Lawndale residents, getting a job is nearly impossible despite their desire to work. More than half of all North Lawndale adults have had some involvement with the criminal justice system. Each of them faces significant barriers to employment. A partnership between Homan Square and the North Lawndale Employment Network (NLEN) aims to bridge that gap.

Beginning in 2016, Homan Square began hiring graduates of the NLEN U-turn Permitted program, which provides job readiness training and financial coaching to residents returning to the community from incarceration.

“Homan Square is an important employer partner because of their location in Nichols Tower and their welcoming spirit,” said Brenda Palms Barber, NLEN Executive Director. “Many employers deny access to jobs for the returning citizen population. Homan Square gives them a second chance to become connected to the labor market and reach financial stability.”

Since the partnership began, 31 transitional employees have been hired. Transitional workers learn skills they need to get reacclimated to the workforce and eventually secure permanent, unsubsidized jobs. At Homan Square transitional workers are hired as front desk greeters and janitors. Several have gone on to become permanent employees.

Mark Sanders, Chief Program Officer and Director of Institutional Effectiveness at NLEN, says of the partnership, “They’ve been an excellent hiring partner over the last two years. Providing many of our U-Turn Permitted graduates with their first job experience in years. We appreciate the commitment Homan Square has demonstrated in helping our graduates turn their lives around.”

New partnerships inspiring plans for growth

Earlier this year a partnership with Foundation for Homan Square and IFF (a nonprofit lender and experienced real estate consultant) was established to manage facilities and work with the community on continuing redevelopment. Additionally, a newly reinvigorated Community Advisory Council (CAC) and the new Homan Square Leadership Council are in place to help shape the future of Homan Square.

Initially formed when the Community Center was constructed, the CAC advised Homan Square leaders and service providers on community needs and helped to build deeper ties to community residents. The CAC is made up of North Lawndale residents, business owners, and representatives from local aldermanic offices and nonprofits. It has been reactivated with a focus on informing future needs and how the whole of the Community Center Campus can best meet residents’ wishes.

The CAC has already offered advice and set priorities for Homan Square, including a preference for updating current housing stock and creating more rental units within the next two years. In tandem with the housing efforts, the CAC has prioritized development corridors along Harrison and Roosevelt and Homan and Kedzie to further connect the Homan Square campus and the surrounding community. The potential for mixed-use development is being explored in these newly identified development corridors.

These community-based priorities will guide the Foundation and IFF in developing partnerships and seeking resources for housing and mixed-use development that will contribute to the success of the Homan Square Community Center Campus and support community development initiatives that benefit all residents.

The Homan Square Leadership Council (HSLC) is where leaders of the 16 service providers on the Homan Square Campus meet to work together. The group assembles quarterly to discuss what they are learning about emerging and unmet community needs and how they can collaborate their programs and respond. Working together, our service providers can better advance the missions of their own organizations
while creating greater opportunities to partner with and serve community residents.

Cooperation and collaboration mean better outcomes for everyone. Service providers, community residents, and Homan Square management are all working together to build the brightest future for the Homan Square community and surrounding neighborhoods.

Nichols Tower Honors

The Urban Land Institute recently awarded its prestigious Vision Award to the Nichols Tower at Homan Square. The award defines the standard for real estate development in the Chicagoland area and recognizes “creative development practices, inventive partnerships, imaginative problem solving, or visionary ideas that have contributed to the growth of vibrant communities.”

The ULI awards panel was impressed with the Nichols Tower project because of its creative reuse of the building, Homan Square’s dedication to providing a home for nonprofits in the City, and the demonstrated commitment to supporting the community.
John and Alexandra Nichols deserve enormous gratitude for their recent major gift that allowed for important upgrades and improvements to the Tower.

This Vision Award recognizes all those who saw the potential of the Tower. Charlie Shaw always saw the opportunities others missed. Kristin Dean, our last Executive Director, fought hard to bring this project to completion. Generous supporters like
Bev Hayford, the Nichols family and countless others made those big visions possible.

Oaks of North Lawndale SAIC

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and a host of community partners launched an amazing art and community development project called Oaks of North Lawndale with the goal of replanting the community’s urban forest while promoting community development.

“Oaks of North Lawndale is an aspirational project that brings together the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the city of Chicago and the North Lawndale community to reimagine the neighborhood as a healthy, peaceful and tree-lined place,” said Paul Coffey, Vice-Provost and Dean of Community Engagement, SAIC.

The project kicked off with a community tree planting celebration hosted at Nichols Tower. The event included Mexican artist Pedro Reyes and his work Palas por Pistolas (Guns into Shovels). Reyes oversaw the production of his work repurposing weapon waste into shovel heads. These shovels were then used to dig the holes to plant the oak trees. The goal of the project is to plant more than 7,000 trees throughout the community.

Homan Square, campus providers and other organizations support this public art and community enrichment campaign to reinvigorate North Lawndale.

WTTW: Chicago’s Original Sears Tower Reborn as Community Center

Before it was called the Willis Tower, the downtown Chicago landmark was known as the Sears Tower. And long before construction on the skyscraper was completed in 1973, Sears had another iconic tower in Chicago. It was part of the massive Sears Roebuck headquarters on the West Side. Much of the Sears site has been torn down and redeveloped in recent decades. It’s called Homan Square. But the tower remained empty and unused, until now.

Tuesday morning, Mayor Rahm Emanuel was on hand to reopen the newly developed tower, renamed the John D. and Alexandra C. Nichols Tower in honor of the longtime benefactors of the Homan Square Redevelopment. (The Nichols are also major contributors to WTTW.)

Continue reading on WTTW’s site.

Chicago Tribune: Rehab plan for Sears’ old West Side HQ takes shape

n Chicago’s West Side, massive structures that once housed Sears, Roebuck & Co.’s headquarters remain reasonably well-preserved but empty since redevelopment efforts a decade ago fell victim to the housing crash.

Now, a financing agreement approved last week by the Chicago City Council is moving forward a $55 million plan to redevelop one of the stately brick buildings in part of the North Lawndale neighborhood known as Homan Square.

Continue reading on the Chicago Tribune site.