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Woodlawn is a dynamic community with a long history of development, redevelopment, civic activity, and vibrancy.  By meeting various community members, our Team Woodlawn has learned about the movement of people in and out of Woodlawn as well as the boundaries and distinctions that exist within the neighborhood. For instance, there is an invisible (yet noticeable) division between east and west Woodlawn at Cottage Grove Avenue.  Different natural community leaders told us that these types of divisions arose from different gangs as well as from the development of Woodlawn from East to West along 63rd street.  We note these noticeable changes in the physical landscape and feeling of the streets in Woodlawn as we move south from 61st street or west from Stony Island Avenue.

I have met people who really love Woodlawn and want to see it grow and prosper.  As asset-based community development proposes that we think of a neighborhood as a glass half full, many of these natural leaders in Woodlawn do just that.  People like Mr. Marsh, Mr. Echols, Gabby, Ms. Burns, Sister Jackson, and many others embrace the strengths and assets in Woodlawn.  I would argue that these and many others in Woodlawn continue their work and welcome our SSP team to join them because they see that “a good community has enough space for everybody to be a contributor,” an idea which was shared with me at a recent talk by John Kretzmann from the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University.

I also see the way in which redevelopment and investment from governmental organizations, foundations, Universities, and non-profits has changed over the years and made a lasting impact on the fabric and resources of Woodlawn.  When asked why there are so many more social service agencies than health services, Alderman Cochran described that the focus over the past 20-30 years had been on economic and workforce development.  He highlighted our SSP program to show how the younger generations are much more focused on community and population health, and he encouraged us to follow, engage in, and encourage the development of services to promote health in our communities and country.

I would like to note a few additional aspects of Woodlawn that have stood out to me over these past four weeks…

  • Woodlawn is wide!  It takes a while to walk the two miles from Jackson Park to Martin Luther King Drive along 63rd street.
  • Woodlawn is beautiful—its people, its places, its energy!
  • Woodlawn shows up.  There are challenges, but there are minds and bodies who want and work everyday to strengthen the community.

My favorite site visits so far have been the service projects organizing the food pantry at Maria Shelter, teaching computer classes at the Living Room Café, gardening and doing outreach with the 61st street Farmers Market at the Experimental Station, eating and touring at Lewis’s Groceries, and meeting with staff at the YWCA.  Each of these experiences has taught me a lot about working with a team and with community members to build upon everyone’s assets and strengths.

Finally, I am very excited to work on Team Woodlawn’s final project.  We are working to address the problem of obesity in Woodlawn by working to create a clean and walkable community.  During the course of this project, I am eager to support Taylor, Alexis, Michael, and Adorah as they realize their vision.  I am especially eager to work on the design for painting wastebaskets.  Looking at designs such as these (https://www.toledoblade.com/gallery/East-Toledo-Arts-Initiative-Artists-in-Action) in Toledo or these in St. Helens (http://www.ci.st-helens.or.us/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/2013_trash_can_web_16-800×532.jpg?id=hidden-caption-1785-0), I am hopeful that we will be able to accomplish this goal!  Let’s make Woodlawn walkable!