Communities across the Chicago region are faced with interrelated problems that no agency or leader can tackle alone. Through our Neighborhood Network Initiative, leaders of ten communities have partnered with United Way of Metro Chicago to strategize, plan and resolve the daily challenges their residents face.

With a goal of creating a healthier, safer and more resilient community, stakeholders in Little Village, a vibrant Latino neighborhood, joined together to form the Marshall Square Resource Network (MSRN). Together, they make up the Little Village Neighborhood Network. These partners are working together to curb violence, improve schools and help residents achieve economic security.

Driving out community violence with peace

Each year, the community of Marshall Square, a subset of Little Village, brings awareness to the issue of domestic violence by organizing an annual march. While snaking through their streets, residents call for violence to cease and neighbors to offer compassion and support to those who have been harmed. Following the Peach March, residents are connected to local resources to help them identify, respond to, and heal from violence and trauma.

Through collaborative projects between the Network’s partners, stakeholders are also providing much-needed outlets and resources to address other deeply rooted issues such as gang violence, obesity and depression.

One example is an initiative for local youth organized by Teatro Americano. Meant to challenge the normalization of violence in relationships, the program combined education about healthy relationships with theater exercises to create an interactive and informative environment.

Training parents to improve students’ education

The collaborative groups aim to create positive school environments and academic experiences for Little Village’s students by involving the entire family.

Through the Supportive School Communities initiative, local parents have been trained to facilitate community discussions in four Marshall Square community schools. They educate their peers on the importance of social-emotional learning (SEL) in the classroom and in their homes.

When parents are involved in their child’s education, children are more likely to be engaged and receive help at home, putting them on the path to academic success.

Encouraging healthy lifestyles through safe spaces

In addition, local leaders are promoting healthy lifestyles through exercise and gardening. By creating safer, more accessible outdoor spaces, they hope to reduce childhood obesity, a problem too many Marshall Square children face.

Through a walkability study, leaders have assessed obstacles and safety concerns that may impede outdoor activity, like unsafe intersections and hazardous sidewalks. Then, they’ll mitigate those problems.

A new community garden is in the works, too. MSRN recently announced the launch of a plot at Charles G. Hammond Elementary School. Hundreds of community members will have the opportunity to utilize the garden, providing them with access to fresh homegrown produce, as well a space for community-building.

Our community partners in the neighborhood also offer obesity prevention and weight loss services at neighborhood schools and obesity reduction programs at two community health centers. Starting this spring, an after-school walking club for neighborhood kids will take its first steps

Improving a community is a group effort

MSRN’s wide reach shows what’s possible when neighbors come together to drive long-lasting change.

Individually, these community partners offer vital services that drastically improve lives. But together, they create a community that neighbors are proud to call “home.”