Giant puzzle pieces made of foam sit propped on top of a folding table. Each piece is a different color of the United Way brand – yellow, blue, light blue, and red. Each piece also represents our partnerships with different sectors – public, private, nonprofit, and community.
This visual – the pieces coming together to transform – was the backdrop for the announcement of the expansion of our Neighborhood Network Initiative in the Southland. On June 6, 2023, we gathered at the Village Green in downtown Park Forest to share that, in partnership with Cook County and with support from Nicor Gas Foundation, Neighborhood Networks were launching in Ford Heights/Chicago Heights, Harvey, and Park Forest/Richton Park, plus an increased investment in the existing Blue Island/Robbins Neighborhood Network.
“In government, we must figure out how to invest in the communities that have been disinvested in, marginalized, and left behind. That means you must have a place-based strategy to address the challenges that those communities face,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. “Clearly, United Way is best-in-class for executing on place-based strategies, so the opportunity to collaborate was clear.”
For more than a decade, through the Neighborhood Network Initiative, United Way has been working alongside community partners throughout Chicago and the suburbs to bring their visions and plans to life.
“All across our region, communities have plans. Too often those plans are left on a desk,” President and CEO of United Way of Metro Chicago Sean Garrett shared from the podium during the event. “Our job at United Way is to work with our partners to help make those plans happen. The Neighborhood Network is the idea of bringing people together to create a vision and make that vision a reality.”
The lead agency (or “community quarterback,” as we call it at United Way) for each new Network is currently working to build its coalition of local stakeholders. Together, over the next three years, they’ll develop and refine their community vision.
Metropolitan Family Services leads the existing Blue Island/Robbins Neighborhood Network. For seven years, they’ve been focused on improving outcomes for families by addressing food insecurity and other basic needs. Their coalition of more than 30 community partners are committed to creating a more vibrant community for every resident by improving household incomes, access to quality health care, and access to healthy foods.
“The Blue Island/Robbins Neighborhood Network is a strong and vibrant coalition in our community,” said Pam Terrell, executive director of Metropolitan Family Services, Southwest. “The increased investment from United Way of Metro Chicago, Cook County, and Nicor Gas will allow us to positively impact even more of our neighbors by building financially, mentally, and physically healthy communities.”
The latest expansion of the Neighborhood Networks represents our commitment to the south suburbs of Chicago – and furthers the impactful work driven by local nonprofits like Metropolitan Family Services. It’s also a testament to the power of partnerships – and what we can accomplish when we come together across different sectors.
“When we work together, we can do meaningful things,” President & CEO of Nicor Gas Wendell Dallas shared from the podium. “It takes business, civic, community, government – all of us working together. When we do that well, the citizens and the community benefit from it.”
Later, Dallas and other partners representing the public, nonprofit, and community sectors each held their respective puzzle piece and posed for a photo. Bringing the puzzle pieces together to build thriving communities.
“This is what collaboration looks like. This is what partnership looks like,” said Park Forest Mayor Joseph Woods to the crowd gathered on the green on June 6. “These are efforts of good deeds that bring about results for those in need. Being that we are here today, it proves that we have moved beyond the space of conversation and into a realm of transformation. Yes, today is a good day. Let us continue to do the good work.”
Balloons: Rock the Bells (Instagram: @rockthebells._)
Caterer: Poppin Plates (Website: poppinplatesllc.com)
Cookies: Dulce by Dori (Instagram: @_dulcebydori)
DJ: DJ Double M (Website: djdoublemz.com)