Brighton Park, a working-class neighborhood on Chicago’s southwest side, is home to residents working together to build a brighter future.
Once an industrial center, Brighton Park was hit hard by factory closures in the 1970s, causing many residents to move elsewhere. The population has rebounded in the last few decades as the community has welcomed an influx of Latinx immigrants.
Despite Brighton Park’s growth, the community has faced challenges and a lack of outside investment. To address these inequities, residents, local leaders, schools and nonprofits have united to respond to residents’ needs and create more opportunities.
In 2013, these community champions formed the Brighton Park Neighborhood Network with support from United Way. The Network, led by the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council (BPNC), has created strong partnerships across sectors to uplift families, households and the entire neighborhood for generations to come.
“You can’t do it by yourself. We all bring a certain set of skills,” said Veronica Smith, Director of Clinical Services for BPNC. “You have certain resources and I have certain resources, so when I connect to you, I’m all of a sudden connected to something else…It’s almost musical sometimes when you pick up the phone and call this person and that person, and it all works.”
Read below to learn how the Brighton Park Neighborhood Network is building a stronger community for all its neighbors!
Local schools and the Neighborhood Network are working together to build “community schools” that help students thrive both academically and personally.
After school, students who are facing challenges can stay for tutoring and enrichment classes that open doors to new opportunities not offered during the school day. “Students are referred to the [after-school] program using 12 risk factors [such as] being bullied or having a parent who is incarcerated or receiving free or reduced lunch. We also focus on students who are struggling academically or are close to being off-track,” said Maricela Bautista, Director of Community Schools at BPNC.
On any given afternoon, students can be found creating DIY art projects out of recycled materials, crafting their own podcasts about ghost legends or a number of other educational activities. Students can also eat a meal with their friends and get exercise in a basketball or martial arts class.
While students are learning after school, their parents can take classes, too. The Network hosts citizenship, computer and arts classes, as well as English-language tutoring for adults in the neighborhood.
This is just one way the Network is investing in parents’ success. Through leadership programs, parents can also train to work as teachers’ aides in schools. These opportunities foster deeper connections between neighbors and encourages parents to reach their personal goals, like continuing their education or entering the workforce full-time.
Rosa Galvan, a local mom of two, has been a parent mentor at Burroughs Elementary for eight years. She supports a school counselor by helping with clerical work. “I enjoy helping the students out and seeing how they progress from when they were struggling in the beginning to getting better and better,” Rosa said. “It feels good that I was part of that progress. Sometimes, I get even more excited than the students!”
Improving residents’ physical health and emotional wellness is a top priority for the Brighton Park Neighborhood Network. Its Health Committee unites residents, health providers and nonprofits to assess and respond to health trends in the community and host health resource fairs for residents.
Several Network partners also provide mental health and therapeutic services to students, individuals and families. Saint Anthony’s Hospital and Heartland Alliance provide adult and family services to address interpersonal violence, trauma and general wellness. Meanwhile, BPNC counselors support students through crises and trauma and provide referrals to Network partners that can offer additional support.
Together, they’re ensuring residents are healthy and can access the care they need — an indicator of a strong neighborhood.
“We work together to empower [our clients] to know that a traumatic experience is not one that defines them,” said Stephanie Gaspar-Hernandez, Clinical Case Manager at Heartland Alliance. “We also help with their life goals and let them know that there are systems of support and resources out there for [those] who are facing oppression in health systems and mental health stigmas that affect the way they heal.”
All of these programs help make the community safer. Instead of exclusively relying on policing and incarceration to reduce crime, Network partners invest in violence-prevention and housing programs.
Each year, more than 150 parents volunteer to keep local streets safe through the Neighborhood Network’s Safe Passage and Parent Patrol programs. And just last month, the Network announced plans for Leaders of Tomorrow, a new violence-prevention program that will provide mentoring to more young people in the neighborhood.
Additionally, creating a safe community requires access to affordable housing. With designated funding from United Way and the Siemer Institute, the Network’s Success & Stability program offers resources to students and their families who are experiencing homelessness.
Together, these resources create a stronger Brighton Park. When you invest in our Neighborhood Networks, you help build a thriving Chicago region that all of our neighbors are proud to call “home.” Give today!