The dedicated staff at Bronzeville’s Bright Star Community Outreach (BSCO) are guided by two key mottos: Pursue excellence, and “convene, don’t compete.”
As the lead agency of the Greater Bronzeville Neighborhood Network, BSCO brings together residents, community leaders and 23 local organizations to build a strong community that serves their neighbors’ varying needs.
“We exist as an organization to really do two things and two things only — to find holistic ways to both empower and serve youth and families,” said Rodney Carter, BSCO’s chief operating officer.
Through in-house programs and strong partnerships with other local providers, BSCO is creating quality job opportunities for residents, expanding their financial power, responding to their mental health needs and more.
Keep reading to learn what makes the Greater Bronzeville Neighborhood Network strong!
Employment is a key indicator of a strong community. That’s why employment is a top priority for the Greater Bronzeville Neighborhood Network.
To connect residents to jobs, the Network first builds relationships with local employers so they will come to the community to interview and hire residents. In 2019, the Network established more than 175 new relationships with employers, from the Chicago Transit Authority to ComEd.
“The employers said ‘Yes, we’re committed to you and will come to job fairs. But not only will we interview your residents, we’ll hire them and work with them on their skills so they can move up in our companies,’” said Kathy Cullick, Co-Director of Community Strategy and Development at BSCO.
With partners at the table, the Network then prepares residents to meet with employers. They receive resume writing and interviewing assistance and can attend workshops on workplace etiquette.
Once residents are ready to interview, they’re connected to employers through referrals and job fairs. Last year alone, the Network hosted four job fairs and helped more than 1,000 residents find new jobs.
The Network’s work isn’t finished once a resident has a job. Vivian Harper, a top-notch financial coach with Operation HOPE, builds on their success by teaching residents how to manage their money, prepare for the future and survive financial crises.
“A lot of the work I do is just helping make sure that families and individuals learn how to do more with the money they have,” Vivian said.
In free community workshops, residents learn to create lasting budgets, rebuild their credit and more. They can also work one-on-one with Vivian over longer periods of time to eliminate debt and achieve larger financial goals, like buying a home or opening a small business.
In just over a year, the word about her clients’ incredible success has spread across Bronzeville into neighboring communities. Many of Vivian’s clients have reduced their debt by $1000 in just four months, and some have also achieved nearly 70-point credit score growth, opening the door to many new resources and opportunities.
“You can imagine how that changes the trajectory of your family,” Vivian said. “We’re creating what we call financial capability.”
With these skills, the Network is helping individuals and families become homeowners and invest their money back into the community, building it up for generations to come. Owning a home or business in the community also gives residents a stake in their neighborhood, making them more likely to contribute to its well-being, Vivian said.
“Economics and money impacts the entire household,” she said. “And more holistically, the community at large.”
Trauma & Mental Health Support
Building a stronger Bronzeville also means addressing residents’ trauma and providing mental health services. When our neighbors are healthy and cared for, they’re able to thrive and contribute to the overall success of their families and community.
“If we want to strengthen youth and families, it’s impossible to do if mental health isn’t a part of that formula,” Rodney said.
In addition to counseling groups and in-school education, faith and community leaders at BSCO host a free helpline to support their neighbors through crises, like abuse or the loss of a loved one. Helpline advocates take calls three days a week, offering supportive counseling to whoever is on the line. Then, they follow up with them week to week for as long as they need, offering support and referrals to other resources, like job training or financial coaching.
Running this program has been transformative for Elaine Smith, Assistant Clinical Director of the BSCO’s TURN Center, which facilitates the hotline and other trauma services. She’s seen the program grow to serve nearly 500 of her Bronzeville neighbors since it opened in 2017.
“I think what puts us on the map is that we understand there are a lot of hurt people walking around doing the hurting [in our community],” Elaine said. “Our objective is to get them and find ways to help them realize it’s okay to not feel and be okay.”
“This is my life’s work,” she said. “To be able to do this work with an organization that has the same compassion and dedication as I have towards this community is amazing.”