Chicago Residents Transform Our Communities by Strengthening Connections

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Social cohesion is defined as bonding, feelings of connectedness and solidarity, or a closeness and affection within groups. These are essential qualities to building trusted relationships, which require time and effort. Although it is one thing to understand the definition of social cohesion, it is entirely a different thing to feel a sense of belonging and connectedness.

As a first-generation Latinx college student, I faced several challenges in navigating my post-secondary education. It wasn’t until my senior summer internship, where I managed an annual college campus recycling program, that I began to feel a true sense of belonging. The organization invested time in developing me as a leader. The people connected to the organization poured love into me as my true authentic self and I, in return, reciprocated that love with dedication by contributing my own time and talent to the organization’s overall mission.

It has been many years since I graduated from college, and yet, I can still recall the powerful feeling of solidarity and closeness in sharing a common vision with others through my volunteer experience. It wouldn’t be until I was directly involved with the Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities that I could name what I experienced in college: belonging. Then, I understood how important the sense of belonging is to a person in developing their identity within a community and a precursor to meeting one’s potential.

The Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities is in its sixth year and continues to provide rapid response grants up to $10,000 to neighborhood-based groups that produce events, weekly programs, and a variety of activities to unite and strengthen 21 of Chicago’s communities impacted by gun violence. The Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities applied data compiled by the University of Chicago’s Urban Labs to prioritize neighborhoods with the highest number and rate of homicides due to gun violence.

This effort to support our community is essential. And witnessing an outpouring of support for grassroots organizations and community mutual aid efforts to help each other during a crisis is simply inspiring. The Chicago region continues to face historic challenges due to the damaging impacts of COVID-19 and increases in homicides due to gun violence. Moreover, amid these unprecedented times, even previously funded Chicago Fund grant recipients are still on the ground seeking ways to continue essential programming in their communities. They do so because they feel connected to other residents in need of support. These organizations provide passion and hope to bring joy back into their communities as we approach another “Summertime Chi.”

Examples of funded activities include block-level beautification projects, daily summer camps, and kayaking for youth with a focus on mental health. Most programs incorporate an intergenerational approach to strengthen social cohesion. After many years, community leaders have shared the importance of storytelling to weave the social fabric in building a sense of home and cultural identity. We are proud to partner with our neighborhood grant partners or whom I refer to as “neighborhood superheroes,” because they build programs tailored for the needs of their respective communities while creating the pre-conditions to reduce homicides and harm due to gun violence. And they do so with lean budgets and unending enthusiasm.

We are pleased to support organizations like the Automotive Mentoring Group, which continues its programming throughout the year, working with youth to develop life skills through car detailing and restoration. 360 Nation focuses on supporting North Lawndale students and families through teaching hydroponics and turning under utilized lots with sustainable urban farming education. Or the Black Star Project’s Building Chicago’s Next CEO will engage youth through an exploratory learning experience program designed to develop leadership skills. These organizations are vital outlets for youth who otherwise would not have opportunities to feel connected to each other and their broader community.

The Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities is awarding 142 grants, totaling $1,000,000, to fund activities this summer and fall. These micro-grants will support grassroots neighborhood organizations to continue the work they already do every day with limited budgets. We expect thousands of hours that collectively build social cohesion throughout the South and West sides of Chicago. The Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities provides people of all ages with safe, free programming in their communities to thrive during a time when everyone has experienced loss and grief this past year. Simply put, the Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities is offering hope and building a sense of connectedness within our communities to create the pre-conditions needed for sustained peace and community-led safety.