Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Not to be missed: Hoops in the Hood Finals

A terrific example of community development in action will be on display this Saturday afternoon at Seward Park in Chicago (401 W. Division at Orleans) when youth and adults from seven neighborhoods come together for the 2008 Hoops in the Hood Cross-City Finals, a basketball program that is about so much more than sports.

Hoops is a direct response to violence on the streets of our city. It is a structured, well-organized way to engage local kids and young adults in a safe and nurturing environment, on the very streets where they might feel unsafe at other times or under different circumstances. The Resurrection Project in Pilsen started its Friday night basketball league 10 years ago, setting up courts on different blocks each week, and in the past two years the concept has spread to a network of seven neighborhoods.

Teams will fight it out for trophies after an opening ceremony at 1 p.m., with the first-round games at 1:30 in three divisions: peewee (ages 8 to 10), minor (11 to 14) and major (15 to 19). Semi-final and final rounds will be followed by the championship game at 4 p.m.

About 400 participants will come from West Haven, Little Village, Pilsen, North Lawndale, Humboldt Park, Englewood and Logan Square. There'll be food, arts and crafts, and plenty of good feeling as kids and adults come together from across gang lines, neighborhoods and cultures. The Chicago Police Department is a key partner across all the leagues and will be on the scene as usual.

The photos here are from last year's tournament and were taken by Juan Francisco Hernandez; the video below, by Sarahmaria Gomez and Alex Fledderjohn of TuMultimedia, gives a great overview of what the league is all about. (View a higher quality version here.)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

What makes a good community web site?

Community development veteran Jim Capraro asked me recently what the key functional components would be for a community-oriented web site. It depends on your budget and goals, of course, but some elements seem essential to me.

Easy content management – Any site these days ought to be easy to update with little in the way of technical skills and no “coding” or html necessary. You want to be able to go in, make some changes, upload some material, and go live, right now. This type of site typically runs off of an underlying database, so that you can put material into the database and then choose where and how you use it on the site.

Calendar – Seems obvious? This is for neighborhood events, meetings, public hearings, and the like.

Flexible news and program spaces – Every neighborhood and organization is different, but most have the same need to provide information about their place or their services that is organized in a useful way, so that people can find what they need. The Grassroots tool that we use in Chicago, from Webitects, has two tabs that each can include multiple subjects, and each of those in turn can hold more categories of info. Most NCP groups call one tab “news” and the other “our programs” or “our community.” A new site being developed by the Greater Humboldt Park Community of Wellness will name one of the tabs “health areas,” with eight types of health issues beneath the tab.

Directory – Basically a database that can be loaded up with existing Excel files or with individual listings added as you go, the directory should allow multiple categories so that you could list, for instance, staff contacts, partner organizations, churches, local businesses (by type of business), and any other group that you think people might be looking up. Google or Yahoo maps can be tied to the address field so that the category and the individual listings are mapped automatically.

Gorgeous photos — A good web site should allow you to display images of people, places and events in the neighborhood, starting on the home page and then in articles, program sections and even the calendar. It’s up to you to capture or collect great photos, but the site should allow you to use them in a way that makes people say “Nice!” when they arrive on the page.

Changing home page – You want the ability to display some of this material on the home page – not in a static way, because then the site always looks the same – but with new lead photos, new headlines, and new calendar items. The content management system should allow you to move material to the home page or to a “landing page” elsewhere on the site, and then later let the the article live forever in some deep corner of the site, where it will always be accessible via Google and logical navigation.

Search – And that leads to the final core element: a good site-level search engine. As your site matures over a year or more of updates, it will contain hundreds of items. You want readers (and your own people) to be able to put a few words in the search box and quickly find that story they remember seeing, or that factoid that they seek.

There are a number of ways to get to some of these features, and I’ll cover some compelling new options in a future post, from inexpensive “blogs on steroids” to powerful ning sites that incorporate social networking. But right now, the only place I know that offers the whole package is the Grassroots template, which is in use on 12 sites in Chicago and just starting to roll out nationally via the LISC network. Here are some examples:

www.gagdc.org, which promotes the Auburn Gresham neighborhood
www.lsna.net, the Logan Square Neighborhood Assn.'s advocacy-oriented, bilingual site
www.qcdc.org, which has a deep business directory and some detailed "extended listings"
www.resurrectionproject.org, the Pilsen site that uses short news and informational items to get a lot of info across.

Know of other tools that can provide these kinds of capabilities? Please let us know in a comment.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

St. Leonard's House

Eight months ago, my photographer partner and I decided to embark on a short video documentary on St. Leonard's House, a residential program for ex-offenders in Chicago's West Haven neighborhood. After talking to the residents and staff for only a few short hours, I knew that this story was something special and that it would take more than a couple shoots to get across just how important this organization is to the future of our community.

This 54-year-old grassroots organization helps ex-offenders rebuild their lives according to individual needs--everyone who works and lives there is focused on a positive future. Whether visiting a group therapy session or job training program, I could feel the hope around me. No one is forced to be there-- St. Leonard's is a place of recovery, growth and honesty. Twenty percent of residents return to jail, compared to more than 50 percent nationwide. It is one small example of what an organization can do when it focuses on people rather than numbers.

St. Leonard's House truly changes lives... those of formerly-incarcerated individuals and everyone who is touched by the incredible work that they do.

If you have a high-speed Internet connection, you can view a high-quality version at: