Thursday, February 26, 2009

Local jobs? Check local web sites

Jobs are scarce, but they do exist.

There are plenty of interesting positions posted on, but what's interesting to me is how jobs in certain types of work, or certain neighborhoods, are being advertised via niche web sites.

The Greater Humboldt Park Community of Wellness is spreading the word about open positions for a bike shop manager, a couple of research jobs and a community liaison position with the Active Transportation Alliance.

Claretian Associates is promoting jobs at the soon-to-open Victory Centre of South Chicago, an assisted living facility with 112 apartments. Available positions include nurses, CNAs, office manager, receptionist, food service staff, maintenance staff, community life manager, among others.

Youth from all over Chicago could connect to summer jobs via the notice by Logan Square Neighborhood Assn. about jobs through the Chicago Public Schools, Chicago Park District, After School Matters and the Department of Family and Support Services.

A few more jobs are on the New Communities Program site, including one for an Elev8 school program director.

It would be interesting to know how well these listings are working for the employers. If you have information, please pass it along in a comment.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Build Web Site in 12 Days? Yes We Can

With Spring into Sports just six weeks away and dozens of neighborhood organizations and school programs mobilizing youth to participate, a solid communications platform is a must.

That means a web site, of course, to provide background on participating organizations, contact info, videos about neighborhood sports and fitness programs, a calendar of events, plenty of photos and, as the April 4-11 extravaganza unfolds, standings and other statistics so we can follow how the teams and players are doing.

Can the web site for Neighborhood Sports Chicago be built in 12 days, so that it is up and running a month before the big week?

Yes it can. (We think.)

We're using the Grassroots template that Webitects, Inc. donated to the cause (thanks Paul). It has all the capabilities we need except for an easy way to load and update sports statistics (but we're working on that). We gained access to the totally blank site on Thursday and started putting up content: program outlines, existing sports stories from partner web sites, embedded videos, partner lists and of course, "About Us."

Anyone who has built a web site knows that shaping content, deciding where it goes, finding good photos and fine-tuning the whole thing can take two months, six months, even longer. But this is a proven template that we've worked with before, and we've got a strong team creating material on the fly.

We'll launch by Monday, March 2. Check back that day for the link.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

New reporters at Chi-Town Daily News

One of the secrets to getting media coverage of your work, whatever it might be, is 1) to know which reporters work that beat and 2) keep track of what they're covering, so that when your story is ready, you'll know how to pitch it in a way that will interest that reporter.

The other secret is to know that writers (and editors) always need ideas and stories, to fill their news hole.

So you might find it of interest that Geoff Dougherty, the managing editor at Chi-Town Daily News, has just brought on four full-time reporters to supplement the free-lancers and citizen journalists covering urban issues at that web-only news outlet.

Megan Cottrell, covering housing, was a radio reporter at WCMU public radio in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, and her work was featured on National Public Radio's Weekend All Things Considered. 773-362-5002, ext. 12, or megan(at)chitowndailynews(dot)org

Fernando Diaz, labor and unions reporter, was a staff writer at the Chicago Reporter, where he specialized in investigative reporting on immigration. Fernando previously worked for the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, N.Y., and the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago. 773-362-5002, ext. 14, or fernando(at)chitowndailynews(dot)org.

Alex Parker, public health reporter, previously covered education for the Lawrence (KS) Journal-World, and covered youth and politics in Kansas for MTV News during the 2008 presidential campaign. 773-362-5002, ext. 17, or alex(at)chitowndailynews(dot)org.

Peter Sachs, covering higher education including City Colleges of Chicago, worked at The Bulletin, the daily newspaper in Bend, Oregon. His coverage of the city hall beat there, including reporting on Bend's purchase of broken-down used buses, led to changes in how the city purchased equipment and contributed to the ouster of two city officials. 773-362-5002, ext. 18, or peter(at)chitowndailynews(dot)org.

Chi-Town Daily News is one of 20 web sites whose stories are updated continuously on the Chicago Neighborhood News page, a one-stop way to keep up with the news.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Getting Around on a Trolley Bus

A lot of neighborhoods talk about creating a "circulator" transit service that brings people from their homes or workplaces into the shopping district. South Chicago Chamber of Commerce has done it.

Every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (with a break from 2:30 to 3:30), one of those buses-that-look-like-trollies runs a route in the old Steel City from 106th and Torrence up to 83rd Street via the Commercial Avenue shopping district, with stops conveniently located next to small businesses, from Exquisite Flowers to Mexico Auto Repair.

Rides are free until March 1, and then will cost just a quarter by way of a ticket booklet that can be bought from participating merchants. The chamber is financing the $138,000 project with funds from the local Special Service Area (a district that taxes property owners and uses the funds for needed services). The goal, says chamber executive director Neil Bosanko, is to keep retail dollars in the community.

Other neighborhoods will be interested in how things work out.

Read more on the Claretian web site. Below, a Google MyMaps shows the route.

View Larger Map

Monday, February 16, 2009

This Online Networking Thing? I'm Liking It

I've been a skeptic for years about social networking sites as tools for getting actual work done. I've peeked into MySpace and Facebook to see what all the excitement is about, but I just haven't seen any value there, at least for my work in community development and communications.

But I'm coming around to sites with tight niches that draw together people with similar interests or expertise. Two that I'm now visiting regularly:

Adventures in Nonprofit Communicating, "brought to you by Community Media Workshop," uses the template to offer cross-pollination among several hundred people involved in communications. Members post events, create discussions, put up videos and, of course, promote their causes. I learn things just by browsing around, and I've posted some videos that I think others would enjoy viewing.

Community Collab is still in beta form but already it offers two things that have kept me reading for five-minute stretches, which is a long time on a web site. There's a Work Update function that let's you see what some of the other 400 community-development-oriented members are up to, and there's a News section that aggregates lots of different web sites and blogs, nicely grouped in categories to lure me in. Collab was created by Webitects, Inc., for the national LISC organization, with Macarthur funding. A new "groups" function will be added soon, says Webitects' president Paul Baker, to encourage discussion and sharing of materials.

You have to become a member to get in on the action, of course, but I got over that hump and I've even gotten to know a few new people -- or know about them -- through the networking sites. For me, the sites are working well enough that I'll keep logging in.

Any suggestions on other sites worth visiting?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Big Year for Youth Sports in Chicago

Hold onto your hat if you're a believer in engaging youth in sports as a community-building activity. This spring and summer we'll see the biggest, most organized youth sports effort in recent years, or maybe ever.

LISC/Chicago's multi-year commitment to building up youth sports has gotten a big boost via a new grant from the 2016 Fund for Chicago Neighborhoods. Details of the programming are still being worked out, but watch for:
  • A week-long Spring into Sports event at four neighborhood locations from April 4 to 11, to coincide with Chicago Public Schools' spring break and the site visit from the International Olympic Committee. (See Chicago bid book.)
  • A summer-long calendar of tournaments, track events, sports demos, skill-building activities and, of course, the Hoops in the Hood championships (2008 photo above by Eric Young Smith).
LISC's Keri Blackwell says all New Communities Program neighborhoods will be involved in Spring into Sports at locations in Little Village, Englewood, Humboldt Park and the Near West Side. There will be competitions in six sports (archery, badminton, basketball, table tennis, track and field, and volleyball); skills challenges in multiple sports; and demonstrations by professionals and amateurs in sports such as boxing, gymnastics, fencing and martial arts.

World Sport Chicago will be bringing volunteer coaches and pro athletes into the mix and connecting them up with youth organizations, schools or leagues. The Chicago Park District will be another big partner.

Stay tuned for more details here and on the New Communities Program web site.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

More Neighborhood News, All in One Place

It's indisputable that Chicago newspapers aren't doing the job they once did covering neighborhoods. But we're lucky to have a long tradition of alternative journalism here, from the long-running Chicago Reporter and Community Media Workshop's News Tips to web-only vehicles like the Chi-Town Daily News. In the last couple years we've also seen the emergence of "hyper-local" sites by neighborhood development corporations.

It's hard to keep up, even if you use a "feed reader" like Google Reader. That's why the scribe team at LISC/Chicago is developing the Chicago Neighborhood News Bureau, to help collect, edit and distribute news from under-served communities.

We're seeking funding to ramp up the news bureau but to get warmed up we created a Chicago Neighborhood News page that aggregates the feeds from 11 neighborhood sites and eight special-interest or news sites, including, among others, the education journal Catalyst Chicago and Chicago Talks, a news site put out by Columbia College's student journalists.

Please check it out and let us know if it works for you -- or not. And please suggest other sites that might fit our mix of neighborhood types and urban-issues wonks.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

'Nothing About Us Without Us'

One quote stuck with me after the Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards were given out last night to honor some very impressive projects, organizations and people. It came from Marca Bristo, the longtime president of Access Living, a cross-disability organization governed and staffed by a majority of people with disabilities.

Access Living's new headquarters at 115 W. Chicago Avenue, designed by LCM Architects, LLS, received second place in the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Award for Architectural Excellence in Community Design because it incorporates features that "make the spaces and their functions visible, audible, chemically neutral and easy to navigate for people of all statures and levels of mobility."

The design works well, Bristo said, because the architects worked very closely with Access Living staff to understand the needs of the people who would work in the building or come to it for services. Bristo noted a South African proverb sums up the lesson:

"Nothing about us without us."

It's an anthem used often in the disabilities community but it applies equally well to community development work. If you want to do something useful in a community, it must be done – from planning to execution – with the community.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Is Wal-Mart Solution to 'Food Deserts'?

The Tribune reported Friday that Wal-Mart is back at it, trying to get approval for stores in inner-city Chicago neighborhoods against resistance from unions, the City Council and others who fear the colossus will hurt small businesses and undercut wages at Chicago's other chain grocers.

Wal-Mart's argument is that bringing new stores to "food deserts," such as Englewood or the West Side, will bring inexpensive food and fresh produce to areas that badly need them.

And Wal-Mart is using the recession to press its case, promising tax revenue and construction jobs at a time when the city badly needs them.

So, is this a bad idea or a good one? What would happen if Wal-Mart moved into more neighborhoods?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Mapping for Neighborhoods, the Google Way

View Larger Map

If there were a prize for Innovative Use of Web Tools by Community Organizations, I'd have to nominate Michael Quinlan of Near West Side Community Development Corp., who is an aggressive user of embedded videos, slide shows and photos to spread information about the West Haven neighborhood.

Now he's gone and placed the area's attractions on a Google "My Map," which is a remarkably easy-to-use tool to literally walk people right up to places that you want them to see. Click on the markers above and you'll see what I mean.

Intrigued? Here's a Google training video to get you going on your own maps. You need to have a Google account, and to embed photos or video you'll have to upload the material to a sharing site like Flickr or YouTube.

We'll pass on more examples as we create them. If you build a map or know a good one, please share with our readers.

The Economy and Neighborhoods

Foreclosures, unemployment and a weak economy are wreaking havoc in neighborhoods and families across the country. What can neighborhood organizations do while under economic siege?

Here are a few ideas:
Organize! Fight crime, tutor students, improve parks, and protect neighborhoods against the threats that come with tough times.
Communicate. Educate and inform residents, public officials, and investors about what’s good in the ‘hood. Use organizing, websites, blogs, and e-newsletters to nurture and sustain relationships necessary to build community.
Expand capacity of leaders and staff . Grow skills and technology to organize, communicate, develop, and raise funds in today’s (and tomorrow’s) environment.
Tighten the belt. Focus on the core mission – a necessity now, but a discipline that always pays off.
Build a project pipeline that will be shovel-ready when the economy revives. Do research, complete designs, prepare pro formas, and establish community support.
Think green. Future job growth, many predict, will emanate from green technology.
Identify infrastructure needs – physical and social – and advocate for them.

Public funds soon will flow to rebuild our infrastructure. Communities that are well-organized and "investment-ready" stand the best chance of getting those resources -- and bouncing back first when the economy rebounds.

It won't be easy, but we can't just wait around and do nothing, can we? What are your ideas?

Back of the Yards Grows Into Community Planning

The many successes of the New Communities Program show what a neighborhood can do once it has a plan and the energy to move it forward.

But how do you get to that point? It's a great question in neighborhoods like Back of the Yards, the original home of community organizing thanks to the great Saul Alinsky. Unfortunately, this once-mighty powerhouse of community work has been through tough times in the last 40 years, weakening many anchor institutions. Though the community still has a very homey feeling among neighbors, changes in population and five ward boundaries cutting up the turf has definitely reduced the sense of political and civic empowerment from what it became in Alinsky's day.

However, much has been done over the last decade or so to build community and raise the neighborhood's profile with city leaders. Very recently, the Peace and Education Coalition of Back of the Yards and LISC have been working together to assess community needs and develop recommendations to address them. Through the fall of 2008, the coalition held seven focus groups with neighborhood stakeholders: religious leaders, principals, police, businesses, social service providers and residents.

From these discussion, three key needs emerged:

A new library/community center
A recreational center for youth, especially those living south of 47th Street
A job development and training center

Last Thursday about 18 people gathered at the Park Federal Bank branch at 47th and Honore to discuss these recommendations and hear a little about next steps. There was some disagreement among the group about how to prioritize the three needs--business reps wanted the job center first, but there has been a longstanding push among neighborhood leaders to get the library (now located in the 47th & Damen shopping center) into a larger and more centrally-located space. However, everyone agreed that these three needs should be top priorities in planning use for available spaces, especially buildings near the intersection of 47th and Ashland, a neutral space among warring gang factions and a key commercial and transit hub for folks in all parts of the neighborhood.

The developer of the Goldblatt's building at 47th and Ashland attended the meeting and gave an update on what's moving in there. The Famsa furniture store is already open, a Bally's is coming, and the rest of the space will be independent senior housing. (Maybe there will be some storage space there, too. My notes are a little hazy, sorry.) There is some chance an Athletico rehab office might coexist with the Bally's, he said. The same developer owns the recently vacated Aronson's Furniture building on Ashland just north of 47th. He said they have one solid tenant with a letter of contract in place, and another in process, but couldn't say more.

There's a lot we don't know yet about where the space will be, how getting it built or rehabbed will be financed and accomplished, nor who exactly will provide all the programming. There was a lot of discussion about having the Chicago Park District run community center programming. A couple of us who know the local parks and work with young people here in the neighborhood were concerned that their staff-to-youth ratios are too high to ensure safe, quality programming and positive youth development.

Consultant Jim Capraro told us about a skating rink at 76th and Loomis that is park district operated with serious local oversight and seems to be doing a good job. "It's very different from most park district facilities," he promised. Some of us hope to go visit and see it up close for ourselves.

Finally, an interesting sidelight at the meeting was there's suddenly interest in getting a bike shop open in the neighborhood. In an effort to beautify a vacant storefront opposite Park Federal, Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council's Craig Chico had a nice facade painted on the front proclaiming, "Back of the Yards Bike Shop." I wasn't the only one at the meeting who wanted to know when the bike shop would open. Based on how many kids come borrow my air pump, I'd bet there's a good market here for bike sales and repairs.

So, Alex Wilson, know anybody who wants to open something similar down this way? The Council would be glad to talk to them.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Plenty to Laugh About and Celebrate at CNDA

The 15th Annual Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards takes place next Monday, Feb. 9, and it's bound to have a special frisson this year, for a few reasons:

1. Second City will be back for a 3 p.m. performance in which they will make fun of our community development field. I'd be very surprised if they don't take the opportunity to mock our recent political shenanigans, since they've just launched a new Blago-inspired show.

2. A community organizer is running the country and the people in the room helped put him there.

3. Some of the city's best organizations, businesses and individuals will be honored with awards.

Every time I've been there I learn new things or renew old ties because the room is jammed with the cream of the city's community leadership. If you haven't been and enjoyed a cocktail or two, you should check it out. Learn more here.