Showing posts from December, 2020

Creating Opportunities for Youth in Little Village

For over 30 years, Central States SER, a workforce development and education organization in Little Village, has helped thousands of individuals achieve their academic and career goals to improve their quality of life. For Youth Program Manager Adrean Vargas, his connection to the organization spans back to his own youth. “I grew up in Pilsen with these types of afterschool programs, including Saturday and summer school programs. They were my life saviors, my escape and where I felt safe,” said Adrean, who participated in GED programming at SER as a teenager. “Being part of the LGBTQ community, I made it my mission to create those safe spaces for people like me who need an escape from home. My job is to make a safe environment where everyone feels comfortable.” SER works with individuals of all age ranges, as it offers various workforce development programs, such as job training and financial coaching, and youth programs ranging from mentorship to summer employment for teens. “As th

Increasing Economic Opportunity through Agriculture

Everyone deserves to have a good job, and everyone deserves to eat well. That has been the vision of Growing Home since its founding in 2005. As the first high-production USDA-certified organic farm within city limits, Growing Home uses agriculture to inspire healthy living, increase economic opportunity and empower the Englewood community. The organization provides nutritious food and food education to the community as well as a farm-based training program that has helped over 500 people with employment barriers find new career paths. The training program offers participants, or Production Assistants, opportunities to develop transferable skills, work experience, readiness support and mentorship. Growing Home harvests over 200 varieties of vegetables between each of its farms. Each piece of produce is packed, sold at one of its farm stands or delivered to residents in nearby communities. “I learned about Growing Home’s training program through my daughter’s preschool. I wasn’t sur

Providing Pathways to Careers in Health Care

As an alumna of a high school operated by Instituto del Progresso, former participant of various educational programs and previous volunteer, Diana Alpizar exemplifies the family style approach that is recognized as one of Instituto’s strongest qualities. Through its adult education courses, public charter high schools, nursing college and career pathways programs focused on healthcare, manufacturing and retail, the Little Village-based organization is known as a key leader in advancing and improving the lives of the Latino and immigrant communities. In her current role as the director of college and academic affairs at Instituto, Diana works on the recruitment and admissions operations for the Basic Nurse Assistant Program (BNAP) and the Associate Degree in Nursing Program (ADN) offered through Instituto College. Through the Career Pathways in Healthcare program, the organization also offers opportunities for individuals to help them prepare for careers as certified nursing assistan

Providing Emergency Resources for Families

When Veronica Sanchez joined the Chicago Commons team in March 2020 after moving on from her human resources job in the for-profit sector, she did not anticipate she would need to pivot to working remotely only a few days into her new role as a result of the COVID-19 statewide stay-at-home order. “I had to shift from having an office and being on the field to operating remotely. Shifting successfully and remaining engaged with our clients are some of the things I’m most proud of,” said Veronica, an Employment Coach and Workforce Development Coordinator at Chicago Commons. Chicago Commons is 126-year-old social service organization with the mission of empowering individuals, families, and communities, primarily Humboldt Park, Pilsen, Back of the Yards, and Bronzeville, to overcome systemic barriers so future generations can thrive. As an Employment Coach, Veronica offers support to over 800 families across four of Chicago Commons’ early education centers. She also coordinates Pathwa

Saving Local Businesses in Greater Englewood

For 36 years, Tess Porter has owned and managed Tess’ Style Shop at the intersection of Garfield Boulevard and South Ashland Avenue. She’s seen iconic, name-brand businesses — signs with golden arches and burger crowns — come and go. She’s seen children walk by, stop in, grow up and have their own children do the same. She’s hired locally, given generously and waved at thousands of passers-by as she reinvested, time and again, into her business. Everyone knows that Tess’ Style Shop is the place to go in Englewood for beauty and grooming services and supplies, for women and men, behind big, plate-glass windows. Everyone including looters, who in the heat of the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in May 2020, broke Tess’ beautiful big windows, entered her store and ravaged it terribly. “It was heartbreaking. I cried,” said Tess. “It was hard because I’ve been here a long time. I felt like they not only should have known who I am, but that they should’ve had a little bit more respect fo

Greater Englewood Chamber of Commerce Restoring Local Businesses

Small business owners know the necessity of networking: Mixing with other entrepreneurs, swapping business cards and sharing ideas can make the road to success a little more even and a little less lonely. But a global pandemic changes everything. “Before COVID, we would host a happy hour event at a local business, provide refreshments and tell everyone to bring business cards,” said Felicia Slaton-Young, the co-founder and executive director of the Greater Englewood Chamber of Commerce. “There’d be music and networking, and we’d also make time for everyone to introduce themselves, give a one-minute pitch and say what they want to achieve from the event.” Everything has been different this year, noted Felicia, who established the Chamber in 2015 and has grown it to more than 50 members, largely through canvassing business corridors and networking. The pandemic was this year’s first blow to Englewood businesses, many of which are restaurants whose revenues plummeted during weeks of she