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Monday, October 12, 2015

Youth-inspired Englewood community garden to teach life skills, provide safe haven

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More than 40 volunteers recently came together to transform a vacant Englewood lot into an outdoor classroom that will teach at-risk youth to plant, grow and harvest fresh produce – and give them a safe place to gather in an often dangerous neighborhood.

The community garden initiative was funded by Get IN Chicago, a public-private partnership that works to reduce violence in vulnerable Chicago communities by funding evidence-based programs. The idea grew out of this summer’s Allstate Youth Shout Out (YSO) event, which challenged teens to brainstorm ways to make their communities safer. Working alongside local design firm gravitytank, youth identified the need to create “urban oases” that can provide safe and fun gathering spaces.

Volunteers included YSO teens, local residents, community groups, Allstate employees and representatives from Chicago-based nonprofit organizations Mujeres Latinas en Acción and the Sweet Water Foundation.

“If we want to make a difference in Englewood and other communities severely impacted by violence, we need to engage and listen to the youth that must navigate these neighborhoods every day,” said Toni Irving, executive director of Get IN Chicago. “We hope Get IN Chicago serves as a model for how businesses and community leaders can come together to tackle social issues. There’s strong evidence to support the revamping of vacant lots and we’re happy to provide resources that empower youth to take back their neighborhoods.”

Not too long ago, the formerly vacant lot was an eyesore, a dumping ground for trash and a magnet for negative activity. But by late afternoon, the space was neatly lined with rows of planters filled with vibrant flowers and a hand-built, raised wooden stage that will create an outdoor classroom environment for youth from Englewood and nearby communities.

By this time next year, the rows of planters will house tomatoes, kale, cucumbers and other produce for local residents, and the outdoor classroom will teach kids about aquaponics and gardening.

“It means everything knowing I can start an idea, have people backing me up and change things for the better,” said Lavelle Rogers, 18, who participated in YSO and hopes to replicate the community garden and education center model in his Austin neighborhood. “I’m looking forward to doing more urban oasis projects.”

The classes and garden will be managed by the Sweet Water Foundation, which in just two years has transformed nearly a full city block into a sprawling network of life that includes Perry Community Farm – which sells produce to local supermarkets and residents – and community gardens used by residents.

John Benford, who lives down the block from the new community garden and education center, said he’s confident the space will contribute to the positive effect the overall transformation has had on the area.

“It’s about more than a community garden,” he said. “It’s about building up a community and showing the kids that even though you live in the ghetto, you don’t have to be destructive. It’s about showing them something different and getting them to care about their community.”

The Allstate Corporation (NYSE: ALL) is the nation’s largest publicly held personal lines insurer, protecting approximately 16 million households from life’s uncertainties through auto, home, life and other insurance offered through its Allstate, Esurance, Encompass and Answer Financial brand names. Allstate is widely known through the slogan “You’re In Good Hands With Allstate®.” The Allstate brand’s network of small businesses offers auto, home, life and retirement products and services to customers in the United States and Canada. In the 20 years since Allstate became a fully independent public company, The Allstate Foundation, Allstate, its employees and agency owners have donated more than $405 million to support local communities.

Get IN Chicago is an innovative five-year, $50 million partnership that focuses on identifying, funding and rigorously evaluating evidence-based programs that lead to sustainable reductions in violence for individuals and communities. Since 2013, GIC has awarded grants totaling more than $13 million for evidence-based community programs that support nearly 10,000 at-risk youth and their families in seven Chicago communities. More information is available at www.getinchicago.org

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Contact:

Dan Waters
(847) 402-8696



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