The Cook County city of Harvey, IL, founded in 1889, was once seen as the central hub of the south suburbs. Its growth and popularity lies in the benefits of blue-collar work opportunities from local factories and a growing downtown business district to support the city’s residents. Like many Cook County areas, in these later years, the city has been attacked with various complex social issues such as poverty, political scandal, and increased crime rates. All of which has caused decreases in residents, quality of life, and hope for the city. In the last couple of decades, these factors, along with others, have created challenges for the remaining residents and new families in the area. CEDA, seeing the city as a central hub to community action involvement needed for the south suburbs, established an office in the area to address these needs at the ground level.
Since the establishment of this central location in the city’s downtown, CEDA designated a space for the national Women, Infant, and Children program for the region in the office, as well as our Community Service Block Grant program FsACE, to provide long-term case management for households. Using these efforts as well as established partnership locations to foster our other services, we have still been missing a component to the formula of attempting to eradicate poverty in the area: the input of the community.
When applying for the Robin Hood Foundation grant for Mobility Learning and Action Bets-or Mobility LABs, CEDA didn’t hesitate to assign our version of this initiative to our long-standing efforts in the Harvey community. The Mobility LABs is a collaboration to spur the development of new solutions to sustainably lift families out of poverty and shift narratives around social and economic mobility. The program focuses on people’s sense of control over the trajectory of their lives and belonging and Harvey was ready to accept the challenge.
We begin this opportunity with a kick-off event in partnership with the Robin Hood Foundation and the city’s new Mayor, Christopher Clark, with his recent election promises of “returning the troubled city to prominence.” The highly attended event was promoted to the residents and stakeholders of the community as their opportunity to have a voice in their community. Following, we invited these attendees and their networks to several small focus group conversations to hear their ideas to address these challenges in their community.
This approach was welcomed by the attendees and has resulted in a series of program ideas and models from the residents. We have recently presented our findings to the Robin Hood Foundation and the other grant holders from New York City, Baltimore, Maryland, northeast Pennsylvania, and the Bay Area with the hopes that our work will identify innovative new models that can be replicated throughout the Chicagoland and beyond. We are excited for what the future holds in this opportunity and appreciate the transparency the Harvey community has given to us.