Chicago Park District Explores Partnerships with Peace Fellows

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Chief of Staff

On June 18, 2019, the Chicago Peace Fellows met with Derrick Faulkner, the Area Manager, and Art Richardson, the Regional Director, from the Chicago Park District. Together they held an open discussion of how the places and programs of the Park District can be used to further peace building and violence prevention over the summer. Art opened the conversation by acknowledging that "outreach is not engagement" and that the Park District relies on partnerships with community leaders like the Peace Fellows to authentically hear from the community and to establish collaborations that respond to the challenges and aspirations of all Chicagoans.

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The Fellows were excited to learn about the Park District's "Summer Pass" initiative which allows one child per pass to attend any of their neighborhood Parks' summer programs free of charge. The Park District is rolling out this pilot program in specific west and southside parks to bolster participation and provide opportunities for youth who might not otherwise afford the fees of summer programs.

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Each Fellow was also given a Summer Pass to pass out to a member of their communities.

"We measure success not by how much money we bring in, but by the number of children we serve.  No family will be turned away from Park programs because of an inability to pay.  We'll make it work for families." -- Art Richardson, Regional Director

Art and Derrick spoke about the other free programming the Park District offers throughout the city, including initiatives like free music and art programs in Lawndale and mentoring and leadership camps. Such programming is paid for by large city events like Lollapalooza, through sponsorship from large companies such as Nike and LL Bean, or through partnerships with institutions such as the Lincoln Park Zoo.

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Peace Fellow Robert Biekman asked how the Park District sought to "build community as a means of violence prevention instead of waiting for a tipping point" and then having to use programming as a reaction. Art Richardson shared his commitment to "recruit Ambassadors from the community" where local residents can enter into a "give and take relationship" with the park, working together as a partnership to build safe neighborhoods. Currently Park Advisory Councils (PACs) are the primary place for this to happen, but Art and Derrick both also noted how conversations with change makers such as the Peace Fellows lead to productive partnerships.

"It is better to do it together than fail alone." Art Richardson, Regional Director

Peace Fellow Jacquelyn Moore asked about programming for teenage youth, a demographic she targets in her work. She shared that there is generally ample programming for young children but fewer opportunities for teens.

"You turn twelve and the world turns its back on you and then wonders why you are a mess." -- Jacquelyn Moore, Chicago Peace Fellow

Art admitted that previous difficulties in working with teens had led to reduction of programs for that age group but gave examples of how the Park District is actively reversing that trend to create more opportunites for teens oustide of their successful youth employment programs. The "Extreme Team Camp" is a successful 6-week program that happens in 35 parks and is looking to grow.

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Diane Latiker, a Peace Fellow from Roseland, asked about the Chicago Park District's strategy to follow-up with and stay engaged with the children and youth it serves. Derrick and Art invited advice and partnerships around keeping youth engaged and seeing them return to programs each year. Diane suggested that the Peace Fellows could work with the Park District to help create a follow up program, or perhaps be the follow-up mechanism, for the children, youth, and families that utilize the summer programs. "How can we be that continuity and connect for the Park District after the summer programs end?" she asked.

The two-hour conversation ended with the exchange of contact information and several follow-up meetings schedule for fellows with the manager of their neighborhood park. Art Richardson let all the Peace Fellows know that he would happily provide support and waive fees for Chicago Peace Fellow events and was looking forward to speaking individually with Fellows about their shared summer projects and neighborhood initiatives.

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