As city’s birthday ends, Evanston150 lives on

Scott Brown, Reporter

In 1963, when Evanston turned 100 years old, the city celebrated with a massive lakefront party. When a steering committee began plans in 2009 for Evanston’s 150th birthday, they had bigger ideas.

“We very quickly came to conclusion that we wanted to do something that was more meaningful and would have a lasting effect on Evanston,” said former Mayor Jay Lytle, a member of the committee.

The Evanston150 project was born, a citywide initiative of ten projects designed to make a positive impact on the community. Work began in 2011 with the compiling of 2,013 project ideas from throughout the city. The list was narrowed down through a selection jury made up of community members, as well as a public voting event. Work began on the 10 winning ideas in January 2012 and continued throughout 2013.

Project goals ranged from establishing sustainable local food sources to creating a workforce development program for young adults. Each project had an independent committee of community members.

“This was not about what the city could do,” said Sara Schastok, another steering committee member. “It was about what the people could do if they could imagine.”

Some projects had already accomplished their goals as 2013 came to a close. Through the Here’s to Our Health project, Evanston150 formed a partnership with officials planning to build a new health center. A federal grant was allocated to the Erie Family Health Center in June 2012, and the clinic officially opened in October that year.

Another highlight was the Water, Water Everywhere project, which aims to provide greater access to water recreation as well as to ensure all Evanstonians can swim. Through its Evanston Swims! initiative, the team partnered with community organizations such as the McGaw YMCA, YWCA Evanston/North Shore and Three Crowns Park to provide free swim lessons. Almost 200 second graders from eight schools have already taken lessons through the program, Evanston150 said.

“Teaching the second and third graders how to swim will have a profound impact on hundreds and thousands of boys and girls,” said Lytle, who serves as managing director at the First Bank and Trust in Evanston. “And Water, Water Everywhere is in expansion mode to bring in every child.”

Other projects are still developing and are planning to build upon the work they have done so far, according to the Evanston150 website.

The A Market For All Seasons project is currently searching for a permanent location for their year-round farmers market. A group of teens is now meeting to make The Evanston Teen Center project a reality after surveying Evanston Township High School students on their interests.

Other projects, such as the Little and Learning project to provide quality early-childhood education, are analyzing data they have been collecting over the past few years.

“We never imagined that things would be finished by the end of 2013,” said Schastok, who heads the Evanston Community Foundation. “Big things take time.”

She said the projects will look for future funding in a variety of places. Some will come from established endowments, while others will be grants from organizations such as ECF.

For Lytle, the projects themselves aren’t the only impact that Evanston150 has made.

“The process that we used is one that other organizations will follow based on the success: going out to the people, getting their ideas and implementing the best ideas,” he said. “It demonstrates the power that people have when they believe in something.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @scottbrown545