Northwestern partners with Rogers Park nonprofits to serve community


Source: Val Buchanan

A group of eighth graders from Gale Community Academy graduate at Norris. Through Neighbor2Neighbor, Northwestern partners with Gale Community Academy and other nonprofit organizations in Rogers Park.

Clare Proctor, Assistant City Editor

Just past the southern border of Evanston sits Rogers Park, one of the most racially and socioeconomically diverse neighborhoods in Chicago. A pocket of the neighborhood rests just north of a portion of Howard Street, minutes away from Northwestern’s campus.

Yet there has historically been little interaction between the University and the neighborhood residents. With new partnerships that started in 2017, Northwestern is hoping to change that.

Last fall, Northwestern entered into a partnership with three different nonprofits in Rogers Park: A Just Harvest, Gale Community Academy and Howard Area Community Center.

The program, called Neighbor2Neighbor, intends to build long-lasting relationships with the community, said Val Buchanan, assistant director of leadership development and community engagement at Northwestern, who helped launch the program.

“We’re looking to respond to invitations and build around the assets already present in the neighborhood,” she said. “We don’t see this as Northwestern coming in to bring answers or to save anyone, but to partner with and follow the leadership of leaders in the community who are addressing the social concerns there.”

Rogers Park has been “historically marginalized,” Buchanan said, and despite the close proximity to both Evanston and Northwestern, there were few opportunities to connect students and faculty to the Rogers Park neighborhood.

The program follows a model of place-based community engagement — the idea that universities have a responsibility to positively impact the community in which they reside — Buchanan said.

Hannah Merens, a Weinberg senior intending to pursue a masters in education, said working with Neighbor2Neighbor inspired them to become an educator that advocates for their students. Merens volunteers with Neighbor2Neighbor, primarily at Gale Community Academy. The school, located at 1631 W. Jonquil Terrace, serves students from preschool to eighth grade.

“When you come to Northwestern, it is your obligation to be present in the community, to be impassioned by the community and to fight for the community,” Merens said.

A Just Harvest is a local nonprofit rooted at the heart of this community. The organization works to combat hunger through a community kitchen that serves hot meals every day of the year and The Genesis Project, an entrepreneurial urban garden centered around workforce development for community members, as well as social advocacy.

The work the organization does stretches far beyond combating physical hunger, said Tonia Andreina, director of education and community development for the organization.

“Hunger is not just the hunger for food, as in people who are suffering from food insecurity,” Andreina said. “It’s also a hunger for community, so we try to bring together opportunities for people to serve through tangible projects.”

Working to stabilize the lives of Rogers Park community members is a primary tenant of the Howard Area Community Center. One of their main initiatives is the family literacy campaign, a program providing English as a second language classes to adults while their children attend a childhood education program.

Upon completion of the program last year, 50 adults and their children attended Northwestern’s production of “Stellaluna,” said Maxine Bailey, partnerships coordinator for the center. In November, program participants will attend “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” which will be performed at Northwestern’s Hal and Martha Hyer Wallis Theater.

Bailey said the partnership between Northwestern and the Rogers Park neighborhood creates a “living experience of diversity” that students cannot experience by simply sitting in a classroom.

“(Students) get to walk down the street and smell the smells from food from 50 different countries,” Bailey said. “They get to walk down the street and hear music from 50 different countries. It’s sort of a full package experience that has emerged from this partnership.”

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