DISCUSS

A Community To Cherish

By Belany Contreras From Lincoln Park High School

I’ve lived in the neighborhood of Avondale my whole life. I was only about 5 years old when I moved into my new home, but I remember the frightening nights when I’d hear fighting and screaming outside my block, and I remember being intimidated by the group of young men who lingered the streets all day and night. My parents would always remind me to not leave beyond the front part of my house if I were playing outside.

Much of the violence that occurs in Chicago and that occurred in Avondale was involved with teens. Why do these people do bad things? Do they really not see anything good to do? I strongly believe that being involved with your community is a great way to take control of what you want your community to be like. With programs for children, teens and adults, I believe communities would learn to get along and be involved with projects that will make a change for the better.

For Avondale, I think the change came when a closed private school was remodeled to be a daycare center in 2006 called Concordia Place. Besides offering daycare programs for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, it also has an after–school program and a summer camp for children ages 6-12 years old, a leadership program for teens, ESL classes for adults, and a senior program. Concordia Place gives many opportunities to be involved with your community.

My brothers and I were a part of their after school program. The counselors would pick us up after school and we’d walk together to Concordia Place (which was only about 5 blocks away). There they would help us with our homework, give us snacks, and play with us. Parents love this program because they don’t have to worry about their children’s safety when they get out of school.

When I turned 13, I joined Concordia’s teen program, Emerging Leaders Program (ELP). Being a very shy girl, I learned a lot of leadership skills such as responsibility, initiative, respect and communication. The program has helped me overcome my weaknesses and develop strength. It’s also kept me busy yearround. I go there whenever I can during the school year and I’ve been there every summer since 2008.

At first, the program didn’t really have a focus. It was meant to give teens a fun experience with field trips, socializing, cleaning up the neighborhood, learning leadership skills and being outdoors. Now, it’s become more than that. Avondale residents weren’t doing much for their community and the idea of providing fresh, organic produce for the community was taken into consideration because there weren’t many local markets. The Emerging Leaders Program partnered with Linne Elementary School to transform the neglected patio into a vegetable garden for the teens. An herb garden was also built in Concordia Place.

Teens helped construct these gardens and have been maintaining them. During the summer and early fall, farmers markets take place in Concordia Place where their produce and herbs are sold. They’re also partnered with other organic companies which sell their products at their farmers markets. The ELP worked with Abbey Brown Soap Artisans who learned how to make their own organic soap. They make six different scents of soap and sell it at their farmers markets.

Many people are amazed to learn everything the ELP does and they admire and support us. I am amazed to see everything the ELP has done for my community because along with having our own gardens and farmers markets, we also visit seniors at St. Paul’s House, we read books and give nutrition workshops to the younger children at Concordia Place, and we have become role models for the community and our peers.

Concordia Place has transformed Avondale by all of its opportunities and programs. But specifically, it has transformed teens into having knowledge of nutrition, being responsible and respectful, and knowing the importance of the environment. Today, there are 50 teens in the program and they’re all working to benefit the community. I never thought I would love the program; I love what we do in the program and knowing that we do it to help the community is a great feeling.

If the city were to have more programs like these, in which teens learn skills and are kept active in their community, there would be more people involved with beneficial activities, rather than violence. Please take this into consideration and realize how the ELP has changed Avondale and its people.

Please support programs and activities because sometimes, all people need is an example for them to do good things.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Belany Contreras is a senior who lives in Avondale on Chicago's Northwest Side. She plans to attend college with a pre-law and/or Spanish major. In her pastime, she sings and plays the guitar.

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