By Terry Dean
More than $100,000 from the state is coming to two Oak Park entities.
Oak Park Public Library and District 97's Multicultural Center will divvy up $135,000 in state appropriations secured by state Rep. LaShawn Ford (8th). Neither organization requested the money, which Ford applied for last year.
Ford said he sought the appropriations to get community organizations in his district much-needed funds for educational programs.
The Multicultural Center, which is housed at Julian Middle School, 416 S. Ridgeland Ave., provides after-school and summer programming. The center also works with D97 classroom teachers on multicultural projects. The Oak Park Public Library, 834 Lake St., provides year-round programming for youth.
With the state still facing a financial crunch, Ford said it was tough getting this money.
"Some individuals believe we should stop spending and pay down our bills, but our communities are hurting. We should spend money where it's needed," said Ford.
The Oak Park state representative, whose district extends to the West Side and western suburbs, also secured more than half a million dollars for community organizations in Austin. Ford said the appropriations were approved this month and the community groups have received the money.
The Oak Park Public Library has received $100,000, with the Multicultural Center getting $35,000. Lynn Allen, the center's director, said the funds will be used for a video production project she has wanted to undertake.
The center's summer programming includes college field trips, African dancing and drumming, rapping and Taekwondo. Allen said she'd like to have the kids make videos of those activities and talk about them. She added that the village is interested in broadcasting the students' work on VOP Channel 6.
"I've never done this before, but I've always wanted to do it because the kids are showing a real interest in video production," Allen said.
Ford stressed that he requested the money specifically for educational programs.
Austin has seen schools shuttered and the local YMCA closed within the last year, he noted. While Oak Park is known as an affluent community overall, Allen said there are many families here who are struggling.
"People think everyone in Oak Park is rich, but there are families who are hurting. They don't have a lot of money and if they do have it, they can't spend on non-essential things," she said.
Ford said he plans to request more money for youth programming in his district.
$300K for ACT-SO program
The Chicago Westside Branch of the NAACP, which is located in Austin, received $300,000 in state funding to expand its ACT-SO youth program, which includes students from Oak Park and River Forest High School.
Sponsored by the national NAACP, ACT-SO (Academic, Cultural, Technological, Scientific Olympics) is a scholastic program that targets high school students. NAACP chapters nationwide also host local competitions where students compete in "Olympic-style" academic events in math, science and the arts.
Karl Brinson, president of the Westside NAACP, said the chapter will use its money to recruit more students and adult mentors for the program, which promotes students' interest in academic achievement. Students from OPRF participate in ACT-SO and compete annually in the West Side competition. Last year, two OPRF students qualified for the national competition.
Nia Smith and Briana Williams took first place in last year's local competition, qualifying them to participate at the national event that July in Florida. This year's local competition is Saturday, April 26, at UIC Student Center, 750 S. Halsted.