Game on: Young people participate in The Hoops in the Hood Program in Austin in years past. | Provided by LISC Chicago

An Oak Park resident, who heads up an Austin nonprofit called BUILD Chicago (short for Broad Urban Involvement & Leadership Development), is working with his organization to blanket a portion of the West Side with positivity next month when it hosts its Summer of Opportunity on Aug. 17.

BUILD, which focuses on gang intervention, youth development and violence prevention, recently partnered with LISC Chicago’s Hoops in the Hood summer initiative. The event was rescheduled from June 22 due to weather. 

Summer of Opportunity will include a mile-long parade, a barbecue, bounce houses, a climbing wall, art installations and the popular Hoops in the Hood basketball tournament, among other activities. BUILD Chicago officials said they expect 5,000 people to attend.

“We’re going to be on Harrison Street, between Laramie and Lavergne avenues,” said Adam Alonso, BUILD’s executive director. “We’re going to shut down Harrison Street and have a festival that day.” 

Alonso said the organization worked with Austin’s15th District police department to identify areas that law enforcement officials would like them to focus on. 

“The biggest thing is that this brings folks together,” Alonso said in a statement. “We want to provide these types of opportunities for our communities and young people. This really helps for blocks to come out and for kids to be kids and for the community to help each other.” 

Meghan Harte, executive director of LISC Chicago (Local Initiatives Support Corporation), a community development organization, said the Hoops in the Hood program has spread to 15 neighborhoods since LISC started it in 2006. 

“The benefit of this program is that it is neighborhood-created and neighborhood-driven,” Harte said. “Each neighborhood has a slightly different approach in how they get people involved. That’s because it’s tailored to the community. Our goal is to expand it and make it year-round.” 

Some advice for any Oak Park resident who wants to get involved across Austin Boulevard? Just come, bearing a skill and the will to genuinely engage, Alonso said. 

“We have quite a few people from Oak Park who are volunteering with us on a lot of our events,” Alonso said, before talking about one Oak Park resident, a retired Exelon employee, who helped BUILD start a garden project that includes a greenhouse.

“He built a niche that works,” Alonso said, “and he’s been a positive role model for our young people.” 

Another moral of the story behind the BUILD and LISC partnership is that effective community outreach doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive. 

Harte said that, in addition to being effective, the Hoops in the Hood program is also cost-efficient. The program spends around $100,000 to reach and influence 5,000 young people in 15 communities across the city. 

“It’s the cheapest youth engagement you can do, and everybody loves it,” she said.


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