William (Bill) Leavy, of Oak Park, a lifelong advocate for economic and social justice, and the founder of the Greater West Town Community Development Project on Chicago’s West Side, died on Monday, Oct. 25, 2021. Born on Nov. 13, 1945, he studied at the University of Chicago Divinity School and Loyola University Chicago. He began his career of community service by teaching world religions in Chicago Catholic high schools. He was a mentor to scores of young social service professionals and educators seeking to make a difference in the city, and an irrepressible and unpretentious spirit who loved life.
He was an innovator in creating and delivering highly effective anti-poverty and workforce development programs to serve the unemployed and under-employed residents of West Town, East and West Garfield Park, Humboldt Park, and North Lawndale. He was among the first to draw attention to a long-ignored dropout crisis affecting the city’s African-American and Latino youth. He worked with Chicago Tribune journalists to publish a ground-breaking series of investigative reports on the scale and severity of the CPS dropout crisis, and called on Chicago Public Schools to address it.
He founded the Greater West Town Community Development Project in 1988, after several years’ experience working for other nonprofit agencies, including Association House of Chicago, where he created a program to re-enroll high school dropouts. He also helped to design a plan for local community economic development.
When he set out to follow his own vision for expanding educational and economic opportunities for low-income adults and youth, he created industrial skills-training programs for adults in close partnership with local employers and small- to mid-sized manufacturing companies. The Greater West Town “Community Business Partnership” became a model for other agencies, and was the basis of a highly effective state-funded program, the Job Training & Economic Development (JTED) program. After founding Greater West Town, he designed another alternative high school, the West Town Academy, to address the needs of high school dropout youth, one accredited to grant high school diplomas. Greater West Town is housed today in a former manufacturing building, for which he spearheaded a unique funding partnership utilizing Tax Increment Financing and state and federal New Market Tax Credits to renovate the structure.
He was always challenging and encouraging local, state and federal policy makers to provide more targeted resources and flexible programs to address the needs of communities whose residents have multiple barriers to educational and employment opportunities. He testified before Congress and engaged key decision makers in contemporary debates over government spending priorities.
Greater West Town has frequently hosted state and federal officials, including members of President Obama’s Administration, who wanted to see successful job training programs in action.
Bill Leavy is survived by Jacqueline (Jackie) Leavy, his wife of 43 years; his three children, Norah Leavy-Jarczak (Chris Jarczak), Patrick Leavy, and Clare Leavy; two grandsons, Ryan and Evan Jarczak; two brothers, Michael (Patricia) Leavy and Jack (Nancy) Leavy; his sister, Mary Leavy-Reeves (Tom Reeves); and 16 nieces and nephews, their spouses and children.
Visitation will be 3-9 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 3, at Peterson-Bassi Chapels 6938 W. North Ave., Chicago, with the funeral at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 4 at First Baptist Congregational Church, 1613 W. Washington Blvd., Chicago.
In lieu of flowers memorials to Greater West Town Community Project, 500 N. Sacramento Blvd., Chicago, IL 60612, www.gwtp.org, are appreciated.