Coalitions in Action— West Garfield Park Community Stakeholders Empowers Youth and Parent Leaders

Tell me about your community and the communities that your coalition serves – its population and unique features. When was the coalition formed?  

West Garfield Park (WGP) is 1.5 square miles on the west side of Chicago, seven miles from downtown with a population of 18,000 located in the “Black Belt” of Chicago, home to the “truly disadvantaged” (Wilson, William J. 1987, The Truly Disadvantaged). 40% of adults and 60% of children live at or below the poverty level. Poverty is fed by racial isolation failed businesses, lost manufacturing jobs, flooding of illegal substances, and lack of adequate infrastructure or capacity of the community to solve these complex problems.   

The West Garfield Park Community Stakeholders (WGPCS) started in fall 2011 with funding from the Illinois Department of Human Services and Governor Quinn, to engage young people and sector partners in working together to reduce youth involvement in substance abuse and violence. The WGPCS was part of a statewide Safety NetWorks (SNW) group, a city-wide reach into 20 Chicago poverty communities to organize young people, parents, and community stakeholders to provide constructive alternatives to gangs, violence and drug use. The coalition brought together these community stakeholders in an effort to bridge gaps and to work together to promote a safe, healthy, and drug-free community. 

What unique issues is your coalition facing? 

Lack of employment opportunities for young people between the ages of 16 to 24, ongoing illegal drug usage and sales of K2, Spice, LOUD (Marijuana with other substances added), and LEAN (alcohol, candy and cough syrup), poor economic development, and the inability for residents to feel like they are getting ahead are issues faced by the coalition.

What activity or program is your coalition most proud of?

In 2013, WGPCS was awarded a Drug-Free Communities grant to continue its work on reducing underage drinking and substance abuse via three strategies:

  • Youth development activities: youth worked on self-development, leadership skills and improving literacy and employment skills while being involved in prevention events and activities
  • Creation of a West Side Community Stakeholders Coalition: from four neighboring communities organized to mobilize community action and build resources and relationships to reduce youth substance abuse and create social and environmental changes on the West Side of Chicago
  • Identification of Mental Health Services and Resources for Individuals and Families: Understanding the importance of recognizing and addressing the need for mental health services in communities is paramount.  Breaking down the stigma of receiving assistance helps eliminate some of the previous barriers to access for help. 

These strategies have been successful from 2013 through 2018. In addition, the coalition’s goals on youth participation, parental and community involvement and overall participation have all been met and/or exceeded. The Youth Council Leadership Council has a steady number of 20-30 youth, while the Youth Council support increased in numbers from 20 to as many as 100.

Our parental involvement component is made up of the West Side Men, called Fathers Who Care, that meet monthly to build resources and to network on strategies to recruit, retain and engage more men from the West Side of Chicago, on various issues that are facing our community.  The Mothers Who Care component meets monthly to strengthen relationships and to provide resources and support to other mothers on the West Side of Chicago. 

What advice would you give to other coalitions that may be addressing some of the same issues?

“Continue to nurture and encourage other community stakeholders on the importance of working together and building bridges to strengthen community collaborations,” said Reverend Walter Jones, executive director of Fathers Who Care. “Be patient with each other and open to the opinions and concerns of others as well as our young people.”