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Congratulations to our 2014 Neighborhood Heroes!

2014 Neighborhood Hero Award Recipients

Cheryl Johnson, Auburn Gresham

Cheryl Johnson has assisted the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Council as a consultant for over 10 years. With more than 15 years of experience as a professional manager of real estate tax incentives for the City of Chicago’s Department of Planning and more than 25 years of experience promoting economic development and improvement programs in communities, she is a valued asset. Cheryl was instrumental in the development of the 79th Street business corridor and Special Services Area #32 that brought added security, beautification, and economic development to the area. The project that has shown the most notable success is the creation of the 79th Street Renaissance Festival and Family Peace Jam, which brings thousands of people and positive press into the community each year.

Diana Rubio, Back of the Yards/Garfield Boulevard

Diana Rubio has served the Back of the Yards community for over 15 years. She has dedicated her life to the betterment of youth and operates under the belief that “no child is born to be bad and with the right directions kids can change.” Diana has worked in outreach for Precious Blood Ministries for 6 years and now oversees the Precious Blood Art Center, which houses a silk-screen t-shirt printing center and other art programs for ex-offenders and high risk probation youth. In addition to working with Precious Blood Ministries, Diana facilitates peace-keeping circles, provides one-on-one counseling to youth, and serves as a court advocate within the juvenile probation system.

The Youth Organizers of Southwest Organizing Project, Chicago Lawn/Gage Park

The Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) allows young people to discover and act on their power and for the betterment of their community, their school, and their lives.  The organizers, Andrea Ortez, David Castro, Joel Rodriguez, and Omar Kamran work directly with Chicago Lawn youth to address issues surrounding education, community safety, immigration, and housing.  Their work strengthens the neighborhood by engaging youth and families around education and violence reduction, strengthening the neighborhood.  Andrea Ortez leads SWOP’s anti-violence work, organizing adults and youth in developing a comprehensive approach to reducing neighborhood violence.  Andrea started organizing in 8th grade when she created a non-profit afterschool program that is still running strong in Los Angeles.  David Castro began working with SWOP at the Teen Reach program at Morrill Math and Science Elementary in 2010. He is currently studying education policy at DePaul University Graduate School of Education. Joel Rodriguez, a homeowner in Chicago Lawn, joined SWOP after nine years of youth organizing work with the Albany Park Community Center, Logan Square Neighborhood Association, and Belmont Avenue Community Church.  The newest member of SWOP, Omar Kamran led SWOP’s Hoops in the Hood summer basketball program and the Family Summer camp, which helped adult and youth participants strengthen trust within their families and build skills to take on issues in the neighborhood. 

Sonya Harper, Englewood

A self-described journalist, publicist, and activist, Sonya Harper is a diligent leader in the Englewood community.  During the 2012 presidential election, she helped to form Englewood Votes!: a non-partisan coalition with the goal of increasing voter registration in Englewood.  Sonya has taken the lead in the resurrection of the Englewood Urban Agricultural Taskforce (recently renamed Grow Greater Englewood), which seeks to build economic development opportunities for local farmers, entrepreneurs, and residents involved in green initiatives, health, and sustainability.  Sonya is well-respected in the community and demonstrates her ability to work collegially with diverse cultures and socio-economic groups.  In addition to her current leadership in Englewood through R.A.G.E. and Imagine Englewood, she also builds positive relationships with Team Englewood and many other organizations within and outside of the Englewood Community. 

Dennis Verges, NHS of the Fox Valley

Since moving to Elgin in 2012, Dennis has moved quickly into establishing a powerful presence by serving as Chair on the NHS of the Fox Valley Advisory Council and as Vice President of the Puerto Rican Heritage Organization. Through connections in the community including the Puerto Rican Heritage Organization, Dennis Verges mentors young adults, guiding them successfully on a path to realize their full potential. Professionally, he is President of Diamond Financial Solutions, where he specializes in financial analysis, contract negotiations, small business start-up, talent management, and event promotion.  Since joining the NHS of the Fox Valley Advisory Council, Dennis has grown as a leader of the organization and a visionary for NHS’ work, promoting positive change in the Elgin area.  His energy and passion transfers to other advisory council members, further expanding the impact that he has on NHS of the Fox Valley and the communities it serves. 

Paul Norrington, North Lawndale

A lifelong resident of North Lawndale, Paul Norrington is committed to improving the conditions of the community.  Paul attended local schools in the area and served as a Cook County Sherriff’s Police Officer for 30 years while residing in the neighborhood. Paul has acted as a steadfast leader in the North Lawndale community, accomplishing several goals while serving as an active member of NHS North Lawndale Advisory Council. He reinstituted his block club in 2002, served as lead community representative in the designation of the K-Town Historic District, and founded the K-Town Historic District Association. Paul has worked for 5 years to develop the North Lawndale bid for the Obama Presidential Library, and, in April of 2014, founded the North Lawndale Presidential Library Committee. Paul also serves on the Board of Directors for Lawndale Christian Development Corporation and works with North Lawndale’s Community Action Council on education.

Jackie Robinson West U.S. Little League National Champions, Roseland

Jackie Robinson West U.S. Little League National Champions are the first all-African American team to win the national championship in 30 years. JRW Little Leaguers have uplifted and galvanized the entire city, especially in the Roseland community.  The team has impacted society at a time when there is extensive violence in the Roseland community. The team’s success initiated several peaceful watch parties and parades. JRW Little Leaguers have been positive role models to youth and have taken on national notice by local and national media.  The team has been featured on Windy City Live and ESPN. Organizer Bill Haley has reported that sales from t-shirts raised over $164,000. With those funds, Bill hopes to expand recruiting efforts for the team and build an indoor, all-weather facility, unique to little league players (credit: CBS Chicago).

Chet Jackson, West Humboldt Park

Chet Jackson is a dedicated community development professional with a passion for creating sustainable opportunities for residents of underserved communities.  Chet is a resident of West Humboldt Park and serves as the Executive Director of West Humboldt Park Development Council. During his first year in this role, Chet successfully developed and financed a restaurant turnkey project along Chicago Avenue, Turkey Chop Gourmet Grill.  Turkey Chop has provided the West Humboldt Park community with access to a healthy restaurant, the first of its kind along the commercial corridor in West Humboldt Park and the first sit-down restaurant in the community in over twelve years.  Chet has been instrumental in leading the effort of establishing SSA #63 (Special Service Area) along Chicago Avenue.  This effort has generated business and resident support for a small property tax increase, which has resulted in additional resources to make improvements along Chicago Avenue.  Chet shares NHS’ vision of neighborhood revitalization, seeing the connection between a safer, more vibrant Chicago Avenue and attracting families to buy their first homes in West Humboldt Park. 

Chicago Southland Housing & Community Development Collaborative, NHS of the South Suburbs

The Chicago Southland Housing & Community Development Collaborative (The Collaborative) works in conjunction with the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association, Metropolitan Planning Council, and others to address housing issues.  The Collaborative is a liaison for the group of 24 municipalities in Southern Cook County and Northern Will County that work together to address regional housing issues.  Recently The Collaborative implemented a new initiative, Housing Plus, which connects housing, workforce training, and other resource services.  The Collaborative has been successful in securing $29.5 million in public funding, $4.5 million in private capital, and $466,000 in philanthropic investments, all of which has had a tremendous impact in the Southland.  These initiatives were spearheaded by two unique and creative women who value the vision of the Southland community, Janice Morrissey and Lakeshia Wright.  Both of these women have distinct expertise in regional planning and have connected organizations to clearly define their interests and missions through innovative strategies. They serve The Collaborative with devotion and a level of dedication that goes beyond the scope of the job.

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