CKP helps sustain community groups through network that connects them to one anotherBy Deva Woodly
Dorothy Pytel is a community activist with a simple idea: doing the little things can make a big difference.
Pytel developed a program called Woodlawn Youth Solutions, in which local teenagers renovated seven large, dilapidated planters originally located at 62nd Street and Ingleside.
After six weeks of work last summer, the dirty, grey tubs filled with dying plants became vibrantly colored containers displaying the teens’ artwork and filled with fresh perennials.
These planters have since been placed around Woodlawn, making an immediate and visible contribution to the look and feel of the community. The students earned small stipends and also studied skills such as how to write a resume and interview for a job.
Pytel had a number of partners, including the non-profit community development organization archi-treasures, Ald. Willie Cochran and the University’s Civic Knowledge Project.
A new network catalyzed by the Civic Knowledge Project, Partnering for a Sustainable Chicago, enthusiastically supported Pytel’s work. The network consists of individuals and organizations with a passion for creating a greener and cleaner city.
The Civic Knowledge Project, the community connections branch of the Humanities Division, supports and maintains the new network by providing an e-mail listhost, a Web site with an online calendar, a series of discussion forums, initiatives designed to help local projects, special youth education program (such as Enviro Bicycling Clubs and Tree Ins) and specially designed and supported adult education courses offered through the University’s Graham School of General Studies.
In recognition of these efforts, the Sustainable Endowments Institute, a Chicago-based organization that seeks to encourage sustainability in campus operations, has awarded the Civic Knowledge Project a “Champions of Sustainability in Communities” Award.
“This award is a great boost for our new network,” said Bart Schultz, Director of the Civic Knowledge Project. It also marks a new level of activism by the University in sustainable endeavors in surrounding neighborhoods.
“We’re not where we need to be,” reports Schultz, “but we’ve got a lot of great community groups out there, and the University can do a lot in terms of supporting their efforts and offering resources and expertise.”
Schultz said he was inspired to support Woodlawn Youth Solutions because he shares Pytel’s belief that “simple projects can have great and immediate impacts” in their neighborhoods.
Also, he saw the spirit of the project as similar to that of Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai’s “Greenbelt Movement,” which he first started actively emulating when Maathai delivered a lecture at Rockefeller Chapel in 2007. Maathai is the founder of a worldwide movement encouraging people to work on their local environment, as well as a greener and cleaner world.
Schultz said he chose to create a network instead of simply launching a series of new sustainability projects because there were many people leading projects who already were doing important environmental work on the South Side—but not always talking to one another.
“You had Jack Spicer over at Experimental Station who runs a successful community garden on 61st and Dorchester, blocks away from Dorothy Pytel’s Brickyard Garden on Woodlawn between 61st and 62nd. Yet, they weren’t aware of each other’s efforts,” Schultz said. He added that by utilizing the network, people and organizations working to improve environmental sustainability can keep each other informed and pool resources.
Sustainability Partners is not just about new planters, Schultz said. For students, residents and activists, it points to a deeper set of questions concerning “how to build and sustain the kind of community that we all want to live in.”