Little Village has had more than its share of heartache over the last 13 months, with the police shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo and the murder of 8-year-old Melissa Ortega, struck by a stray bullet while walking down the street with her mother.
Tuesday was a dramatically different day.
A strong and proud community was celebrating a $16.6 million investment that will give young people a constructive and non-violent alternative to gangs and prove to them their neighborhood is not being ignored.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot joined state Sen. Celina Villaneuva (D-Chicago), local alderpersons Mike Rodriguez (22nd) and George Cardenas (12th) and other school and community leaders to kick off the expansion and renovation of education and athletic facilities at Farragut Career Academy, 2345 S. Christiana Ave.
The project includes a new turf soccer field and lighting, a basketball court, scoreboard, bleachers and fencing. That work is to be finished by fall.
Phase 2, which Chicago Public Schools has promised to fully fund, will add a press box, public-address system, restrooms and community space by fall 2023.
After recently adding an International Baccalaureate program, the high school will be getting a new law classroom, teaching lab, resources and study room. A new roof, tuckpointing, electrical and accessibility upgrades are also planned.
For New Life Center Pastor Matt DeMateo, Tuesday’s ceremony was emotional and deeply personal.
DeMateo said a community that has lost far too many young people to senseless violence must show them the city cares.
“Just over a year ago, Adam Toledo lost his life right here on this site. … A space like this where such a tragedy has happened — and unfortunately, just four months ago, we buried 8-year-old Melissa Ortega,” DeMateo said.
“Our community has been plagued by violence. … But I want you to know that, coming together, working together, building together, we can heal together.”
DeMateo, who lives blocks away from Farragut, said he has “lived and served” in Little Village for 22 years. His son will be a Farragut freshman this fall.
“I joked with him this morning. I was getting ready. I said, ‘Hey, this is the signing bonus for joining a new high school. They heard you were coming and we’re building a brand new field, air-conditioning, roof — everything,” DeMateo said.
Turning serious, he added: “In a neighborhood with the most youth in the entire city of Chicago and some of the least amount of greenspace, projects like this are a game-changer.”
Rodriguez recalled “what happened here a little over a year ago, a hundred steps from us.”
“We remember him today as well as someone who could potentially have benefited from what we’re doing here today. And I say his name: Adam Toledo,” the alderperson said.
“Violence really is driven by the poverty of the soul. What young people see around them in the buildings they walk in and the fields they play on is what they see in themselves and their future potential. These investments are feeding our young peoples’ souls.”
Since his days on Farragut’s Local School Council, Rodriguez had known Farragut needed a turf field — “but more importantly,” he said, he knew that “our community was in need. In need of vital resources, in need of investments, in need of a little bit of tender loving care.”