Lightfoot announces first 7 winners of Chicago Works Challenge

Lightfoot announces first 7 winners of Chicago Works Challenge

Mayor Lori Lightfoot announces the winners of the Chicago Community Works challenge on Tuesday, Jan. 18. | Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Four parks, two Chicago Public Schools and one branch library are in line for $10 million in improvements with the $1.5 million-apiece grants.

Four parks, two Chicago Public Schools and one branch library are in line for $10 million in improvements, thanks to a community-driven grant program whose winners were announced Tuesday.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot launched the Chicago Works Challenge on her two-year anniversary to give local residents an all-too-rare opportunity to determine their own destiny instead of having those public improvements dictated by City Hall.

On Tuesday, the first seven winners were chosen for the $1.5 million-apiece grants from among 500 online submissions and 21 projects short-listed by a citywide selection committee.

Lightfoot proudly announced the finalists during a news conference at Rainbow Beach Park that was more like celebration.

She thanked the seven grant winners for being “part of the change in your own community.”

“We’ve seen what happens when residents are left out of conversations and not included in community planning. Disinvestment deepens. Racial wealth and health gaps widen. And progress is stymied,” the mayor said.

“We exist as public officials to support our residents. Not the other way around. So it’s important that … we’re engaging you, and that the policies and prescriptions that we come up with are reflective of your lived experience … Residents know their block, their neighborhood the best. They know better than anyone what their parks or libraries or schools are lacking.”

The winning projects include:

—A modernized playground, contemporary climbing equipment and landscaping at Matthew Gallistel Language Academy, 10347 S. Ewing Ave.

—Transforming unimproved lawn spaces surrounding Claremont STEM Academy, 2300 W. 64th St., into a “cohesive playground that provides structure” for student and neighborhood recreation.

—A renovated children’s section at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library, 3436 S. King Drive.

—An outdoor stage for live performances and movies at Columbus Park, 500 S. Central Ave. The project also includes a new facelift for basketball and tennis courts, improvements to natural spaces and new landscaping.

—Improved spaces for cricket, horseshoes, bocce ball and pickleball at Warren Park, 6601 N. Western Ave.

—A repaired fieldhouse and auditorium roof and other building upgrades at Kelvyn Park, 4438 W. Wrightwood Ave.

—New playing surfaces, a seating area and landscaping for the outdoor handball and racquetball complex at Rainbow Beach Park, 3111 E. 77th St.

The Rainbow Beach project is the brainchild of Carolyn Vazquez, a national racquetball champion and coach who credits the sport with giving her direction and discipline and hopes it will do the same for the next generation of Chicagoans.

“I look around and I see the effects of violence in our communities. The children and what happens. It’s really sad. It makes me wonder what our future summers in Chicago are gonna look like for my daughter and all of the other families raising children in Chicago,” Vazquez said.

“We must take care of them. Advocate on their behalf and guide them. I know the situation can seem hopeless. It feels hopeless. But I believe we can all be empowered to offer solutions. That’s exactly what the Chicago Works Challenge does. It empowers me as a resident to make decisions.”

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