Chicago Nonprofit Teaches Youth Resilience, One Green Space at a Time

Summer staff from Garfield Park Community Council clear a path at the Ujima Community Garden in Chicago, Illinois on June 13, 2021. Photo from Garfield Park Community Council.

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What makes a community beautiful? One Chicago organization nurtures the beauty in its community by developing green spaces, community resilience and opportunities for youth to flourish.

Garfield Park Community Council is a community-building organization based in Chicago that has been working for more than a decade to build out a vital, resilient neighborhood in the community it serves. Currently, the organization is pushing forward on the implementation of an eco-orchard in the spring of 2022.

Green spaces, like eco-orchards, serve as a space for community education, climate resilience, stability and, yes, the pride that comes with living in a space that is beautiful and full of life. Green spaces also combat the impacts of the urban heat island effect and urban flooding – two significant climate issues many urban communities of color face.

Angela Taylor, Garfield Park Community Council’s wellness coordinator tells the Institute that its fruit and nut orchard will serve many functions, including supplementing produce at the organization’s Neighborhood Market. But, what Taylor is really excited about is the space the eco-orchard creates for youth in the community to work and have a continuous learning academic experience.

In the past, the organization incorporated academic elements in its programs. These included lessons on how to propagate seeds, plant seedlings, perform weeding and maintain gardens overall. The young volunteers often moved from site to site to support all of the community gardens. Now, with a stable location and a shed in place, the youth who volunteer with the organization can have a singular location for shade, storing tools and learning about the evolution of trees and other plants, Taylor said.

Farming, Taylor added, is a skill and trade that recent generations have moved away from. However, there is a benefit in learning this skill because the constant demand for food creates a stable line of work.

Youth engagement in the organization uplifts younger community members and communicates the value of green infrastructure and how it can be used to fight against urban climate inequities. This type of engagement also supports community organizations like Garfield Park Community Council by building out networks of intergenerational climate leaders of color. These networks benefit local and larger communities by sharing knowledge and resources, much like the Institute’s Partnership for Resilient Communities.

In addition to providing a space for the youth to learn and grow, the eco-orchard is meant to be a place for the community as a whole to gather.

“It will become a place where residents will be able to gather in this space, host workshops, potential cooking classes, just to continue to express the importance of us taking note and becoming stewards of what’s happening in the world,” Taylor said

Another important educational and practical function of the eco-orchard is that it will also serve as a water catchment. The project is expected to divert and direct up to 90,000 gallons of stormwater from the surrounding area.

“The lot that was identified to install the garden is a place in the community where when it rains, water puddles," Taylor said. "The rainwater catchment will be designed so that when it rains, water will funnel into the catchment and, during the warm days, water will evaporate and dissipate so that the process can continue."

Right now plans for the orchard are still in the early stages. Garfield Park Community Council has put a lot of work into this idea over the past eight years, having to identify funds to be able to build the orchard, and finding a way to secure cooperation (and partnership) with the city. Taylor said that it was only recently that the organization was notified that the issue had cleared the city council. Garfield Park Community Council is now preparing to send out requests for proposals in order to secure a contractor for the project.

Throughout it all, Garfield Park Community Council has felt the support, particularly the technical support that the Partnership for Resilient Communities initiative has offered.

“This was not an easy task to even get to where we are,” Taylor said. “We’re still waiting for the orchard to actually materialize. However, we felt the support from the Partnership for Resilient Communities being there for us and giving us tools so that even though the orchard is not there, we can still design and build out the programs that will use this space once it’s actually installed. The technical support from the Partnership for Resilient Communities has been phenomenal in helping us create current and future programs.”

For those looking at similar projects in their communities, or even just trying to change their communities for the better, Taylor stresses that this is not an overnight process, but it is important to continue to push the work forward, one way or another.

“Don’t stop the work,” she said. “Continue to work. Visualize what the end goal is and continue to prepare for it, so when it actually does happen, you are ready to implement.”