Spotlight Stories: Proviso Township, Illinois

The Spotlight Stories series features examples of how people across the country are working creatively and effectively to enhance well-being for themselves and to leave a legacy of well-being for generations to come. These are stories from communities creating lasting legacies identified through the Well Being Legacy initiative.  

THE BACKGROUND

Located just nine miles west of the city of Chicago, Proviso Township is one of 29 townships in Cook County, Illinois. An urban community, the township spans just 30 square miles and has a population of roughly 150,000. The Township is diverse, with roughly one third Hispanic, one third black, and one third white.

THE CHALLENGE 

Proviso Township experienced adult and childhood obesity rates much higher than national rates. There was no grocery store, and few goods and services were owned by black and Latino residents. There were also disparities in education, socioeconomics and health outcomes, and a significant number of formerly incarcerated residents trying to “get back on their feet.” The community experienced institutional racism, community segregation, and racial conflict as decision makers and community champions all grappled separately to identify pathways for positive community growth.

THE COLLABORATION

Similar to many comprehensive, place-based community improvement efforts around the nation, Proviso’s work began with obesity prevention. Proviso Township is proud to host Proviso Partners for Health (PP4H), a multi-sector coalition developed to ensure healthy food access and community economic development. PP4H started their obesity prevention work with a $10,000 grant from Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children (CLOCC), a regional champion and a summit including themselves, the Cook County Department of Public Health, and the local United Way. A number of other local organizations had a ten-year history of working on smaller projects in less-organized ways, contributing to a common sense of trust among them, but there wasn’t previously sufficient infrastructure for large-scale collaboration. Funding through the 100 Million Healthier Lives SCALE 1.0 initiative enabled them to capitalize on pre-existing community trust to accelerate community improvement efforts. By 2016, Proviso Partners for Health had the infrastructure and community of solutions skills to apply for the Trinity Health’s Transforming Community Initiatives grant.

Today, PP4H’s list of partners is impressively long, with representation from local school districts, academic institutions, government, hospital systems, law enforcement, business, social service organizations and nonprofits. They value balanced power and diversity, with sixty percent of leadership African American and Latino. The group has open meetings and communication, collects and shares community data, and continues to foster community trust through promotion of common ownership of problems and solutions, as well as consistent resident engagement. They view work as accountable to the community, as well as to the funder.

THE BRIGHT SPOT

Proviso Township has experienced community transformation through collaboration. To address high foreclosures, unemployment and crime, they’re developing affordable housing with storefronts on the lower level. They worked with local schools and community-based organizations to develop a community leadership academy, which builds capacity for residents and organizations to see their role in policy, system and environmental change. The academy is popular because it gives the community tools to be their own voice and remove barriers to policy, systems and environmental success. Organizations and individuals are tapping into unprecedented potential. For example, a resident who had worked in domestic violence prevention for a decade with no funding was able to create a nonprofit organization and secure funding in less than a year after attending the academy. The academy serves as an incubator for creating sustainable models for downstream work, including worker-owned coops, urban agriculture, and school-based healthy food initiatives.

“What we were doing started to become a model for other communities. We’re focusing on how we can share our success to enable others to have the same kind of success.” – Lena Hatchett, Co-Founder of Proviso Partners for Health

THE FUTURE

Although much has been accomplished, PP4H still has a long road ahead. Just recently, a press release was launched outlining the health disparity issues throughout Illinois. The Illinois Department of Public Health is leading an initiative in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to address this issue, and PP4H is hopeful that more of this work will be led through state pathways and funding moving forward. Overall, the future looks bright: PP4H went from $10,000 in funding to $3 million today, and they hope to double that amount in the next two years. They’re future focus includes improving community safety, more measurable results and sharing success.

 

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