Meghan Harte is the Executive Director of Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) Chicago. After working for various local government agencies, Meghan left to make a difference in the community. LISC started over 40 years ago, and Chicago was one of the first cities to join. LISC’s mission is to invest in the community through real estate, education, housing, workforce development, and economic opportunities focusing on the youth. This organization wants young people to be engaged, safe, and active. One of the most popular programs with the LISC organization is the Hoops in the Hood program. During 2021, the Hoops in the Hood summer program served over 1,200 youth, with 156 events, in over sixteen neighborhoods around Chicago.
Basketball hoops were strategically placed around Pilsen when the program started fifteen years ago. This program encouraged activity and community engagement along with food and entertainment. The Pilsen community was excited to see something new, fresh, and engaging. Hoops in the Hood games are played in under-utilized spaces, including parks and gyms. The Chicago Police Department and local CAPS organizations are welcome to take part. Most of the participants say they dislike waiting for the following summer before participating in Hoops in the Hood program. One of their long-term goals is to start a winter/spring league to keep the program running year-round. A recent donation by Walgreens is helping to make this a reality. It is especially important to keep children active for both their mental and physical well being. Understandably, many parents are fearful of their children outside due to the ongoing violence plaguing the city, however, once they checked out the Hoops in the Hood program, they quickly approved the kids’ wish to participate. The Hoops in the Hood program is a community effort where parents keep score, grill food, and watch the jumping jack inflatables. The older kids age out of the program but return as volunteers to coach and referee games.
ABC Pilsen focuses on academics, basketball, and community services, per Alex Anaya, founder, and executive director. This Hoops in the Hood organization focuses on tutoring, the fundamentals of basketball, and community service. ABC Pilsen also offers an open gym on Friday nights, and at the end of the summer, there is a Back-to-School event. This is a positive community event with games, giveaways, and free haircuts. Alex said basketball saved his life when he attended Wider Elementary School. He is passionate about keeping the kids off the street, making new connections, and creating memorable experiences. They hope to create a city-wide championship where the kids join new teams, meet new people, and build lifelong relationships.
Before the pandemic, Hoops in the Hood had more participants. The pandemic affected the amount of available space. Space is limited now. They are still trying to navigate the pandemic restrictions, mask mandates, and the extra funds needed to maintain the increased cleaning guidelines. The audience restrictions prevent parents from watching the games, and most parents are not comfortable leaving their children.
Additionally, the city has removed the basketball rims from outside courts to discourage large gatherings. So, they tried to have a virtual “Hoops in the House” challenge to engage the kids. When the kids could come back, most kids were out of shape and overcame mental health challenges. They also noticed a few kids went to other organizations or Indiana where the restrictions are more relaxed.
State Farm has been a critical partner; they have provided funding since the beginning of the program. Their agents volunteer for the city-wide tournament and get involved in the local Hoops in the Hood programs. They provide extra funds for the back-to-school event and volunteer to assist. Walmart and Walgreens also offer donations for the program. In addition, the board members give tickets to the professional basketball and baseball games for the tournament winners.
The long-term goals include starting smaller leagues and creating new teams across the communities. In addition, they would like to encourage local law enforcement to increase their participation. The motivation is to keep the children and teens engaged, active and provide opportunities to support high school students and recent high school graduates who still want to play. The big goal is to create two leagues, one group for 13 to 16 years and another group for 18 years and up. The Hoops in the Hood program has seen more than 30,000 kids over the years. The kids learn teamwork, leadership skills, and social responsibility. For more information on LISC Chicago, check out Chicago | LISC Chicago.
Theresa Horton is a contributing writer for the Chicago Defender. Find her on social media @passionateresources.