LISC Chicago has recently teamed up with the Mars Wrigley Foundation to award community organizations with the Shared Smiles Placemaking Grant. Each grant awarded, equaling up to $25,000 per organization, aims to transform local community spaces into safe and accessible places for projects, programs, and events to facilitate community connections while supporting and enhancing existing neighborhood assets.
The partnership between LISC and the Mars Wrigley Foundation dates back to 2019, when Executive Director, Anne Vela-Wagner, set out to do some foundational work in various communities across Chicago. Hearing about LISC, who was already ingrained in neighborhood work, Anne set out to collaborate with them on ways to invest in south and west side neighborhoods, and from there, the Shared Smiles Placemaking Grant Program was born.
As for how each organization was selected, Lauren Lewis, Program Officer for the Neighborhood Network at LISC, said, “We selected our first two organizations, Austin Coming Together, and the Garfield Park Community Council and Accion Chicago partnership in 2019 based on their commitment to maintaining the upkeep of their current spaces and projects. In 2020, however, due to COVID and civil unrest in the communities, we were forced to pivot and look at organizations that focused on maintaining the local economy in their neighborhoods, had both a virtual and physical component, and something that could be maintained.”
This year’s grant recipients include Art West Freedom Fest, Southwest Organizing Project, Quad Communities Development Corporation, In c/o: Black Women, The Floating Museum, Urban Growers Collective, Teamwork Englewood, and the Logan Square Neighborhood Association. As for a project completion deadline, Lauren said, “Each recipient was given until the end of fall. Some projects have already been in motion, whereas others are just now getting started. For example, the Art West Freedom Fest had a series of events that lasted an entire week. Some were held safely held in person in North Lawndale, and others were done virtually.”
While the overall response of each Shared Smile Placemaking Grant recipient has varied, Cecille DeMello, Executive Director of Teamwork Englewood, said, “We applied for the opportunity because it aligned with some of the current violence prevention work that we are doing in the Englewood community. Part of our public safety strategy is to create a micro-example of how we can do neighborhood revitalization, engage high-risk residents, and do community leadership development in a part of the community, and then be able to replicate it in other police beats in Englewood.” She then added, “This particular grant is also going to help with some beautification projects that have been identified by residents. The hope is to deter crime through the theory of crime prevention and environmental design strategy.”
About the impact the grant has had on Teamwork Englewood, Cecille stated, “We are hoping that we will be able to breathe new life into the community with these beautification projects and enhancements to the park district. This, we hope, increases community efficacy, in that we can work together and build unity.”
She then followed up with advising future applicants to think about this grant can align with their current vision and plan, saying, “That’s what made it so easy for us to apply. We had already been thinking about what we wanted to do and reached out to Lauren. Sometimes we wait for the grant to get started, but part of the work in community building is just to do it. Because sometimes the resources become available, and in some cases, they don’t. But at the end of the day, you have to do the work, because it makes it easier for you to take advantage of the opportunities.”
Looking at the future of the Shared Smiles Placemaking Grant program, Lauren says, “Mars Wrigley Foundation is excited about continuing this program and want to do it every year. It may or may not look different, but they will continue to have a presence. We will still look at organizations on the south and west sides, and those who wish to get involved can reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org so that we can create the relationship before selection.”
Contributing Writer, Racquel Coral is a lifestyle writer based in Chicago. Find her on social media @withloveracquel.