‘Chicago Tonight’ in your neighborhood: Fuller Park | Chicago News

Fuller Park is a small community area on the south side of Chicago, located just off the Dan Ryan Freeway. Although it’s considered one of Chicago’s smallest and poorest neighborhoods, community leaders have been investing in the neighborhood for years.

Interactive map: More information on our community reporting series

The Eden Place Nature Center, which was once an illegal dump, is now an urban oasis for residents.

Founders Michael Howard and his wife Amelia Howard have dedicated years of their lives to educating and providing services to the neighborhood. They run the non-profit Eden Place Farms where they teach young people to farm and connect with nature by providing the community with a safe place to learn.

“Our mission is to help improve the quality of life for all of our neighbors,” Howard said. “We’ve helped close mortgages, we help people get mortgages, we do financial literacy, and we ran one of the longest-running job training programs in the city, teaching job skills in construction. to guys right down the street.”

The Howards said they were hit hard by the pandemic and had to temporarily close the farm, but they used their savings to help support families in the area.

According to the founders, around 10,000 people have passed through the farm over the past 20 years, and although many have left the neighborhood, the Howards have vowed to stay.

“I have to stay with a good positive outlook because a lot of people don’t have the same resources as me,” Howard said. “I have an education, but my wife and I chose to be here to help others get to where we are. We could have left years ago… but we know our work here is not done.

Meanwhile, residents pointed to another strong community pillar: Thomas A. Hendricks Community Academy. It is the only remaining elementary school in the area after Parkman Elementary closed during the 2013 school closings.

For the past eight years, Sandee McDonald has been a Principal at Hendricks, where she held various positions for over 15 years. She is now retired.

“Community means so much to me, having taught here in the 90s,” McDonald said. “I worked on building a learning culture and climate, making sure the materials, the resources all spoke to my children…that they felt loved and nurtured. I have worked to bring highly qualified personnel here. We need to make sure, as educators, that we find the strength in the children. We are a hidden gem here in Fuller Park.

Fuller Park by the numbers

Fewer than 4,000 people live in Fuller Park, where about 55% of area families earn a median household income of less than $25,000 a year, according to the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.

Jacqueline Russell, a longtime Fuller Park resident, says the community is often overlooked when it comes to federal funding and there’s a lack of businesses and restaurants.

“I would rather put money back in my own community than drive somewhere else,” Russell said. “Most of the time I have to drive to 103rd to get something to eat, so the few places we have here, we have to try to keep them.”

Located in Fuller Park, the South Side Community Federal Credit Union is one of two nonprofit minority-owned financial institutions in Illinois.

South Side native Gregg Brown, who is the CEO and chairman, said his goal is to provide South Side residents with financial tools to help them own homes, create savings plans and give people the opportunity to own businesses in their community.

“It’s very difficult for most businesses in this community because you’re targeting a population that has a high poverty rate and a high unemployment rate. Revenues are very low, so it’s very difficult for businesses to compete in today’s market,” Brown said. “However, we can change all of that and that’s what I’ve dedicated my life to seeing how I can be an agent of change to spur what we really need: economic movement.”

Aldus. Pat Dowell (3rd Ward) said the economic recovery in Fuller Park is underway, with more investment in the neighborhood lately.

“I am surprised to receive many requests for city-owned land to build housing in Fuller Park,” Dowell said. “A few years ago that wasn’t the case, but since the pandemic lifted people are starting to express more interest in Fuller Park. We also have a major development underway on 43rd and Wells: a car wash and laundromat. [It’s] much needed not only to serve Fuller Park, but to the surrounding communities.

Video: Watch our full interview with Ald. Pat Dowell.

Fuller Park also has a high concentration of churches per capita. The Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church on Princeton Avenue is just one of them.

Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church Chief of Staff Lemont Watson has been a member since he was 12 years old.

“It’s about saving souls, that’s the ultimate goal, but it’s about meeting needs first,” Watson said. “That’s one of our pastor’s visions: meeting the needs.”

The ministry runs a pantry every Wednesday and hopes to reopen its weekly soup kitchen held every Thursday in the church basement early next month.

“Even during the pandemic, we had food giveaways,” Watson said. “Since we couldn’t get into the building, we moved into the parking lot, and it was big where cars can just come in and give them a box of food and stuff. So it was really essential not only for the community of Fuller Park, but it also really helped a lot of families.

Video: Watch our full interview with Sandee McDonald.

Even though residents say Fuller Park lacks investment and is underserved, people are investing their time in uplifting the community like Michael Howard, who believes helping people gain knowledge will lead to greater change.

“We can see that we’ve caused a wave in people’s families where their lives have improved, where they now have a better understanding of the environmental risks that they could protect their families from,” he said. “They also have a better quality of life because we take them camping, fishing, canoeing. We take them on hikes and to parts of the country they’ve probably never been before.

Community Report Series

“Chicago Tonight” is expanding its community reporting. We’re taking to the streets to talk with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. See where we went and what we learned using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. Dots in red represent our COVID-19 Across Chicago series; blue marks our “Chicago Tonight” series in Your Neighborhood.

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