Safe Summer 97

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Remember when summertime was a part of the year that all youngsters were looking forward to? That time of the year where Little League baseball, summer basketball and trips to the amusement park were commonplace throughout Chicagoland. But the last few years have seen long hot summers, especially in the Chicago Housing Authority. With residents living in developments that are being torn down and wondering what the future holds, gang crime and drug dealing getting completely out of hand, the youth of CHA are at a loss.

But it seems as though CHA, with the help of other corporations throughout Chicago, is trying to bring summer back to the people of public housing with a program called Safe Summer 97. The program was created to entertain and educate the people in public housing, according to Darlene Cocco, manager of Safe Summer 97, and Ron Carter, CHA’s director of Economic Development. Incorporating CHA’s usual array of summer programs with a number of new efforts, Safe Summer will help all residents ages 1 to 100. Nobody will be left out.

Donations are pouring in, in particular from the employees of the Chicago Housing Authority who are taking payroll deductions totaling more than $100,000 to help improve playgrounds and recreation areas in both family and senior housing. Some parts of Safe Summer have included the Inner City Games, held in Washington Park on July 17, in McGuane Park on July 21, the Mayor’s Cup on July 19-20 and the popular Midnight Basketball League held throughout CHA. There’s also the Biddy Basketball and Biddy Baseball tournaments for the pre-teens to enjoy.

Another program that CHA is high on is Reach For Tomorrow, where selected students from 25 Chicago high schools and one supervisor under Safe Summer 97 will work in some defined capacity during the summer for five four-hour periods each week. The ages of these counselors will be between 17 and 21. RFT will select 250 students who will be divided into 25 separate teams of 10 along with an adult chaperone from the local community. From Aug. 12-16, students and chaperones will attend a program at the U.S. Air Force Academy. From Aug 26-30, another group of 90 students will be at the U.S. Naval Academy. Students must complete a minimum of 10 hours of community service before they are qualified for any of the RFT summer trips. RFT will coordinate with local Naval Academy personnel to provide training space at the Naval ROTC facilities at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) or at a local high school. Monthly training on mentoring, college opportunities and careers will be conducted at this facility.

Other opportunities for residents will include 1000 summer jobs offered through the Mayor’s office along with 1000 jobs offered to residents by residents who own businesses. There will also be a program called Adopt a Senior, in which funds from different companies will sponsor various programs in senior buildings throughout CHA. In the family developments, money will be spent on improving playgrounds in various areas throughout housing. Already there have been donations from basketball stars Juwaan Howard, who gave $100,000 to Lowden Homes, and Dennis Rodman, who gave $52,000 to Cabrini-Green. Their donations will help to create better playing areas for young people. If there are any developments that are in desperate need of better playground facilities, they should contact the organizers of Safe Summer and let them know your needs.

This focus on better playground facilities probably would not have happened if it wasn’t for a poem sent to the president by a young girl named Natalie Howard, a resident of Cabrini Green Homes. Her poem brought to light all the troubles that our young people are going through. With high rates of crime and poverty against young people, they should at least not have to worry about a place to play. Which is why I am recommending that the next playground built in Cabrini should be named Natalie’s Playground.

Safe Summer 97 will conclude with a three-day extravaganza that will begin Aug. 22 with a black tie affair at the Chicago Hilton and Towers. That event will feature a presentation reflecting on Safe Summer 97 and what it has brought to the residents. On Aug. 23 in the morning, there will be free basketball clinics throughout CHA held by professional ballplayers in which they will not only talk about basketball but the importance of education in your community.

Later that day will be a playground dedication at Cabrini Green followed by Safe Summer Jam 3, which will be an outdoor concert. Then on Aug. 24, there will be a concert at the House of Blues located in Marina City which will feature another major artist. CHA has given us the tools to make the most of the summer of 1997. Let’s grab on to this opportunity and ride it as far as it will take us. Enjoy and have a great Safe Summer.

Cabrini-Green resident Natalie Howard (left) smiles amid a sea of contributions to Safe Summer 97. Photo by Cynthia Morris.

Entertainer Dawn Lewis wows the city's largest eighth grade graduation party, sponsored by Safe Summer 97 and Inner City Games. Photo by Annie R. Smith.

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