Lightfoot announces the first 7 winners of the Chicago Works Challenge

Four parks, two Chicago public schools and a high school library are in line for $10 million in improvements, thanks to a community grant program whose winners were announced Tuesday.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot launched the Chicago Works Challenge on her second anniversary to give local residents an all-too-rare opportunity to determine their own destiny instead of having these public improvements dictated by city hall.

On Tuesday, the top seven winners were chosen for the grants of $1.5 million each from 500 online submissions and 21 projects shortlisted by a citywide selection committee.

Lightfoot proudly announced the finalists at a press conference at Rainbow Beach Park that was more like a celebration.

She thanked the seven winners for “being part of the change in your own community.”

“We have seen what happens when residents are left out of conversations and not included in community planning. Divestment deepens. Gaps in racial wealth and health are widening. And progress is stalled,” the mayor said.

“We exist as public servants to support our residents. Not the opposite. So it’s important that…we involve you, and that the policies and prescriptions we develop reflect your lived experience…Residents know their block, their neighborhood best. They know better than anyone what is missing from their parks, libraries or schools.

Among the winning projects are:

—A modernized playground, contemporary climbing equipment and landscaping at the Matthew Gallistel Language Academy, 10347 S. Ewing Ave.

—Transformation of unimproved lawns surrounding Claremont STEM Academy, 2300 W. 64and St., into a “cohesive playground that structures” student and neighborhood recreation.

—A renovated children’s section at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library, 3436 S. King Drive.

—An outdoor stage for shows and movies at Columbus Park, 500 S. Central Ave. The project also includes a new facelift for the basketball and tennis courts, improvements to natural areas and new landscaping.

—Improved spaces for cricket, horseshoes, bocce and pickleball at Warren Park, 6601 N. Western Ave.

-A repaired field and auditorium roof and other building improvements at Kelvyn Park, 4438 W. Wrightwood Ave.

—New playing surfaces, seating area and landscaping for the outdoor handball and racquetball complex at Rainbow Beach Park, 3111 E.77and St.

The Rainbow Beach Project is the brainchild of Carolyn Vazquez, a national racquetball champion and coach who credits the sport with providing direction and discipline and hopes the next generation of Chicagoans will do the same.

“I look around me and see the effects of violence in our communities. The kids and what’s going on. It’s truly sad. It makes me wonder what our future summers in Chicago will be like for my daughter and all the other families raising kids in Chicago,” Vazquez said.

“We have to take care of them. Defend them on their behalf and guide them. I know the situation may seem hopeless. It’s hopeless. But I believe we can all be empowered to come up with solutions. The Chicago Works Challenge does just that. This allows me, as a resident, to make decisions.

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