Parents in Brighton Park, a predominantly Latino neighborhood on the Southwest Side, have been doing grassroots work to enhance safety, health and community by promoting better conditions for pedestrians around schools and parks, and by forming walking clubs. The Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, a local community development organization, has been supporting these residents’ efforts in a number of ways.
At the suggestion of Active Transportation Alliance community outreach director Andres Alvear, I recently met with Mariela Estrada, lead organizer with the neighborhood council. She told me about the parents’ work to improve their own health and build a better neighborhood, and how the council is helping them achieve those goals.
John Greenfield: Tell me about the walking initiatives that are going on in Brighton Park.
Mariela Estrada: In September of 2010, we started working with the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children doing walkability assessments, looking at the areas around the schools and the parks in our community. So the parents really started analyzing the condition of our streets and how that ties into safety.
And then in 2012 the efforts to improve safety led to a desire to improve health, and there was the idea to form walking clubs, groups of parents that meet up to go on walks together right after they drop off their kids off at school. The majority of them are engaged in Parent Patrol [volunteers that stand watch near schools as students enter and exit]. So they walk their kids to school and from there they meet up with the club and walk around the neighborhood, or on their school’s track, for about an hour, hour and a half. Some of them are now at the running stage, so they’re doing it in steps. We have all different ages. Earliest is late twenties, to grandmothers who are coming out who are in their seventies.
Just a few weeks ago there was a picture that one of the parents showed me from Shields Middle, which is on 48th and Rockwell. The parents walk around the little track in back of the school. And in one of the classrooms the kids put out signs in the window that said “Go Moms Go!” So it really meant a lot in terms of the support that the kids are giving to the parents, and the parents to the kids. It was really neat to see both of the groups tie in to the health initiatives that we’re starting at the schools.
JG: How many schools are involved?
ME: Right now the ones that have the walking groups are Burroughs Elementary, which is on 35th and Washtenaw, Davis Elementary, which is 39th and Albany, and Shields Middle School, which is on 48th and Rockwell. And then we have our floating ones through different schools. Columbia Explorers, at Kedzie and 46th started it, but during the wintertime they get discouraged by the weather. The other ones keep going. They do it indoors sometimes, if the school allows them the space.
JG: At a gym or something?
ME: Yeah, at Shields they actually have a Zumba class. Some of them, right after the walking, they’ll go in and do Zumba as well, so they have a space for them.