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New field for recreational space in Little Village

Thu, Oct 11, 2012

Little Village, the most park-starved neighborhood in the city, got some breathing room with the grand opening of a new soccer field at 31st Street and Lawndale Avenue.

The new field is on the shared grounds of Gary Elementary and Ortiz de Dominguez Elementary schools. It’s replacing an old and worn natural turf field – in such bad shape it was frequently useless. The new field will allow nearly year-round play, providing much needed recreational space for students and residents throughout the neighborhood.

You wouldn’t think a patch of green would be a tough sell, but in a neighborhood with precious little open space, even improving what was already there was tricky business. Like nearly every community development project these days, the new field happened because of the persistence of a few stubborn organizations and people who appreciate the value of a place where kids and adults can safely exercise and have a little fun.
Enlace Chicago, a community development organization, and Beyond the Ball, which seeks to expand access to recreation and life skills for local youth, generated initial steam for the field, while Alderman Ricardo Munoz (22nd Ward) led the effort to get money to pay for it. And that was no small thing. The U.S. Soccer Foundation kicked in $70,000, with Munoz securing the remaining $1.5 million in city funds. Chicago Public Schools is managing the project.

Also at the ceremony, MetLife Foundation will honor Beyond the Ball and the Chicago Police Department for their creative efforts to transform spaces with a history of crime and violence into safe and accessible recreational areas. The partnership was selected from a pool of more than 560 applicants from across the country for one of 10 MetLife Foundation Community-Police Partnership Awards. Beyond the Ball will receive $15,000 to advance the partners’ joint public safety activities. For 11 years, MetLife Foundation and Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) have honored innovative partnerships between community organizations and police departments which promote neighborhood safety and revitalization. Jose J. Perez, LUTCF, Special Needs Planner at MetLife will present the MetLife Foundation Award.

Little Village is one of Chicago’s most densely populated working-class neighborhoods, yet has few public recreational facilities. Enlace Chicago, Beyond the Ball, and their community partners have made expanding access to safe parks and open space a priority through a local quality-of-life plan developed in conjunction with LISC Chicago’s New Communities Program, which supports locally driven, comprehensive community development. Beyond the Ball will program the playing field to provide healthy activities for youth and to reclaim open green space for the public.

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