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Tue, Nov 12, 2013

Peterson Garden Project photo

Peterson Garden Project photo

The Chicago Innovation Awards are based on the premise that story-telling about successful new products in the region can “change and grow the mythology and narrative of the Chicago region,” according to its website.

“Innovation is not a ‘eureka moment.’” Rather it is a process, a culture. The awards seek to educate entrepreneurs about the principles of innovation and connect them to success. “By linking capital, talent and business resources with organizations, we lay the groundwork for relationships that strengthen companies, grow the economy and create jobs.”

The 12th annual Chicago Innovation Awards are October 30 at the Harris Theater, and tickets are $25-$75 at http://chicagoinnovationawards2013.eventbrite.com/

StreetWise looked at some of the 100 finalists for ideas that help Chicagoans of all economic levels to better quality of life.

The Peterson Garden Project (PGP) is a volunteer organization that teaches people to grow their own organic food, based on the model of the World War II Victory Garden. During the 2013 growing season, the non-profit helped 3,000 Chicagoans – 750 families – to grow food in five community gardens and two workplace gardens, mostly on the North Side. Through its Grow2Give program, the non-profit distributed five percent of its crops, or 3,800 pounds since 2010, to local food and nutrition programs selected by the communities where the gardens are located. Volunteers manage the Grow2Give plots.

PGP operates on a membership basis; the $75 fee includes classes, events, some supplies and a 4-by-8 plot in one of its Pop-up gardens. These plots are distributed first-come-first-served. Across its network, PGP has given more than 31 scholarships, some funded by donors and some self-funded by PGP. Global Gardens in Albany Park is a collaborative project that includes a community garden with plots for 189 local families and a working farm with 75 families who are recent immigrants, mostly from Bhutan and Burma. “We do not turn anyone away as long as we have room for them,” Development Director Alexandra Nelson said in an email interview.

PGP works with the city, institutions and private individuals to identify land that can be leased for at least two growing seasons, Founder/President LaManda Joy said in an email interview. Rather than dig into the ground, the gardeners lay a thick bed of woodchips and set down raised beds with organic topsoil. When the landowners need the property, PGP simply moves the raised beds.

“We do not pay for this land other than the required annual $1 on city-leased properties,” Joy wrote. “Our interest is in long-term gardeners vs. long term gardens and that’s where we put our energy – into training a new generation how to produce some of their own food organically. And while our gardens are, essentially, big outdoor classrooms, people learn much more than they bargain for in the way of experiencing a community as well as growing their own food.”

Last season, PGP had the following Pop-up sites:

“Ashlandia” at Ashland/Hollywood in partnership with the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce. Care for Real is the Grow2Give recipient.

“Global Garden” at Lawrence/Sacramento, in partnership with the Urban Refugee Training Farm and the North River Commission/Albany Park Chamber of Commerce. Produce was given to CEDA WIC Albany Park and First Slice.

“Land on Lincoln” at Lincoln/Sacramento in partnership with Ald. Patrick O’Connor (40th ward). Inspiration Café received Grow2Give produce.

“Montrose Green” at the Montrose Brown Line stop in partnership with the Northcenter Neighborhood Association and Harrington Brown, LLC. The Common Pantry was the Grow2Give recipient.

“Vedgewater” at Broadway/Rosemont in partnership with Edgewater North Neighbors, the Loyola Lakeshore Campus and Ald. O’Connor. Grow2Give produce went to Care for Real.

Peterson Garden Project photo

Peterson Garden Project photo

Montrose Green will close at the end of this year and the assets will move to a new garden at Howard and Ashland, Joy said. Another garden will open in Albany Park. Together these gardens will accommodate another 300 families. Signups for new and returning gardeners will start in late winter 2014, Joy said.
Learn more about Peterson Garden Project at www.petersongarden.org.

“My Girl Scout Sash is an App” is yet another Chicago Innovation Award finalist designed to help the existing population fill the regional need for information technology workers by the year 2040.

Initially trained by Motorola Mobility volunteers, Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana holds App Boot Camps for girls to create virtual badges to display on an Android cell phone or computer rather than on a uniform. Girls start with App Boot Camp 101 in about 5th grade and create a crystal ball app. They can ask it a question, shake it to see what their future holds and earn a badge to display. They do not need to own an Android.

“The Girl Scouts who complete App Boot Camp radiate in confidence. While it’s a lot of fun to build a cool, functioning app, it’s been truly inspiring to witness girls become app developers and gain the confidence to share their knowledge with others,” said Vicki King, vice president for alliances, partnerships and girl initiatives for Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana.

Peterson Gardon Project photos

Peterson Gardon Project photos

Successive boot camps are designed for girls in 6th through 12th grades. In App Boot Camp 201, girls design a customized Sash App that can include their photo, the Chicago/NW Indiana affiliation and their troop number. App Boot Camp 301 encourages them to create digital badges tied to traditional ones they have earned. These can include a musical instrument app, photo editing app or even gaming app. Girl Scouts won a grant in the amount of $150,000 from the 4th Digital Media and Learning Competition held in conjunction with the Mozilla Foundation and supported by the MacArthur Foundation. The regional Girl Scout council already had a focus on keeping girls interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) careers.

Still other Chicago Innovations finalists allow greater public policy input:

Healthy Schools Campaign : Go for the Gold is a city-wide partnership of the Healthy Schools Campaign (HSC) and Chicago Public School to meet the USDA’s Healthier US School Challenge in terms of food, nutrition and physical activity. HSC’s Parents United for Healthy Schools has trained parents in low-income Latino and African-American communities on health disparities; these parents helped advocate for bringing back recess to all elementary schools, which was achieved in 2012. They have also worked with the CPS school food program to remove deep fryers from school kitchens, to serve more whole grains and local unprocessed chicken raised without antibiotics.

Medical Home Networkcoordinates up-to-date information about patients’ use of health care services in the manner of a primary care practice. The web-based network is a neutral third party dedicated to facilitating collaboration between State of Illinois Medicaid, South Side area hospitals, federally qualified health centers and high-volume Medicaid private practices. The idea of bringing these providers together is to strengthen the health care delivery system and improve the health status of these patients. Care coordination will become increasingly important when Medicaid encompasses 1 in 4 Illinoisans next year.

Prevail Health Solutions: Vets Prevail uses online tools (www.vetsprevail.org) to prevent and treat mental health disorders among veterans. Veterans complete an online assessment for a customized program, then chat with a network of peers and specialists. Logging in also allows them to earn points and gift cards for activities on the site.

Girl Scouts learn to create basic apps in a bootcamp originally taught by Motorola Mobility volunteers to Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana staff.

Girl Scouts learn to create basic apps in a bootcamp originally taught by Motorola Mobility volunteers to Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana staff.

A Better Chicago: Venture Philanthropy identifies and invests in non-profits that are moving the needle for low-income Chicagoans. Opportunity and self-sufficiency come through education, skills and credentials to compete in the 21st century, according to its website: http://abetterchicago.org/. Early childhood, education and careers are the three areas ABC officials see as critical to opportunity and self-sufficiency. They look for the best non-profits in terms of leadership, finances, operations and scalability and invest funding and management support.

Alta Bicycle Share, Inc.: Divvy is a bike share system that will have 400 stations and 4,000 bikes from Andersonville to Hyde Park and the lakefront to Logan Square. Annual memberships of $75 will allow unlimited 30-minute trips and overtime fees starting at $1.50 for 30 to 60 minutes. The system is designed to encourage use of public transit since in other cities, up to half the bike share trips are made from bus stops or train stations.

Autonomy Works is designed to connect adults with autism with long-term employment in process execution for small and large companies. Its officials say on www.autonomy-works.com that the U.S. has off-shored more than eight million jobs, “bypassing a talented, passionate, yet hidden local workforce.” On the other hand, people with autism spectrum disorders have “exceptional attention to detail, sustained focus and consistent performance – exactly the skills required….Autonomy Works pays a living wage and lowers care costs for society.”

Shiftgig is a professional networking and employment community for the hospitality and retail industries. While other professional networking platforms are designed for finding talent among white-collar professionals, Shiftgig focuses on restaurant, hotel and retail staffing.
GiveForward is a crowd-sourced fundraising platform that helps individuals raise money for the medical needs of a loved one. The site also offers coaches who can provide fundraising ideas and guidance about how to raise money online. www.giveforward.com

Moxiejean.com is an “upscale resale” service that sells like-new clothing in brands known for style and quality, designed to appeal to mainstream and aspirational moms. The online marketplace was founded by two moms (who were also sisters) who wanted to save time, money – and the planet. They curated a collection of clothes from Newborn to size 8 at consignment sale prices.

Zealous Good is a web-based platform that connects individuals with excess goods to charities that need donations. Donors decide what they want to give and the website tells them which charities need it (perhaps a tutoring center, a jobs program or youth support group). The giver then determines the scheduled drop off or pick up. Roughly 200 non-profits have received more than $500,000 worth of services. Baby items and clothing supported new mothers in the Marillac Social Center’s Project Hope program. Clipboards and notebooks went to Friends of the Bessemer Bears to benefit developmentally disabled children and adults.

By Suzanne Hanney,
StreetWise Editor-In-Chief

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