Chicago – Youth Advocate Programs’ (YAP), Inc. Chicago Washington Heights Violence Interruption team turned an empty lot that once had grass as high as 3 feet into a garden with vegetables for the community to enjoy.
The vacant lot used to be where a home was situated until it burned down, and the remnants were eventually bulldozed said Program Director Ken Lewis.
“Some young people were driving into the alley and using the lot as an access point to shoot at a home across the street,” Lewis said. “Nobody was taking care of the lot. It’s actually located on a nice block.”
With the help of neighbors and through community outreach, Lewis and his team refurbished the lot. They planted flowers, collard greens, cabbage, romaine lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, and red and green bell peppers, along with jalapeno and habanero peppers.
“From start to finish, it took a little while to complete,” Lewis said. “But once we got the lot’s grass down to a manageable size, it took about a week to plant the garden. We finished on Juneteenth and worked the whole day.”
The Washington Heights Violence Interruption program is funded through a grant from the City of Chicago, which provides violence interruption services through street outreach. Street outreach includes crisis intervention, peace building activities, hospital outreach, family engagement, individual mentoring and conflict resolution by resolving disputes.
YAP, a national nonprofit in 33 states and the District of Columbia, partners with youth justice, child welfare, behavioral health, and other systems to provide community-based wraparound services as an alternative to youth incarceration, congregate placements, and neighborhood violence. The organization has been in the Chicago area for the last 15 years.
The violence interruption team will work alongside the community to maintain the garden and hopes to have help from young people employed through the One Summer Chicago Program, which helps youth between the ages of 14-24 find employment and internship opportunities through government institutions, community-based organizations, and other companies.
Lewis said the garden will also be a safe place for families to host children’s birthday parties and events. In due time they’re hoping a fence and benches will be added.
“We are definitely going to help maintain the garden,” Lewis added. “We worked hard to help create that garden and we want to do the same thing in other places where we can make an impact. We want the community to take pride in where they live.”