The far west Chicago neighborhood of Austin is big…really big. In fact, it is the largest community by population and one of the largest in land area, stretching over 7 square miles of the city.

Austin is the home of Columbus Park, a national landmark created by world-renown landscape architect Jens Jensen, and boasts beautiful, 1900s era mansions built by architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright. If amazing food is more your style, Austin is also home to a multitude of delicious soul food restaurants.

Despite all of these great treasures, much of the news we hear about Austin is negative. The neighborhood continues to go through transitions, and our current economy and unemployment rate aren’t helping. Austin, like many other communities across the country, struggles. However, local citizens, dedicated Chicago Cares leaders and volunteers are doing their part to make Austin a happy place for kids to live and learn.

Over the past 20 years, Chicago Cares has been partnering with public schools and local non-profits to create a “clustering”, or group, of programs serving students in the area. Community leaders at schools, churches, and other non-profits embrace the partnership and are quick to lend a hand. The tireless efforts of these leaders has fostered an ever-present positive attitude and fierce dedication to the area. By concentrating the Chicago Cares education programs to a small area of Austin, the impact is both focused and far-reaching. One education volunteer can impact a child, a family, a school, and a community.

In the north Austin area, Chicago Cares volunteers work with hundreds of students each month. We believe that these concentrated efforts will create a ripple effect of positive energy throughout the community. By providing a safe, positive environment of enrichment activities to local kids, we are able to create a small band of thoughtful students who, hopefully, will become conscientious and involved adults. These students go off to high schools across the city, motivating their fellow classmates to have a positive attitude about school and be involved in their community; our Chicago Cares students are agents of change, too. It’s the positive interactions these young students have with volunteers at Chicago Cares programs today that will plant the seed for tomorrow.

The art project you enjoy at Brunson Elementary  encourages students to pursue their creative interests, possibly leading them down the path of other local artists and musicians like Lupe Fiasco; the book you read together at Mercy Housing teaches students they can be doctors, teachers, police officers, and astronauts. And who knows, you may be playing basketball at St. Joseph Services-San Miguel School  or Young School with the next Derrick Rose.

Whatever you choose to do with these students, know that you’re not only impacting that one child, but you are showing hope and respect to the whole Austin community. Get involved and be the change.

Today’s post is from Education Coordinator, Emily Collins.