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Community Block Party celebrates West Chicago D-33, United Way partnership

Published: Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014 4:00 p.m. CDT
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(Erica Benson - ebenson@shawmedia.com)
Pioneer Elementary School fifth-grader Kaylee Basilio receives a backpack from Leslie Wooten of the United Way during Tuesday's Community Block Party at Leman Middle School in West Chicago.
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(Erica Benson - ebenson@shawmedia.com)
Pioneer Elementary School kindergartner Heydi Ahuatzi of West Chicago traces her hand with the help of BMO Harris Bank staff member Maribel Amador during District 33's Community Block Party on Tuesday at Leman Middle School.
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(Erica Benson - ebenson@shawmedia.com)
Community High School sophomore Matthew Reithknecht receives food Tuesday from El Coco Loco staff member Daniel Santana during West Chicago Elementary School District 33's Community Block Party at Leman Middle School.
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(Kelli Murray - kmurray@shawmedia.com)
Metropolitan Family Services staff worker Kristen Sarantos helps distribute materials to families during Tuesday evening's Community Block Party at Leman Middle School in West Chicago.
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(Kelli Murray - kmurray@shawmedia.com)
Diego Marin (center), 6, is excited to receive his free backpack filled with school supplies while his mother, Maria Villalobos, looks on during the Community Block Party on Tuesday at Leman Middle School in West Chicago.

WEST CHICAGO – There was much to celebrate Tuesday night during the Community Block Party at Leman Middle School in West Chicago.

WeGo Together for Kids, a community hub that provides more than 50 local partners and services to West Chicago Elementary School District 33 students and families, has welcomed United Way’s Live United Neighborhood Network model into the West Chicago community.

The District 33 program and United Way of Metropolitan Chicago celebrated their partnership with free food, music, school supplies and activities for district students and families. More than 1,000 residents attended the block party.

“We’ve been working all year to get this going,” said Marjory Lewe-Brady, District 33’s director of partnerships for wellness, safety and achievement. “It has allowed us to increase mental health services and new positions called parent liaisons, who will work with families to promote health, financial literacy, and offer stability. We’ve never been able to do that before.”

The Live United Neighborhood Network provides concentrated and integrated services in a community, said Karyn Ruhl, communications manager for United Way of Metropolitan Chicago. The first Neighborhood Network model was established in April 2013 in Brighton Park on Chicago’s southwest side.

United Way plans to operate 10 Neighborhood Networks by 2020, Ruhl said.

One of the strengths of the Neighborhood Network model is that it has proven successful across many neighborhoods, and the model can be used to create customized strategies to tackle communities’ unique challenges, she said.

“I think we can do a lot of great work in West Chicago with this model,” Ruhl said.

United Way joins an ever-growing partnership list with WeGo Together for Kids.

Metropolitan Family Services has been a partner since the District 33 program started about eight years ago, said Patricia Kelly, program director for Metropolitan Family Services.

“Our role has been mental health counseling,” Kelly said. “With the new partnership with United Way, we have hired a new social worker that will be based at the Early Learning Center. Out of the new funding, we can bring on board parent liaisons who will do outreach to parents and help link families to services.”

Kelly said there is a plan in place for two parent liaisons who are local District 33 parents to be hired and trained by Metropolitan Family Services.

The new funding also will help the organization provide financial oversight for residents. Once the program is up and running, it will offer not only tax preparation services but also basic financial literacy classes, such as relationship building with local banks and budgeting methods, Kelly said.

At the block party, there was a plethora of community partners spread throughout Leman Middle School, as students and families circulated and discovered services available to them. West Chicago Park District, NAMI of DuPage, People’s Resource Center, Neighborhood Food Pantries, Literacy DuPage and Cadence Health were on a long list of partners in attendance.

West Chicago resident Heidi Kuharich attended the event with her son, Asa, 11.

“I think it’s nice to see everyone before school starts again,” Kuharich said. “It’s nice that we have this. Anytime West Chicago is presented in a positive light is a good thing.”

The positive atmosphere was echoed by new District 33 Superintendent Charles Johns.

“I am overjoyed with the results we had today,” Johns said. “The turnout exceeds my greatest hopes, and I am thrilled to see District 33 and its partners working hard in celebration of this great opportunity United Way is bringing to West Chicago.”

West Chicago Mayor Ruben Pineda said residents should be proud that West Chicago was selected by United Way to be the first suburban Neighborhood Network program.

“We are excited about United Way being here in West Chicago,” Pineda said. “United Way has committed additional money, time and expertise to West Chicago for some of the challenges we face in education, income and health.”

The partnership between WeGo Together for Kids and United Way enhances the work currently being done, Lewe-Brady said.

“United Way has very consciously come in as a partner and allowed the infrastructure of WeGo Together for Kids to continue operating in a way that we have found very effective, rather than making changes that don’t make sense,” she said. “They have been a very good partner with us.”

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