What’s Your Perspective? LISC Chicago’s 22nd Annual Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards

 |   Shelley Stern Grach

Shelley Stern - LISC Chicago CNDA22

Let’s be candid. It’s been a rough several months for Chicago. Erosion of confidence and trust. Concerns about communities not having a voice. CPS and CTU ongoing debates. And the winter blahs on top of it.

All of which makes the context for LISC Chicago’s 22nd Annual Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards (CNDA22) all the more remarkable in its spirit, scope and impact. CNDA is presented and managed by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation. LISC Chicago’s mission is to connect neighborhoods to the resources they need to become stronger and healthier.

As I wrote last Fall, I am a member of the Board of Advisors for LISC Chicago. It’s been an astonishing journey for me, as I have learned much more than I anticipated. About the exceptional work LISC and its partner agencies are doing; about the inextricable linkages between a local community vision and plan and neighborhood development; about how an individual’s self-perception improves with access to a clean, safe place to live.

Last fall, I spent one of the best days of my business career, visiting several of the potential honorees for the CNDA22. We crisscrossed the city to tour affordable living spaces, higher ed institutions, community and arts centers. We heard the backstories of the local communities and about how the architecture and design focused on staying “true” to the soul of the local residents. Out of this tour, and several others like it, came the following awards winners for CNDA22:

Since “tours” are a big deal in community redevelopment, let’s take a quick tour of some of the highlights of the CNDA22.

Rahm Emanuel - CNDA

Let’s start with the theme for 2016: What’s your perspective? This is really an insightful approach, as the theme spotlights the differences among us, and celebrates the dialog itself. It’s okay to disagree…because if we listen carefully to the ideas of others, we can make adjustments to our own. As Mayor Emanuel remarks, “Strong and healthy neighborhoods are essential elements of any pathway.”

DSCN9772The program started with a welcome from the fabulous Orozco Mariachi band, a part of the Chicago Mariachi Project. Microsoft had the honor of welcoming the guests to the Panel discussion and the Panel Moderator Brandis Friedman, of Channel 11 WTTW. We heard diverse opinions from local community leaders, Amisha Patel from the Grassroots Collaborative, Jack Markowski from Community Investment Corporation (CIC) and Raul Raymundo, from The Resurrection Project. We had a “call and response” with the panelists from R.A.G.E, Brinshore Development and a student leader, who urged the audience to focus on positive impacts for Chicago’s Youth. The Panel covered the following topical question areas: can the techniques and practices of development that are applied to one neighborhood necessarily work in another? Are neighborhoods strengthened because of highly effective grassroots neighborhood organizations? Or is success primarily a consequence of public policy decisions? Or the work of enterprising real estate developers? And what exactly is the measure of success?

It was clear to the 400+ attendees that the importance issue wasn’t how the question was answered, but that honest, candid dialog with all the stakeholders was essential.

After the panel, we moved to the actual Awards Ceremony, which was attended by nearly 1500 people from across a wide spectrum—developers (as in real estate, not software), architects, foundations, nonprofits, corporations, community activists, etc. You name it, they were there. Cheering on the award winners, captivated by the incredible videos which told the stories of the award winners (Please do this for me—just watch a few of these videos! I promise you, it’s worth your time.)

My favorite segments were the acceptance speech from architect Juan Gabriel Moreno of JCMA for the El Centro Campus of Northeastern Illinois University. El Centro was on our tour last fall and it is an amazing tangible declaration of support for the students and the community. Juan told the story of how his mother left Colombia to build a better life for their family. Today, Juan is a successful architect and he dedicated his award to his mother, and offered to start a scholarship for the El Centro students to travel the world, to inspire them to make an impact. Not a dry eye in the house.

My other favorite was the video that accompanied the award for the Town Hall Apartments, co-developed by the Heartland Alliance and Center on Halstead for affordable housing for LGBT seniors. This story focused on dignity for all and the creative approach to designing a place and space that is “home” and builds “family” for its residents. The seamless connections of the affordable residential unit with the landmark at the corner of 79th and Halstead is breathtaking.

Once again, I am reminded of the importance of the diversity of our communities, and how critical it is for local residents to have a voice in their neighborhoods. The CNDA22 Panel and Awards reached nearly 1500 people ….but the ongoing impact of the architects, developers, foundations, local community nonprofits and other groups, will be felt for years to come by thousands more throughout Chicago.

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Shelley Stern Grach
Shelley Stern Grach

They say that great work stems from a combination of passion and commitment, something that Shelley certainly possesses when it comes to her life and career. She currently serves on the boards of the Women’s Business Development Center, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, Thrive Chicago, Year Up and LISC Chicago. At Microsoft Chicago, she’s the Director of Civic Engagement, working at the intersection of computing and community, promoting STEM programs and using Microsoft technology to spur growth in the community. So no matter if it's work, play, or giving back, Shelley always makes sure her drive and professionalism help her complete her life's goals.