United Power for Action & Justice
Volunteer for the Fresh Food Distribution
at St. Rita’s Parish Every Tuesday
St. Rita’s Parish (which is a member of the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) and also a member with SWOP and Ascension in United Power for Action and Justice) organizes one of the City’s largest fresh food distributions in Chicago every Tuesday. St. Rita’s started this ministry in response to the huge increase in need for food and financial assistance after the onset of the pandemic. At first, they were organizing canned and boxed food for the distribution. But then they felt moved by the Spirit to figure out how to make fresh fruits and vegetables and milk and other essential fresh items available for their families – most of whom like to cook their own food at home and are desperate to find places where they can get fresh healthy food.
They are always in need for a group as small as two or three or a group as large as ten to come and assist. Unpacking and sorting food takes place between 10:00am and 12:45pm and then Food Distribution takes place from 1:00pm to 2:30pm. Please email Juliette Dols (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Nick Brunick (email@example.com) if you would like to organize a group of 3-10 people or if you would like to join a group on a Tuesday.
United Power for Action & Justice
United Power is a non-partisan community organization composed of 40 religious congregations, not-for-profit groups, hospitals, health centers and civic organizations from across Cook County. Ascension Parish is a member of this organization.
United Power brings people together across boundaries of race, class, faith, geography, and political ideology to act together on their values and to work on common issues of concern identified by people in United Power’s member institutions. Issues worked on by United Power include creating affordable housing for the disabled, working families and seniors, rebuilding communities struggling with vacancy and violence, reducing gun violence, immigration, access to health care, and addressing government corruption. United Power also works to help its members strengthen their own institutions (e.g. parishes, synagogues, mosques, schools and community organizations).
Volunteers with United Power work together to craft concrete and realistic solutions to large and difficult public issues. Most recently, Ascension has worked with United Power on successful efforts to create affordable homes, safe streets, and good schools on the Southwest Side of Chicago (through the Reclaiming SW Chicago campaign) and to expand this campaign to the North Lawndale neighborhood. For more information contact parishioner Nick Brunick at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click the following titles to expand "Updates," which offer the latest information on our efforts and list opportunities to get involved:
Update following youth service day and opportunities to get involved - September 2, 2020
On Saturday, August 29, we had a tremendous crew of about 25 adults and youth participate in a service/work/fellowship day in Chicago Lawn– and boy did we benefit from the many talents of the people who came and gave of their time and treasure – we had great planters, builders, mowers, garbage haulers, designers, and dreamers. And I think we all had a good time!
We cleaned up a vacant lot at 60th and Campbell (across the street from a now-vacant corner building that SWOP is transforming into three affordable homes for families). We put up an initial sign for the garden; we mowed the lot (thanks to Mike Nowicki); we planted some flowers; we worked with, met and talked with neighbors; and we gathered ideas for the design of the community garden/park for that site. Susie and Dave Cahill are going to generously draw an initial design of the community garden based on the feedback we gathered.
We also repaired three homes – providing much-needed gates at one; reinforcing and stabilizing a back porch at another; and replacing and rebuilding the back stairs at a third. All three residents (Paul, Gail, and Lois) were very happy and grateful.
Included here are pictures from Lois’ home. Lois has lived in her home in St. Rita’s Parish since 1950. She went to Marquette School just down the block from her home. As Lois shared with us, even though she is in her 80s, she still mows her own lawn and plants her own garden. But she needed some help with her back stairs – which were falling apart. Thanks to the organizational skills of Paul Kraft, the tremendous teaching and carpentry skills of Andy Sjostrom and his team, and the loving labor of Mark McCann, Emily McCann, and Emily’s friend, Lois got a new set of stairs.
This is part of our larger effort to support our brothers and sisters on the South and West Sides in their courageous efforts to rebuild their communities and to rebuild our City. SWOP’s current phase of Reclaiming SW Chicago includes the transformation of vacant buildings into 35 homes and apartments (as well as a handful of commercial spaces) in the location where we worked on Saturday.
Here are opportunities to get involved in our parish United Power efforts.
- We will have another service and fellowship day for youth and adults this Fall. If you are interested, please email
- We will have a very important United Power meeting in North Lawndale on September 26 to help secure 250 vacant lots for the construction of 250 affordable homes there starting next year.
- We are working to set the date for another important meeting in early October related to securing resources for replacing vacancy and disinvestment with hundreds of affordable homes on the south and west side.
If you would like to learn more about any of these upcoming opportunities, please send an email to email@example.com.
Have a great day,
Ascension Parish and United Power
Update with details on opportunities to get involved - August 2020
I hope that all of you are doing well. 2020 has been a challenging year – and some days it seems like the challenges will never end. But no matter how challenging the times, we need to keep finding ways to act together on our faith to make our world more like it should be – to disenthrall our world from cynicism, hate, and apathy and to make room for love, hope, and transformation.
United Power remains focused on doing just that – by advancing the Reclaiming Communities work to build 1000 homes on the South Side and 1000 homes on the West Side – led by local community institutions and supported by United Power members from across Cook County - to create safer streets and better schools, and to create opportunities for families to build equity and wealth.
Please see below for updates and upcoming opportunities to get involved --
We had a great service/fellowship day in July with SWOP! A big thanks to the many Ascension parishoners who donated the funds needed to buy supplies to help do home repairs for seniors in the neighborhood! And thanks to the 30 plus Ascension adults and youth who showed up to work!
We will be heading to Chicago Lawn and St. Rita’s Parish again next Saturday, August 29th for another day of fellowship and collaboration. We will be doing some repair work on three (3) homes and we will be doing some more clean-up and preparatory work on the vacant lot at 60th and Campbell.
Paul Kraft from Ascension ASP has been leading the way and doing amazing work organizing the scopes of work and work crews for next Saturday. And we have also benefited from the tremendous expertise of Andy Sjostrom who is a very talented carpenter and craftsman who has very generously been donating his time to help us prepare for next Saturday. We have a limited number of spots for next Saturday so let me or Paul Kraft know ASAP if you are interested in attending. We will leave from the Ascension parish center parking lot at 7:30am on Saturday. But please first let Paul or I know if you are interested because we need to make sure we have the right amount of workers/helpers for the work.
United Power is organizing an outdoor meeting (limit of 50 people) which will include key
elected officials to help solidify the commitment of 250 city-owned vacant lots towards the effort to begin building 250 affordable homes in Lawndale next year. Please let me know if you are interested in attending. Because of the pandemic, we are of course limited in how many people we can take to this meeting (and we will be organizing the meeting in a safe and responsible way) but please let me know if you are interested.
Senate President Don Harmon has been working hard to help support the Reclaiming Communities efforts in Chicago Lawn (with SWOP) and in North Lawndale (with Lawndale Christian and other key United Power groups there). We appreciate his efforts and plan to hold a part in-person/part virtual meeting with him this Fall to help advance United Power’s efforts to bring homes, jobs, and opportunity to places that need it. Stay tuned for details.
Last month, I shared a recent story from WBEZ on United Power’s efforts to build or rehab 1000 homes on the South Side and 1000 homes on the West Side – as a way to bring investment, safety and opportunity to the South and West Sides and to help families build wealth and equity. Below, please find two stories about the efforts in New York City, which began in the 80s and which continue today – to rebuild communities there. When the work began in NYC in the 80s in East Brooklyn and the South Bronx, the levels of vacancy and violence were even greater than those faced on the South and West Sides of Chicago today. But by building affordable homes for working families at scale through an effort led and owned by the local community, tremendous progress was made.
This story by Jim Zarroli of NPR was done shortly after the massive foreclosure crisis that happened just after the 2008 Great Recession. This story explores how even though foreclosures were ravaging so many neighborhoods at that time, there were essentially NO FORECLOSURES in the thousands of Nehemiah Homes that had been built over the years to rebuild East Brooklyn.
The story below details the tangible successes of the Nehemiah homes and homeowners – in terms of wealth and equity building and advances in education and income.
Please reach out to me if you have ideas or want to get more involved.
Hope to see you all soon.
Ascension Parish and United Power
Update from June 1, 2020
June 1, 2020
I hope that you are all doing well and that your loved ones are safe and healthy.
When we last gathered as a large group in the Pine Room at Ascension on Super Bowl Sunday (February 2nd), the world looked very different and none of us could have predicted what was to come.
Living through this pandemic, the shutdown, and now the unrest of this past weekend has been disorienting, disheartening and, at times, depressing for all of us.
I recently read a reflection by a Catholic priest about the Gospel reading of the disciples meeting Jesus on the Road to Emmaus. In that reading, the disciple, Cleopas, laments to the man that they are walking with (who he does not yet recognize as Jesus) about the fear, disappointment, and hopelessness that everyone feels because of the public execution of the Messiah. Cleopas says, “We had hoped that he would be the one to set Israel free.”
“We had hoped.” This phrase captures how I think many of us have felt these past few months. We had hoped to celebrate First Communions and Graduations and Birthdays. We had hoped to see recitals and soccer games and baseball games. We had hoped to be together, to hug our parents, and to hug our friends. We had hoped to pray and worship together. We had hoped to see more progress in our city and to help our friends on the South and West Sides to advance the effort to make a city more reflective of God’s love.
Last night, the offices of the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) were looted – computers were stolen and the office was damaged. But, families, youth, and neighbors responded quickly after the looting and came together to clean-up and secure the office. No one was hurt. There is insurance to cover the damage. And there was no damage to residential homes. Unfortunately, other businesses in the area were also damaged and/or looted (similar to here in Oak Park).
If we were not people of faith, the story might end here – with resignation and apathy. But just as God walked with those dejected disciples on the Road to Emmaus and revealed himself to them in the breaking of the bread, God walks with us at all times and reveals himself to us in subtle ways– especially now. And in the words of the prophet Isaiah, we are called to be the “repairers of the breach” and the “restorers of streets to dwell in”.
Since we last met, despite all of the challenges that we face, the work of United Power, SWOP, Lawndale Christian Development Corporation, and The Resurrection Project has continued. See below for a quick list of highlights:
- SWOP -- More homes sold in Chicago Lawn. SWOP has continued to sell rehabbed homes to new homeowners who are connecting to and committed to rebuilding the neighborhood. The most recent likely homebuyer of a 2-flat is a longtime volunteer with SWOP and a member of a local church. Some photos off the recently rehabbed homes are attached.
- SWOP -- More vacant buildings turning into homes, businesses and community space. Using a combination of private donations and other resources (some of which you all helped them raise), SWOP has begun rehabbing four (4) vacant buildings to create seventeen (17) affordable apartments and 3 new commercial spaces – one of which will be occupied by Magnolia Screen Printing – the local business started in SWOP’s garage but now self-sustaining. Some of you have SWOP sweatshirts made by Magnolia.
- LCDC making progress – Lawndale Christian has been rehabbing and selling homes as well and is about 2 months away from starting the rehab to resurrect the Lazarus Apartments!
- TRP making progress –The Resurrection Project has designed an affordable, modular single-family and will build the first one this summer and fall in Back of the Yards. As you know, this should be the first of over 200 to be built there.
- As United Power –we met with Senate President Don Harmon to ask him to partner with us by helping us free up the capital dollars in the state capital budget for these efforts. Juliette Dols, Mike Nowicki, and I attended this meeting with 12 other leaders from the city and suburbs across United Power’s membership. The Senate President expressed his strong support for these efforts and has been working to try to help.
- Funds for SWOP. SWOP is collecting relief funds to assist families in St. Rita’s parish and in the Chicago Lawn neighborhood with food, rent assistance, and mortgage assistance during the pandemic. Many of the families in the neighborhood are immigrants; some have lost their jobs; many do not qualify for unemployment assistance or a relief check because of their status. SWOP is working to help families stay afloat until the economy recovers. The best way to provide assistance is to make out a check to “The Southwest Organizing Project” because a % of any online donation goes to the company that provides the online link. If you like, you can put “COVID Relief Funds” in the memo line. You can mail the check to SWOP at 2558 W 63rdStreet, Chicago, IL 60629. Or, if you prefer, you mail or drop the check to me and I will get it to SWOP (I’m at 821 S. Kenilworth, Oak Park, IL 60304).
- Ascension/SWOP Work Projects. We will be organizing some projects this summer. Ascension/Oak Park youth and SWOP youth (supported by adults from both communities) will work together to try to transform a vacant lot into a community asset. This is one of the few vacant lots in Chicago Lawn and is located near some of the buildings/homes that SWOP is rehabbing. Also, SWOP is identifying “home repair projects for senior homeowners” that Ascension and SWOP could work on together. With ASP cancelled this summer, Ascension ASP is very interested in getting involved with both of these efforts. We are beginning to coordinate these projects. Please let myself or Mike Nowicki know if you are interested in these.
- Ongoing Advocacy with Elected Officials. We will continue our efforts to engage with key elected officials – so that as relief and recovery efforts unfold – we can help the community-based and faith-based efforts in Chicago Lawn, Lawndale and Back of the Yards to continue and succeed. We are limited in what we can do right now to gather people but we will be in touch on ways that people can reach out to key elected officials and encourage them to act.
United Power Meets with Mayor Lori Lightfoot, September 22, 2019
On Sunday, September 22nd, 2019, over 1000 people of faith and good will from across Cook County gathered to show their support for creating a better City and region – by reclaiming our neighborhoods, by expanding on smart mental health solutions, and by using creative approaches to reduce gun violence.
United Power laid out the results of its work on these issues and asked Mayor Lightfoot to join us in these efforts.
The Mayor expressed her strong desire to work with United Power on these and other issues.
See below for some good coverage of the event from ABC 7 news:
Another United Power Victory – Crisis Stabilization Unit Opens at Holy Cross Hospital!
Thanks for United Power’s organizing efforts, the Crisis Stabilization Unit (CSU) is finally open at Holy Cross Hospital!
It will provide essential mental health services in the community – which will prevent the mis-incarceration of the mentally ill, assist law enforcement in their efforts to keep us safe, save taxpayer dollars, and bring much-needed care to those in need.
As you know, the state’s Medicaid reimbursement for CSU’s had fallen to $8 a day and the brand new facility at Holy Cross therefore had been sitting vacant and the state was not acting to resolve the issue. Thanks to everyone’s efforts through United Power, we were able to get the attention of the Governor and several key legislators from both parties, who worked with us to resolve this issue.
Below please find a link to a WGN story on the grand opening from last week; our friend Imelda Salazar (from St. Rita’s and SWOP) joined Governor Pritzker at the podium and spoke at the event on behalf of SWOP and United Power.
United Power/SWOP Event with Cardinal Cupich
United Power and SWOP had a successful event at St. Rita’s with Cardinal Cupich on June 7th – to celebrate the successes achieved thus far by Reclaiming SW Chicago and to help raise the profile of this effort so that we can complete the work on the SW Side and spread this effort to other locations.
Over 250 people (from St. Rita’s, SWOP, Ascension, and United Power) joined together for an interfaith prayer service, a tour of the neighborhood, and a discussion with Cardinal Cupich in the rectory at St. Rita’s focusing on how we can act together as people of faith to rebuild our communities.
An article from Chicago Catholic is below. There was some other good media attention that day as well.
Recent Coverage of Reclaiming SW Chicago
You may have caught some other recent coverage of Reclaiming SW Chicago as well. There was an article in the Sun-Times that highlighted United Power and SWOP’s victory of securing $12 million in the state’s capital budget for furthering the work of Reclaiming SW Chicago.
And there was a recent ABC-7 news piece that highlighted some of the new homeowners who have purchased homes rehabbed by SWOP. Please see below for that story:
Reclaiming SW Chicago and Ascension ASP
Finally, in June, a group of Ascension ASP youth leaders (and some Ascension ASP adult leaders) went to SWOP and met with a group of SWOP youth leaders (and a few adults) to get to know each other and to explore the possibility of doing a joint service project in the neighborhood as part of Reclaiming SW Chicago.
The youth from SWOP and Ascension decided to focus on finding a vacant lot in the community and then working together to secure and beautify that lot. SWOP is now working to identify that vacant lot and then the group will reconvene to plan out what they plan to do together. Stay tuned for more details on this front and for a possible service day in the near future.
Ascension’s ASP traveled to Appalachia this last July wearing T-shirts made by Magnolia Screen Printing – which is the T-shirt and silk-screening operation that was incubated by SWOP and is now running independently out of its own space on 63rd Street. It is owned by a local entrepreneur and it employs young men in the neighborhood.