By Rodrigo Hernandez
Bridgeport Alliance on July 29 held a community meeting both through Zoom and in person at the First Lutheran Church of the Trinity’s community center, featuring guest speaker Jaime Groth Searle, executive director and founder of Southwest Collective.
Groth Searle spoke about her Southwest Side organization’s work in breaking down linguistic, economic, and social barriers and fighting redlining and racism.
Participants later in the meeting broke into groups focusing on themes relating to community development.
Charlotte Piwowar, chair of Bridgeport Alliance, facilitated the hybrid meeting. Bridgeport Alliance invited Groth Searle to share advice on building grassroots resilience. Piwowar stressed she hoped the meeting would allow Bridgeport Alliance to get updates on various community projects while learning more from Groth Searle about how to organize better as a grassroots organization.
“I also hoped that people could share their work and learn about other neighborhood happenings,” added Piwowar.
Groth Searle said that, by design, each of her organization’s ten board members oversees a different aspect of work in the community to support the organization’s mission to confront the origins of communities’ ongoing challenges instead of dealing just with symptoms.
“There are a lot of problems that a lot of neighborhood groups aim to address, but the root causes of those problems are never addressed,” said Groth Searle. “Consequently, our group was designed to tackle those long term issues.”
Southwest Collective places high value on members’ teamwork, Groth Searle said. While each member specializes on an area, success increases with cooperation and support.
“Whether it’s lack of green space, crime in a particular area, or a lack of resources for children or seniors, each of us is chosen for something that we try to tackle on our own,” she said. “But through the support of each other, we do better.”
Addressing root causes
Groth Searle reflected on her organization’s origin and objectives related to her on a personal level. “The reason that all came about was because all of us in this group including myself are Southwest Siders, and we’ve all grown up to seeing these issues play out time after time,” she said. “You keep seeing the same problems crop up and it’s because of the same root causes of these problems.”
She and the group’s board members met through other neighborhood organizations and found they shared common goals. “We randomly met each other through these kinds of neighborhood groups over the years,” said Groth Searle. “And we kept finding that we all have the same narrative of never tackling the root causes of things.”
So she founded a new group, which over the next two years became the current Southwest Collective. Groth Searle advised that new groups organize wisely and carefully incorporate and build their boards.
She always looks to create friendships with other groups in other neighborhoods to keep “our feet on the ground” and learn about communities outside Southwest Collective’s area.
“It’s just nice to know what’s going on outside of our coverage area and to be able to align with folks who can help us if need be or we can help them if need be,” she added.
Groth Searle told Gazette Chicago she was interested in what Bridgeport Alliance and its members are experiencing. “They told me what they are dealing with, and there’s a lot of developments that are coming up,” she said, noting Bridgeport Alliance sought advice on “how do they get started with that, how do they successfully petition that their voices are being heard, and that they are able to properly represent the residents at the area. And so I spoke a little bit about our experience with that.”
Piwowar was thankful to hear testimony from Groth Searle about Southwest Collective, saying, “I thought it was great to hear from another South Side organization about how they run, what works, and learn from them so we can continue to grow as an organization,”
Concerning the hybrid online and in-person meeting, Piwowar said, “From my perspective, it seemed to go well, as folks both online and in person were able to participate and connect with each other. I think getting a better handle on connecting people during breakout time is a space to improve, but overall, I felt all right about the meeting.”
For Groth Searle, the meeting was “great. I think they’re doing really good work really quickly.”
In concluding remarks, Groth Searle addressed the importance of vaccination and community groups’ need for awareness about people feeling reluctant to get vaccinated or feeling scared to return to school. As she said, “That’s something I’m always going to address anytime somebody asks me because it’s a big issue.”
Contact Bridgeport Alliance at firstname.lastname@example.org. For Southwest Collective, call (708) 740-8914.