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End of Calendar Year Reflections: JCCWRP Annual Report

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As 2017  comes to a close, it’s a good time to reflect on JCCWRP accomplishments and our vision for the coming year.
To the community’s long-term benefit, we’ve extended our reach through strategic networking, building new relationships and establishing broad-based coalitions aimed at promoting neighborhood betterment.
Probably the best example of what can be achieved when we work in this manner is the fact that at the end of 2018 we will be dedicating a new Northtown Branch of the Chicago Public Library.
Starting at a meeting convened by Tony Martinez of The Chicago Community Trust in May, 2015 marking The Trust’s centennial  and with the aim of identifying a project that might improve WRP while coalescing the community,  JCCWRP suggested that a new library building would be a worthy goal.  Soon after, LEARN WRP was established with Tony Martinez serving as the chair and with JCCWRP as a founding member, along with a diverse group of other organizations.  Two thousand signatures later on a community petition, Alderman Silverstein was able to make the case with city officials and soon the rest will be history.  LEARN continues to be involved in the ongoing community planning process in order to ensure that the library reflects the needs and interests of the community.
Bringing more businesses to the community is an ongoing goal, but not one easily achieved.  All of the hard work in this endeavor paid off when an idea that JCCWRP had been promoting for over two years finally came to fruition with the opening of the Magenta Sister Stores on the southeast corner of Pratt and California.  The idea was simple.  Encourage one or more of the many home-based businesses in WRP to move to commercial space.  But simple was not easy to implement.  It took time for us to identify and work with owners willing to take this leap of faith.  It then took additional time to work with them through the development of a business plan and then to find the right location.  The result has been good for the Magenta Stores and good for the community, transforming 3 ½ empty stores in a small half-vacant strip shopping center into a hub of commercial activity.  Just this week, with the help and guidance of Shalom Klein, Magenta launched its attractive website, which will make access to its merchandise even easier.  We are into these projects for the long term.
With the demolition just this past week of the abandoned former Dove Cleaners site at the northeast corner of Whipple and Devon after years and years of neglect, we now have another victory for WRP.  This, together with the completion of the new Devon Streetscape that Alderman Silverstein has made possible, makes this an ideal time to join with her to leverage these improvements to make further advances on Devon. We believe that the underutilized building at the southwest corner of Devon and California, extending to Mozart and the vacant former CVS and the large parking lot to the rear, should be a meaningful target for development.
New signage now adorns Tel Aviv Bakery and Kol Tuv Grocery as a result of JCCWRP advocacy and crucial funds provided through SSA (Special Service Area) grants facilitated by the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce and matching funds provided by JCCWRP.   The remainder of the costs were paid for by the businesses.  We hope that others businesses will follow this lead.
Going further west on Devon, four years ago JCCWRP began to advocate for the elimination of the eyesore at the southeast corner of Devon & McCormick, a vacant and vandalized movie theater, car wash and parking lot that had stood blighted for over a decade.  After extended discussions with elected officials and residents, 2 ½ years ago we convened a community meeting to gauge interest in advocating for improvement of the site.  It was at that gathering that David St Pierre, the Executive Director of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) which controlled the site, expressed a willingness to pursue our idea to make that location available to the Chicago Park District (CPD) for construction of a new park.  After a subsequent community-wide meeting convened by Alderman Silverstein at which time there was nearly unanimous support for the park, plans were drawn up and earlier this year a groundbreaking and then later in the year a dedication took place, naming the park  in memory of Bernard L. Stone, a fitting tribute to a longtime resident and leader in WRP and beyond.
Speaking of parks, Park 538 along Kedzie Ave between Devon and McCormick is being transformed into a Natural Area by the CPD, which is implementing a plan drafted by JCCWRP and championed by Alderman Silverstein. Look for continued work on the park during 2018, with completion in 2019.  Another amenity for WRP and beyond.
JCCWRP has been a motivating force and active partner for expanded family programming at the JCC Bernard Horwich Center.  The JUF/Federation Agency Liaison/Advisory Committee which we were instrumental in convening has become an important tool in the creation of an ongoing interagency work group, fostering working relationships that have resulted in joint programming and other coordinated activities.
With the encouragement and support of JUF/Federation, JCFS opened its new Knapp Center on Kedzie south of Pratt and is centralizing most of its operations in the neighborhood.  JCC has announced the beginning of a process aimed at renovations at the Bernard Horwich Center.  The new campus of Yeshiva Tiferes Tzvi on California South of Devon and the rehabilitation of the former site of the Ida Crown Jewish Academy/ATT building as a new home for Veitzener Cheder have further solidified the commitment to a growing WRP.
Just last month a video documentary, Driving West Rogers Park: Chicago’s Once and Future Jewish Neighborhood, produced and directed by our board member Beverly Siegel with the support of the Chicago Jewish Historical Society (CJHS) and JUF/Federation, spotlighted our advocacy work in WRP at a standing-room-only function commemorating the 40th anniversary of the CJHS.  We expect to arrange additional showings and use these events to further build our constituency.
JCCWRP is a voluntary community organization with a small budget to meet our operational, staffing and programmatic needs.  Funds are raised from individuals, organizations and JUF/Federation to sustain our work.  I am pleased to report that our lead funders and a number of others have already committed their support for 2018. During the coming year we plan to launch a membership campaign to provide us with additional resources to fund new initiatives.
I feel very fortunate to be able to work with our excellent executive director Shalom Klein and our dedicated board of directors, to make a difference in Chicago’s flagship Jewish community.
Please share your thoughts with us.  Let us know how you might want to become involved.  Together let’s make 2018 another breakout year for JCCWRP!

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