Strong Neighborhoods

Matthew Simpson is a community impact manager with United Way of Rock River Valley

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United Way's Black Male Initiative (BMI) is a pilot program that launched about a year ago. We partnered with Goodwill of Northern Illinois and the Workforce Connection to focus on empowering Black males between the ages of 18 - 24 to overcome challenges related to education and employment. Over the last year, we have connected 16 young men with mentors that provide additional guidance and motivation as they pursue their goals. These are some of the accomplishments to date:

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Yes, we "officially" celebrate Black History Month in February, but it's never too late to shine a light on the important figures that make our community great! Working in the Ellis Heights Neighborhood, I drive by Lewis Lemon Elementary School often. I'd like to share a little history related to the school's name!

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Unemployment in the Rockford, Illinois area is almost twice the National average, which makes finding a job that more difficult. It's especially a major issue for young black men. In fact, nearly 70 percent of young black males between the ages of 18-24 years old are without a job. That's more than four times higher than the rate for young white men.

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For the past year, I have been working with the leadership of Zion West Neighborhood Association, specifically helping the group establish a vision for its neighborhood improvement efforts. Early on the group determined to focus on creating a safe and healthy neighborhood for residents of Ellis Heights.

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We congratulate Tabitha Keyes on her new job!

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Families at Lewis Lemon Elementary kicked off the year right with an evening of healthy eats and fun dance moves last week during their first Family Fitness Night event. United Way of Rock River Valley worked alongside Lewis Lemon PTO leaders to incorporate family health and fitness programming into their monthly family night events. Last week's event featured a hands-on demonstration on preparing low-cost healthy foods by Carol Erickson, Visiting Extension Educator, SNAP-Ed with University of Illinois Extension – Rockford. Families then participated in a Zumba dance workout lead by Vivian Keuter, Assistant Principal with Lewis Lemon School.

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Last week we concluded the 2015 season of Strong Neighborhoods Days. Thanks to residents, City of Rockford police officers and human services organizations for coming out to Rockford Housing Authority Blackhawk Courts. We look forward to engaging with residents at a neighborhood school during the school year.

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We had another nice turnout for Strong Neighborhoods Days yesterday. Thanks to the residents of Midtown District neighborhood for coming out to our Strong Neighborhoods House location to meet with other residents and connect with community resources. We look forward to connecting with more residents at the two remaining Strong Neighborhoods Days.

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Nearly 30 interns from Greenlee / A Textron Company worked alongside Ellis Heights residents and organizations today to help clear debris and beautify the neighborhood. The clean-up efforts are part of Project 1013, a partnership between West Gateway Coalition and Rock Church, which advances the beautification of the Ellis Heights neighborhood.

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