When people hear the words Englewood and Chicago together, what do you suppose they think? Perhaps some of the first things people think about are the violence, the crime, and the immense amount of poverty. And because many people have minimal to no personal experience with the neighborhood, these predispositions about the Southside Chicago neighborhood are almost expected. In fact, if someone was to Google search the keywords “Englewood Chicago” they’d find nothing but articles detailing the rising crime rate and escalating violence related to the area.
But for someone like me, who not only has lived in the neighborhood but serves the community there, I have a bit of different view of Englewood. For me, when I think about Englewood I think about the untapped creativity, imagination and talent found within the children at the schools there. I think about the resiliency of the people. I think about the want and need for resources and opportunities for the children there. Most prominently, I think about schools like Libby Elementary, one of the Englewood sites for Girls in the Game’s After School programming, and the staff and students at Libby who make my experience with Girls in the Game so fulfilling.
As a coordinator and coach for the site, I have the opportunity to be able to fully understand the culture of the school as well as receive insight into the needs and wants of both staff and the girls there. And from the very beginning, Girls in the Game was welcomed into the school with arms wide open. Mrs. Barerra, the school’s assistant principal, was beyond excited to have after school programming available for their elementary school girls and has been hands on from the very beginning in aiding our efforts to make Girls in the Game After School programming as beneficial for the girls and the school as possible.
Libby has been one of the Englewood sites with the highest attendance rates, and to me, that comes as no surprise. Each week I’m greeted with hugs and dazzling smiles from 22 of the most amazing 3rd-5th grade girls I’ve ever met. Their eagerness to learn is evident in the energy they bring to programming, and the positive impact that programming has had on the girls is undeniable. In the past ten weeks I’ve watched some of the most timid, soft-spoken girls blossom into shining leaders. My co-coach and I have witnessed the strengthening of friendships and bonds between the girls, and per Mrs. Barerra’s testimony, there’s been a significant improvement in behavior from girls that she’d never imagined could happen.
For me, this is what I think about when I think about Englewood. When I hear the Chicago neighborhood mentioned, whether on the news, on the radio, or even in conversation, my mind immediately goes to the amazing girls that I’ve had the honor of serving these past ten weeks. I think about the staff that work tirelessly at the elementary schools to ensure that our girls have every opportunity to advance as leaders at school and in their communities. When I hear people talk about Englewood, I recall the resiliency of the girls that have to deal with a failing school system, neighborhood violence, and poverty yet remain enthusiastic about being leaders and catalysts for positive change.
And when I think about all these things I’m reminded why Girls in the Game programming is so important. Our afterschool programming provides a safe space for girls to be as creative, as expressive, and as open as they’d like while being engaged in activities that will help further develop them as they become strong leaders. Moreover, Girls in the Game has provided an opportunity for me to fulfill my passion of working with young girls. As a coordinator and coach I’ve learned so much about myself and my community, and I look forward to having the chance to further impact the lives of these young girls and the Englewood community at large.