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Project maps South Side health, vitality

What assets are in your community? Where are they? And what does that reveal about what the community lacks?

The University of Chicago’s South Side Health and Vitality Studies and several South Side NCP lead agencies are working together to map out a wide array of community assets. Focused most particularly on healthcare services, the site ranges from professional services like insurance and financial institutions, to childcare and schools, to arts and entertainment.

Photo: Ernest Sanders/GADC

Students at Perspectives Charter School and others have spent summers gathering data for the asset maps, a joint project of the University of Chicago and South Side LISC lead agencies.

Whether you want to find a dentist’s office or a home daycare, a food charity or a place to exercise, the online information center www.southsidehealth.org becomes more likely with each passing day to have your answer—thanks to a database first seeded three years ago, which continues to expand.

The effort has mapped 11 communities and eventually could expand to all 34 communities in the University of Chicago Hospital’s service area. “Everything that has a public facing, that’s what we’re mapping,” says Daniel Johnson, section chief of academic pediatrics at Comer Children’s Hospital. “Anything that exists and has a public presence … [unless] they don’t want to be publicly available.”

The Health and Vitality Studies group intentionally took a very broad view of community health, Johnson says. “It’s very important to us to have this public face and be all-inclusive,” he says. “It’s very difficult to identify what organizations are critically important to the health of a community.”

Within NCP communities, the project has been mapping Woodlawn, Washington Park, Kenwood and Grand Boulevard for three years and both South Chicago and Englewood for two, Johnson says, providing longitudinal data in those areas. Among those gathering and inputting information have been high school students who participate in the After School Matters program, dubbed the Maps Corps, he adds.

Photo: Ernest Sanders/GADC

Students participating in the After School Matters program hit the streets to document community vitality.

“We’ve realized that data collection can be done, as long as there’s appropriate supervision, with high school students,” he says. “It allows students to hold a job and gives them exposure to how research is done, how to think about data, how to think about ways to insure the quality of data.”

NCP Partners
A key partner to the effort has been the Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corp. (GADC), which has headed up the data input for both its home community and Englewood. Ernie Sanders, NCP manager and communications director for GADC, says the site ties in the agency’s efforts through LISC/Chicago's New Communities Program, Elev8 and Smart Communities Program.

When it comes to healthcare, the site provides access to local clinics so the uninsured don’t have to go to the University of Chicago’s emergency room, Sanders says, which helps the university reduce overcrowding and wait times (as well as, no doubt, numbers of uncompensated patients) and helps potential patients in a few different ways.

Photo: Courtesy University of Chicago

The asset maps plot a whole range of products and services, focusing particularly on health care.

"They don’t have to wait eight hours, or worry about who’s going to watch Pookie,” he says. “It’s a way for us to have residents become smarter about how they care for themselves. It’s also about digital literacy. Many say they can’t afford it; we put the portals in the area, or the kiosks in the area, and they can access southsidehealth.org for free and find out where to access these services.”

While sites like Google or Yelp already provide similar mapping services, Sanders says that southsidehealth.org aims to provide more information than just an address and a phone number, although getting to that level of depth remains very much unfinished. That will help people to find otherwise-hidden assets, he says.

“A church on paper might be just a church,” Sanders says. “But inside of St. Sabina Church, there’s a food pantry [and] a healthcare ministry.”

Teamwork Englewood has provided space in its offices for the asset-mappers to continue northward from Auburn Gresham, under GADC’s leadership, says Jacques Conway, executive director.

Photo: Ernest Sanders/GADC

Institutions like preschools were among those added to the maps.

“We supported them in any way we could,” he says. “We were able to get some good information out of it. We know … what we have out there. It’s nice when it’s formally surveyed and that information is made available, so we can have a realistic idea of what we have other here, and what we have over there.”

In Washington Park, community members have helped with some of the asset mapping, and the effort has done outreach to the local Chamber of Commerce and area business owners, says Brandon Johnson, executive director of the Washington Park Consortium.

“We’ve been working with them to … help the project be developed in a way that has real community benefit, that takes into account the needs of the community,” he says. “It has a lot of potential outside of the primary health use. It has a lot of potential for use by doctors, schools, businesses and residents. The challenge now is to figure out how we can really maximize that usage and utility to all involved."

To read about another joint New Communities Program-University of Chicago project, called Community Grand Rounds, please click here.

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