Arloa Sutter lives and works in a neighborhood called East Garfield Park located on the west side of Chicago, Illinois. It’s a neighborhood filled with wide boulevards, tree-lined streets, and beautiful public parks. The neighborhood is home to the Garfield Park Conservatory, one of the largest conservatories in America, and lies only ten minutes from downtown Chicago. Yet, for all of its beauty, the neighborhood has some challenges too.
East Garfield Park has struggled for decades with the effects of disinvestment. Families must leave the neighborhood to find healthy produce options. Most public grammar schools are underperforming, surviving on far fewer resources than their suburban counterparts. Despite the gorgeous brick homes, vacant lots dot the landscape. There is a noticeable absence of job opportunities in the neighborhood, and this has been the case for decades. As all of these challenges coalesce, frustrations run deep and the potential for violence seems ever present. Arloa recounts that shortly after moving into the neighborhood a bullet passed through her living room window and lodged in her dining room wall. She easily connects this event to the systemic issues that have burdened the community. “This is what happens when kids lose hope in education and take their futures into their own hands,” she concludes. Despite the convergence of these difficulties, Arloa is not ready to surrender.
Rising to the Challenge
Arloa is the Executive Director for Breakthrough Urban Ministries, a community development agency that is determined to weave together the collective efforts of neighbors to create change for families in East Garfield Park. They have chosen to focus on the nearest 32 blocks and saturate the community with support.1