By Dana Rettig, Chicago Crusader
Geri Harston, Executive Director of Imagine Englewood If (IEI), takes her Englewood pride and sense of roots very seriously. She knows a lot about the history and legacy of the Greater Englewood area. Not only did she grow up in the Englewood area, but when the founder of IEI, Jean Carter-Hill died from a stroke, Harston was asked to fill in as the executive director position because of her previous positions as founder of the ACE (Architecture, Construction and Engineering) Tech Charter High School, and her industrial electricity courses taught at Prairie State College.
After responding to recruitment efforts made by the board of directors, Harston agreed to fill in the executive director spot not for herself, but for the love of her community. “I grew up in Englewood, which was a huge draw for me. I’ve been working for IEI for two years now. I love what I do, because I believe that the children deserve a healthy future. It’s part of my responsibility to make certain that the residents’ safety and growth remain IEI’s number one priority,” she said.
In addition to their lead poisoning and prevention campaign and equally significant to the organization is their dedication to the children by providing a safe haven that children can come to after school and during the summer for activities and programs.
Hill’s original vision was to start one of the first community gardens. In the process of selecting a location, Hill discovered high levels of lead contamination in the soil samples from the first three sites selected. The former director eventually opted for raised-bed planting techniques for the community garden. This also lead to a new campaign to educate the community on the dangers of lead poisoning in children in the Englewood community. The garden was posthumously named after the founder—The Jean Carter-Hill Community Garden.
Harston went on to note that their major sponsors are the Joseph and Bessie Feinberg Foundation, Chicago Department of Public Health and the Aetna Foundation. “We were recently awarded a Safe and Peaceful Community Fund in 2017 for our summer program. The donations help keep our organization on task with our mission and they are a big help to the community.”
In addition to the focus on lead poisoning prevention, IEI receives donations of clothing, shoes, accessories, and books. Residents in the Englewood vicinity are welcome to come and take what they need. Every day, the organization is making the community a better place for the residents to live, learn and grow, despite the media’s negative reports of the Englewood area and its residents. According to Harston, “Englewood gets a really bad reputation due to what the media portrays.”
“What the media doesn’t report are the various events that take place in Englewood; such as, IEI’s food and toy drive during the holiday and their summer camp program that includes yoga, tennis, hip-hop dancing, arts and crafts, chess and poetry programs, community gardening located on 60th and Peoria Street and leadership training for the youth through their “Growing Citizen Leaders program.
For more information, go to www.imagineenglewoodif.org or call (773) 488-6704.