Better Makers: Chicago’s Austin Community Comes Together to Kick Off School Year

Better Makers: Austin Community Comes Together to Kick Off School Year

BUILD, Inc. (Broader Urban Involvement & Leadership Development) is one of Chicago’s leading gang intervention, violence prevention, and youth development organizations on a mission to engage youth of high-risk environments by helping instill confidence and promote engagement and leadership within their communities. BUILD currently serves more than 3,500 youth each year in Austin, East Garfield Park, Humboldt Park, Hermosa, Logan Square, and Fuller Park. BUILD is a Make It Better Philanthropy Award winner.

Over 2,500 Austin residents, community leaders, anti-violence groups, and community organizations gathered on Aug. 17 for BUILD’s 2nd annual Summer of Opportunity street festival. The day of festivities was a community celebration of summertime meant to connect youth and families to a range of resources for a positive school year ahead.

“It’s important to honor the beauty, strength, and talent of the people of Austin — especially the youth who represent our future,” said Bradly Johnson at the event. Johnson is an Austin native who leads BUILD’s programming.

Cmrd. Ernest Cato III15th District and State Rep. Camille Lilly were in attendance, opening the day with a warm welcome to the Austin community and special guest Sen. Dick Durbin.

“Today is about connecting youth, family, and community to support young people and prevent violence,” Sen. Dick Durbin said. “For kids to reach their full potential — and live happy, healthy, and productive lives — we need after school and community programs that build skills and provide mentorship. I’m proud to support BUILD in their work across Chicago, and I am fighting in Washington to expand their models nationwide.”

The free and open event had activities for the whole family, including a health village with screenings, vaccinations, and healthy living information; backpacks and school supplies; a STEM fair featuring Apple and LEGO; craft activities; 3-on-3 basketball tournaments; inflatables and climbing walls; free food; and community and youth performances with a special appearance from hometown artist Daryon Martice Simmons, better known by his stage name iAmDLOW – Determined, Loyal, Optimistic, and Willing to Learn.

While the turnout exceeded projections, the event took place in the shadow of ongoing violence, including shootings in Garfield Park Thursday evening that took the life of a 15 year old and wounded a 14 year old — “both young men were known to many in attendance at the event,” said Daniel Perez of BUILD.

“Community groups, elected leaders, and law enforcement started meeting in early 2017 to create opportunities, provide alternatives to gang violence, and showcase the tremendous strength Austin already has,” said Johnson. “That unity has continued and grown, and it has made a difference. But we have a long way to go, as tragedies we see on the news every weekend remind us.”

The community, including local businesses, public sector partners, and local individuals are to thank for the success of this positive event. Breakthru Beverage Illinois was once again the lead sponsor for the fest, rallying over 150 volunteers. Other sponsors included AIR-1 94.3FM, Apple Computer, Austin Coming Together, Austin Child Care Providers Network, American Red Crossthe Chicago Community Loan Fund, Chicago Cubs Charities, Chicago Park District, Chicago Police Department, Comcast, Communities Partnering 4 Peace, Illinois Afterschool Network, Institute for Nonviolence Chicago, LEGO, Levy Restaurants, Local Initiative Support Corporation, Loretto Hospital, Manufacturing Renaissance, Michele Clark Magnet High School, Monterrey Security, PepsiCo, Project Exploration, Rush University Children’s Hospital, Steppenwolf Theatre, Swift, Target Corporation, UI Health, University of Illinois – Chicago, and Wells Fargo Bank.

BUILD’s 2nd annual Summer of Opportunity in Chicago: Clifton "Booney" McFowler, Bud Schwarzbach, Dick Durbin, Camille Lilly, Cmrd. Ernest Cato, and Andrew Wade
From L to R: BUILD Street Intervention staff member Clifton “Booney” McFowler, BUILD Board Chairman Bud Schwarzbach, Sen. Dick Durbin, State Rep. Camille Lilly, Chicago Police Department 15th District Cmrd. Ernest Cato, and BUILD Development Director Andrew Wade.
BUILD’s 2nd annual Summer of Opportunity in Chicago: Clarisol Duque
Chief of Staff Clarisol Duque poses with a BUILD participant.
BUILD’s 2nd annual Summer of Opportunity in Chicago: Youth add message to a Peace Wall
Youth add messages to a Peace Wall to honor victims of gun violence.
BUILD’s 2nd annual Summer of Opportunity in Chicago: Daryon Martice Simmons (iAmDLOW)
Daryon Martice Simmons, better known by his stage name iAmDLOW, spends time on stage leading youth in dance during the 2018 Summer of Opportunity street fest.
BUILD’s 2nd annual Summer of Opportunity in Chicago: balloon launch
Balloon launch (with biodegradable balloons) to honor victims of gun violence.
BUILD’s 2nd annual Summer of Opportunity in Chicago: face-painting booth
Festival participants take a break in the shade after visiting the face-painting booth.


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Emily Stone is Associate Editor at Make It Better. She earned a degree in journalism from Elon University in North Carolina. Along with writing, Stone has a passion for digital storytelling and photography. Her work is published in Chicago Athlete Magazine. Stone is a supporter of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Stone is a fluent Spanish speaker who in her free time loves a good dance class.