SECC beautification
Diane Burnham (2nd from right) and her staff members from the SECC presented a beautification project last year.   

The South East Chicago Commission (SECC) awarded community beautification grants this summer to eight local projects in Hyde Park, Kenwood, Woodlawn and Washington Park. 

The flower bed around the Nichols Park fountain near 55th Street and South Kimbark Avenue is receiving landscape maintenance, while United Church of Hyde Park, 1448 E. 53rd Street, is getting a frontage upgrade. In Kenwood, Jessie Ma Houston Park will have a new mural painted, and the Ancona School is taking over maintenance of an unkept median on East 47th Place. 

2016 Ma’at, a community-based organization, is reviving a community garden at Burke Elementary School, 5356 S. King Drive, and the nonprofit Chicago Eco House will create a flower farm at 52nd Street and Prairie Avenue. In Woodlawn, the University of Chicago Charter Schools is building three pollinator gardens at Woodlawn Avenue and 63rd Street. The YWCA Metropolitan Chicago is also building a greenhouse by its urban farm at Emmett Till Academy, 6543 S. Champlain Ave.  

“There are a lot of reasons why we do this,” SECC Executive Director Diane Burnham told the Herald. “Sidewalk conditions, prevention of violence, and neighborhood aesthetics were the factors we have been working on the last couple of years.”

Since 1999, the SECC has given out more than one million dollars in community beautification grants, funding over 200 enterprises. The organization manages the Neighborhood Enhancement Grant program and creates coalitions with community partners. 

“We partner with existing nonprofit organizations,” Burnham said, “as well as community groups, schools, and park advisory councils. So that way it would ensure the success of the projects and what makes sense for the community.”

SECC has been specializing in micro-grants and investments every summer for local South Side communities. They create collaborations with schools, churches, and religious congregations to initiate these impactful projects.

According to Burnham, “It’s very cool and organic. And a lot of times, these are existing projects that need a little boost or new ideas.”

The projects are funded in part by the Elizabeth Louise Smith Fund from the Chicago Community Trust. The late Elizabeth Smith and her husband started the fund to invest in community gardens, education, and community enhancements. This fund has been aiding SECC for the last five years; Burnham and the staff members were able to receive other endowments from private donations.

SECC is also building and generating a partnership with the nonprofit Woodlawn Diversity In Action. 

“Each project has its own thing with a purpose,” Burnham added. “It includes community volunteers and input from their communities.”

“It’s really bringing people together for a common goal,” Burnham said. “And that’s to make an enhancement in their neighborhood to attract other neighbors. It creates a sense of pride and enhances quality of life.”

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