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Non-Profit Community Building Organization: Near Northwest Neighborhood Network

The Community Building Award is presented to the organization that exemplifies the ability to create a healthy neighborhood — with all the elements that go into a well- functioning community — through organizing, project development or program implementation.

This year’s Award goes to a relatively young group, the Near Northwest Neighborhood Network. Despite its youth, NNNN was chosen because it is demonstrating quite powerfully how a neighborhood can be organized with results to show once community leaders set their mind to doing so. And this is in view of the often contentious history of organizing that preceded NNNN in its home community of West Town/ West Humboldt Park. More than 100 organizations are members of NNNN, all of which provide services to the 125,000 people who live in the West Town and Humboldt Park area. There, in the heart of the city’s Puerto Rican community, nearly 50 percent of the population is under 21 and almost 45 percent live at or below the poverty level. Both the unemployment and high school dropout rates are high. NNNN has therefore set an aggressive agenda, addressing education, jobs, housing, community safety, and youth development. As a result, it already has been able to use its collective strength to:

  • Attract $5 million from the Quantum Youth Opportunity Project, a program of the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development, to assist over 500 out- of- school and out- of- work youths get on the track to employment and job training
  • Win a "redevelopment- area" designation from the city to make a large part of the community eligible for various government programs, which will include funding for an ambitious land acquisition effort to promote affordable housing and economic development
  • Create an education collaborative, Project TEAM, which subsequently obtained an Annenberg Foundation grant that focuses on improving parental involvement, teacher training and student performance in five local grade schools
  • Foster a partnership with banks in the West Town area to create a low- interest financing program that has helped 100 families buy their first home.

NNNN’s work has attracted national attention. The National Puerto Rican Coalition has recognized the organization for exemplifying Best Practices in Puerto Rican/ Latino Community Building. In 1999, the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development presented NNNN with its Best Practices Award in Community Empowerment for its record in bringing people together to envision and implement a local development agenda. With its practice of unifying residents and organizations, its track record of accomplishments, and its roots in citizen organization, NNNN exemplifies community building at its best, and for that it has earned The Harris Bank Non-Profit Community Building Award of 2002.