Getting to know: Chicago's 47th Ward

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Alderman Ameya Pawar outside the 47th ward service office. Picture via: chicago47.org

Most of what I've covered so far has been larger scale organizations that cater to specific populations. During the course of  my research into Tree House, I called the 47th Ward service office. (The 47th ward being where the Cat's at Work pilot program is taking place.)

The phone was answered by a bright, cheerful voice, I introduced myself and spoke about the reason for my call. "Oh! Yes! In fact that was my idea," came the reply. I had the pleasure of speaking to Dara Salk whose formal title in the office is Constituent Services Liaison. (I have come to think of her as the den mother of the 47th ward.) I had the pleasure of chatting with her for a few minutes before being invited to the next weekly ward night.

A bit about Dara, because if you get the lucky opportunity to volunteer in the office or with the team(s) of volunteers the Alderman has assembled, you'll be enjoying some time with her. Her cheerful demeanor and warm personality make her lethal, for as she joyfully tells you about the work that is being done in the community, you find yourself falling under her spell. You start to nod along and offer to take part in the next service project, because what she is saying make so much sense. She's going to 'getcha' and you'll never even know it. Dara wants you to care about the community that she has lived in for over 30 years as much as she does, it's something that she does very well.

In fact, the Cat's at Work program was her baby. 18 months ago, when the newly elected Alderman Pawar and his staff took office, Dara began receiving phone calls about the rat problem in the ward. The constituents were calling to say that they were seeing rats during the day. (Blissfully unaware of rats in the manner that I am, I had no idea that seeing rats during the day is a major, major problem.) So, Dara got to work, did some research, made some phone calls. In the end the Cat's at Work program was born.

It's a perfect example of the community at work, constituents notifying the alderman's office of an issue, then the alderman and his staff begin looking for ways to correct the problem long term. In this case, the solution came in the form of an organization that exists within the community. It's a win for everyone.

When I arrived at the service office I was surprised, I had assumed that a ward night meant that the alderman was going to be sitting at a desk in front of a group of constituents fielding questions and criticism.  This was not the case, I was swiftly attended to and had a delightful chat with Dara before meeting with the Alderman privately. That's how ward nights work in the 47, you go into the office sign up and then meet with the Alderman. You get to sit with him fact to face and he really listens. Alderman Pawar is an active participator in the lives of the people living in his ward.

I've lived in the "Chicago suburbs" my whole life, but I've only lived within city limits for about a year. I may have been lead to believe that the aldermen and women of Chicago were part of the political machine (I have been informed that this is a common misconception). Operating under this misinformation, I was surprised with the warmth and commitment that I saw in this office. Dara informed me that the alderman's office is a 'service office', they exist to serve the community. By all accounts they are doing it well.

Next week we'll talk about the specifics of what is happening in the 47th ward and how you can get involved. I might even tell you about Alderman Pawar!

(Apologies if there are punctuation errors, my editor was running late for work and informed my that we can always call it 'style'!)

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