(Special thanks to Joy Decker of Esperanza Community Services for her time and insights)
"Community" often gets used in a variety of contexts without understanding the full meaning of the word. In social media circles, "community" is often used to describe followers without necessarily any context other than a given brand. In Chicago neighborhoods, "community" often describes how neighbors, organizations, and leaders relate to each other. There's a sense of common philosophy, empathy, and a powerful interconnection between the members of that community.
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Joy Decker, Executive Director of Esperanza Community Services since 2014, about their programs. Not only do they provide a wide variety of services, but their philosophy embraces the idea of community.
Esperanza Community was started by Guadalupe Reyes 49 years ago in a church basement in Pilsen. Her son had developmental disabilities as a result of spinal meningitis, and he wanted the same experiences and support as other children when attending school. Influenced by Waldorf school philosophy Esperanza Community provides an array of programs for individuals with developmental challenges and autistic individuals to express themselves through the arts. These include
- An adult day program that allows participants to learn life skills, engage in social interaction, and maintain a connection to the community;
- A residential program providing case management and hands-on
- A state-funded therapeutic day school (in partnership with Chicago Public Schools) that provides programs for 55 students and 55 adults to develop living and social skills, express themselves through the arts and maintain a connection to the community.
One of the great things about Esperanza Community Services (as Ms. Decker explained) is that the students and participants do more than just create art; they are actively engaging in promoting and displaying their art. Like the recent Raks Inferno fundraiser for immigrant rights, Esperanza Community participants play an active role in curating, exhibiting, and promoting their art, holding past exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Hotel Lincoln.
This strong community-based philosophy allows Esperanza Community Servies to have a greater impact on their participants. Not only do participants receive a wide range of supportive services (including occupational therapy and speech pathology), but also a great compassion and empathy that extends to the student's (and resident's) family as well. Esperanza Community Services provides a greater opportunity for their students and residents for community participation, as well as a greater chance to engage the greater world.
Not only is the emphasis on visual arts a great way to engage participants, but as Ms. Decker explained, Esperanza Community considers the arts a way to bring vibrancy to its programs. Although seemingly more "clinical" in nature, the programs at Esperanza Community Services provide participants an opportunity to express themselves. Looking at Esperanza Community Services' presence on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram will reveal a liveliness and spirit that permeates the organization. Funded through the state, Esperanza Community relies on key partnerships and the greater community to keep going...and developing those partnerships is key. That sense of partnership and community extends to the way in which Esperanza Community engages the greater community, such as this video highlighting their School Supply Wish List:
And Esperanza Community Services is one neighbor you should know.
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