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January 3, 2013 / HandsOnCorps

Poverty in the Suburbs??…by Maria Ambriz

Maria Ambriz_photoRecent immigration trends show an increasing number of younger immigrants (below 35 years of age) settling in areas that are not the seven states where immigrants have predominantly lived in for the past years. Instead, they are settling in smaller communities in states like North Carolina, Georgia, and Arkansas. School districts in smaller cities and suburban areas do not always know how to adapt to changing demographics. What I’ve seen and experienced in these areas is a need for resources and programs directed at these new communities that are forming. Youth also do not have the same access to culturally relevant programs and resources as they do in larger urban centers. As a VISTA serving in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, and who grew up in these communities, it is important for me to shed light on these issues and how community organizations are addressing them.

There is a common belief that northwest suburban Chicago is predominantly middle and upper middle class families. But, when you look closely at Elgin, Wheeling, Evanston, the Round Lake suburbs, and many others, there are pockets of people living in poverty in these areas. The school districts which I serve in as a Parental and Community Engagement VISTA are a reflection of the changing demographics in the areas that have been mostly white affluent communities in past years. The school districts themselves may not be struggling economically, but often times there will be one or two schools that have a high percentage of low-income students and a high number of low English proficiency rates. Organizations like my host site, HandsOn Suburban Chicago, are partnering with other organizations in the area to provide support and resources to these specific communities, however there are many obstacles that we need to face.

Some of these obstacles are within; how to deconstruct assumptions within the organization about the new communities forming, how to educate staff and members of an organization about the changes happening in the communities they serve, how to reshape the priorities and strategies of an organization based on these changes, and so on. There are also obstacles outside the organization like; how to build solidarity between the organization and the new communities forming, how to provide support to these communities by finding resources that are not so common outside the city, and how to work with school administration that is not accustomed to working with these new communities.

In the past few months I have found that no one community is the same and it is fundamental to get to know communities from a personal perspective, to communicate with them in order to understand their struggles and to learn how to pull resources and people that will support them. I have found many helpful resources in the Teachers for Social Justice Organization http://www.teachersforjustice.org/ and Rethinking Schools http://www.rethinkingschools.org//cmshandler.asp?/index.shtml. I look forward to finding new ways to equip these communities with the tools necessary to become agents of change in their schools and neighborhoods!

Bio:  In May of 2012,  Maria Ambriz received her Bachelor of Science degree in Textile and Apparel Design from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Maria is committed to education and engaging youth from struggling communities to use art and design as tools for resistance and self-determination.

Current VISTA title: Community and Parental Engagement VISTA, HandsOn Suburban Chicago

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