Open Communities works with others to facilitate programs for immigrants on self-expression, how to participate in local government, and ways to influence policies related to diversity and inclusion.

Referral Guide

Open Communities developed an online housing referral guide to assist immigrants and people with disabilities. Learn more >

Conozca Sus Derechos de Vivienda Justa
Podemos Ayudar Prevención de Ejecución Hipotecaria de Consejería.

Through community education, innovative programming, and extensive organizing and outreach, Open Communities empowers immigrants in Chicago’s northern suburbs. In addition to the details listed below, we also reach out to Latino homeowners to help stem the tide of foreclosures via Operation H.E.L.P.

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Open to All: Different Cultures, Same Communities

Immigrants comprise 26.5% of the north suburban region, but are underrepressented in civic life.

We spent eight years tracking the consequences of this phenomenon in 16 northern Cook and southern Lake County suburbs. An estimated 147,500 foreign born residents live in the study area, which is a 19 percent increase since 2000, compared to a three percent decline in native born residents. Despite these shifts, virtually no immigrants hold elected office or participate in commission or other decision-making bodies that affect their housing.

Read more in the Open to All: Different Cultures, Same Communities report >

Putting a Dollar Value to Diversity in Highwood

Open Communities worked with the Voorhees Center of the University of Illinois at Chicago on an Impact Study (2006) that arguably is the first to quantify the value of a diverse population. Seen through the lens of Northshore Estates in Highwood, a 250-unit rental complex tenanted almost entirely by Latino immigrants that was threatened with a potential condo conversion, the study uses a variety of data sources to show that having tenants live close to work (half the tenants worked in Highwood), and shop and go to school in the area, has a positive impact on local businesses and property taxes. The study also assesses the impact on racial and ethnic diversity. In 2010, a new owner converted to Fort Sheridan Place Luxury Apartments, remaining as rental housing, which allowed many residents to stay.

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Parent Mentor Program (PMP)

In partnership with the Niles Township Schools’ ELL Parent Center, we have chosen and trained 50+ Parent Mentors at six schools in Skokie. Each Parent Mentor is assigned to a classroom at their child’s school where they are matched with a teacher and work one-on-one and in small groups with students. Not only are teachers getting extra assistance, but children are learning skills from these individuals who have so much to offer. In addition, teachers get to learn about another culture and parents get extra training and experience for their future endeavors. Two mentors from the 2012-13 school year have gone on to become employees at the school in which they mentored. More info and success stories about the PMP here.

Eating Locally

Open Communities launched Eating Locally Acting, Globally in September 2013 with funding from the Sally Mead Hands Foundation. Alicia De La Cruz (Immigrant Leadership Project Director) and Lali Watt (community leader, sustainable agriculture and environmental activist) conceived of the project as a way to promote sustainable agriculture and immigrant integration by organizing a culturally and economically diverse group of women who met and exchanged ways to eat healthy, locally grown foods in season.

Learn More >

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I LEAD: Immigrant Leadership School

The purpose of I LEAD is to recruit and train north suburban immigrants who are interested in participating in local government and influencing policies related to housing and diversity. The four-part workshop addresses these questions:

  • How does local government affect your daily life?
  • How do you influence housing decisions in your community?
  • How do you build strong relationships & alliances among neighbors?
  • How do you run an effective committee meeting?

Participants learn the skills needed to serve as a commissioner or council member, have the opportunity to talk with elected officials, attend commission meetings, and discover the pros and cons of participating in municipal government.

This training was developed with the Voorhees Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

Want to get involved locally? Volunteer to serve on a commission! Learn more >

North Suburban Immigrants Report

Under a three-year Immigrant Integration Initiative grant from The Chicago Community Trust, Open Communities was charged with developing strategies that could help immigrants successfully assimilate civically and economically into their new communities. Our comprehensive Open to All: Different Cultures, Same Communities report documents immigrant life in Chicago’s northern suburbs and best practices for civic engagement. The report was commissioned by the Voorhees Center of UIC.

Community Writing & Action Workshop

This workshop, developed in conjunction with the UIC PRAIRIE Group, brings together diverse residents from disadvantaged groups to address community inequities through writing. Participants build confidence in expressing themselves, work together to bridge cultural and language barriers, develop a shared vision regarding a specific social justice issue, and take action to contribute to community planning or policy initiatives. The goal of the workshop are to build diverse and cohesive groups of people who can act on shared interests and hopes.

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