At the end of a long work day, Jessica Butler, co-coordinator of Heal the Hood, received a call that made all her hard work as a volunteer for the group worthwhile. The call came from a mother who lives near the Parklawn neighborhood, where the Heal the Hood block party was held last summer.
The mother told Butler she once believed that she and her children would never feel safe in their neighborhood, but when she saw the unity and cohesion fostered by the Heal the Hood event, she was overwhelmed with a newfound sense of safety, Butler recalled.
Last Saturday, about 300 people attended the sixth annual Heal the Hood block party, which was held at Atkinson Park near 9th Street and Atkinson Avenue. For the first time, the event focused on providing resources and services to attendees.
“They say you are as aware as you choose to be. We are going to make sure everyone who leaves here is fully aware of the services available to them,” said Ajamou Butler, the founder of Heal the Hood, who is not related to Jessica Butler.
The event also has expanded to include four neighborhoods, in partnership with the local aldermen.
“We know how impactful Heal the Hood is based on the comments we receive from families, so we decided … to host more,” said Jessica Butler.
The event included 14 vendors and five performance groups. Three of the vendors —Team Teal 365, Life Enhancement Services and Cry for Help — participated for the first time. Other resources included groups that focus on prenatal care, youth outreach and community outreach.
“Each block party costs about $4,000 to put on, so we want everyone to get as much out of the event as they possibly can,” said Ajamou Butler.
Added Jessica Butler, “We ask ourselves, ‘How do we make sure we are bringing in people and how do we make sure we are giving them more than a fun time? How can we help them beyond this single day?’”
Representatives from Team Teal 365, which works to empower and educate sexual assault survivors, spoke to dozens of people who approached their table, covered with fliers and business cards.
“Working with Heal the Hood has allowed me to reach people who normally don’t know where to go, or how to find help,” said Samantha Collier, the group’s founder. “Through the positive environment Heal the Hood promotes, Team Teal can close the gap and start the tough conversation.” Collier and her colleagues then refer people to services such as therapists and support groups.
Coggs, who has been involved in the event since the beginning, told the large crowd encircling her, “We must always ask ourselves, ‘How can I influence my family, my home, my block, my neighborhood, my community?’ Then we must do it ourselves,” she said.
Whitney Bingham, who was pushing a baby in a stroller, has attended the event every year. “The fellowship is important but it’s just one part,” she said. Bingham added that the relationship that develops between community members and Heal the Hood allows for learning and positive change.
The remaining events this summer will take place on June 24 at 30th Street and North Avenue; July 29 at Maple Tree Elementary School, 6644 N. 107th St.; and Aug. 25 and 26 at COA Youth and Family Centers , 2320 W. Burleigh.