Since its beginnings as the Southland Education and Health Initiative, the group’s leaders have sought to work side by side with teachers and health care professionals in areas of high need. This commitment to on-the-ground collaboration remains strong.

The primary geographic focus for the Partnership is the southern Cook County suburbs known as the Southland. The recent book Confronting Suburban Poverty in America notes that Chicago’s suburbs have witnessed a rapid transformation over the past decade.

Between 2000 and 2011, the number of poor residents living in the region’s suburbs almost doubled. . . (B)y the end of the decade, the suburbs became home to the majority of the region’s poor for the first time.

While changing population and labor market dynamics drove increases in suburban poverty even before the Great Recession, the foreclosure crisis in the late 2000s was particularly severe for the region’s suburbs. It hit long-struggling older, inner-ring communities—like Chicago’s south suburbs, which have dealt with economic decline for decades as manufacturing and steel jobs disappeared . . . By the end of the 2000s the south suburbs were home to the highest foreclosure rates in the metropolitan area. (Brookings Institution, 2013)

While an area with significant needs, the Southland also has strong assets in its public schools, health care clinics, hospitals, community colleges, and Governors State University. The Partnership is working to bring leaders in these sectors together to address three challenges: access to primary care and wellness, behavioral health and trauma, and family and community engagement.

The Partnership uses community organizing as the means to build partnerships – the slow, patient work of bringing education, health, and civic leaders together to jointly address their shared concerns. Currently, teams of leaders are at work on a number of fronts:

  • A Health Care Team is working to bring additional health care resources to the three school districts who are part of the Partnership and to increase access to existing health care options such as the Cook County Health and Hospital System clinics. The long term goal of this team is to increase the number of Southland families who have “medical homes” where they can receive consistent, high quality health care.
  • “Resilience Teams” are being piloted in Calumet Park schools as a step toward creating trauma-sensitive schools. In addition, plans are in the works to bring additional staff development and counseling resources to the schools in partnership with Governors State University and leading behavioral health agencies.

The Partnership for Resilience is hopeful that over time its model of partnership and capacity building can be replicated in other Illinois communities. Towards this aim, we are in conversations with other Southland school districts and health care organizations, learning their needs and sharing our model.