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Sweet Water Foundation is excited to launch year 2 of the Re[CREATE]Ed Spaces Program, an innovative, connected learning program that engages youth in community-driven, design+build projects using DiscoverDesign.org, an online platform where students, teachers, and mentors come together to design solutions for real-world challenges. Re[CREATE]Ed Spaces is a collaboration with the Chicago Architecture Foundation that emerged from the Mozilla Foundation’s Hive Chicago Network and is funded with the generous support of the Chicago Community Trust’s Hive Chicago Fund for Connected Learning.
Last year, youth from Chicago Architecture Foundation’s (CAF) Teen Fellows Program and Sweet Water Foundation’s (SWF) Apprenticeship and Outreach Program engaged in a 6-week project that resulted in community-inspired renderings for a full pocket park in Washington Park and construction of a mini-pocket park on a formerly vacant lot.
This year, Re[CREATE]Ed Spaces will expose more students to the power of youth-inspired, community-driven design through a combination of field trips and workshops that will prepare students to tackle design challenges in their communities using DiscoverDesign.org.
This year’s program launched in May when students from Village Leadership Academy (VLA) toured Sweet Water Foundation’s (SWF) Aquaponics Center and the Perry Ave Commons to learn about SWF’s practice of Regenerative Placemaking and get inspired to tackle design challenges in their school community. At the Aquaponics Center, VLA students were introduced to concept of aquaponics, learning how intricate relationships between fish, plants, and recirculating water create a sustainable system that produces leafy greens and tilapia in a formerly vacant shoe warehouse. Students, then, visited the Perry Ave commons, where they had the opportunity to see how vacant land and a foreclosed home have been transformed into an urban oasis that produces fresh food, community and a new economy for the neighborhood. VLA students also heard from SWF Apprentices, Maurice Hursey and Michael McClain, who participated in Year 1 of the Re[CREATE]Ed Spaces program. Maurice and Michael shared their process for tackling the pocket park challenge and showcased their designs.
To culminate the day’s learning, students harvested kale, collard greens and mint from the raised beds gardens. When they return to school in the fall, VLA students will explore how to grow food in their school and engage in a design + build project inspired by Re[CREATE]Ed Spaces.
Meet Mike Reynolds…a native of Chicago and retired Union Carpenter who has been with Sweet Water Foundation (SWF) for two years. Before joining SWF, Mike worked with Habitat for Humanity in Chicago. Although it took a couple of months of nagging by a colleague to visit the Perry Ave Commons, Mike was instantly inspired by the organization’s work and has proudly been with Sweet Water Foundation ever since. Read on to learn more about Mike.
“To me, being here and helping the community and young people is my legacy. It’s something positive that I’m finally doing in my life. I took a lot from the streets when I was younger; I feel like I did a lot of damage to the community. This is my way of redemption, if you will. If I can help some of these young people make a change… it’s personal to me.”
– Mike Reynolds, Master Carpenter and Lead Mentor at Sweet Water Foundation
Tell us a little about your background…
My name is Mike Reynolds and I am a retired Union Carpenter. I was born and raised on the Southside of Chicago in the projects on 43rd and Lake Park. My family moved numerous times so we stayed all over the South Side. Later on in life, I joined the Carpenters Union, but I was a carpenter before then. I got in the union later in life. Finally, I retired from the union.
How did you become involved with Sweet Water Foundation?
When I retired, I went to Habitat for Humanity in Chicago because I wanted to give something back to the community. I liked the work they were doing on the South side. I met Emmanuel through a mutual colleague that had previously worked with Habitat. My colleague bugged me, continuously, about coming to meet Emmanuel; telling me about the program and how good it was. I wasn’t interested in meeting Emmanuel because I was happy and content at Habitat. I kept blowing him off, but he was persistent. For several months, he kept insisting that I meet Emmanuel. Finally, in early Summer 2015, I visited Sweet Water Foundation and saw the young people, elders from the community, and the team members working with the young people. It touched me in a different way than Habitat for Humanity. It was more grassroots. I felt it was a little more beneficial because these young people are learning all of the traits and habits that are necessary to have a career and to provide for themselves and their families when they get to that point. With Sweet Water Foundation, they won’t need someone building a home for them. They’ll be able to build their own home and purchase their own home because they’re learning these things through the program.
What is your role at Sweet Water Foundation?
My role is to train the young people in carpentry. I also mentor them on other aspects of life, a lot of those life lessons I try to throw in and sneak them in on them. We also have other team members who train them in plumbing, architecture, and different aspects of the trades. It’s amazing to see these young people who have never held a hammer light up at the chance to learn how to build things on their own.
If you had unlimited resources, what project would you dedicate yourself to at the Perry Ave Commons? What would it look like?
If I had infinite resources, I would love to see this program, just as it is today, grow and expand across the city and, eventually, the entire country. A lot of our neighborhoods, now, are desolate. And it’s by design. It’s not necessarily because of the residents and the people who live here, but by design. It’s a fantastic thing to see this community coming back to life. To see people moving back into the homes. To see people building homes. To see people repairing their homes so they won’t be torn down.
What’s in store for the future of the Perry Ave Commons?
I think the future’s very bright. We are getting outside attention from other groups and other people. They are beginning to pay attention to what we’re doing and what we’re promoting in our community with our young people and our elder residents. I think it’s a fantastic thing because we’re not only teaching them agriculture. We are teaching how to provide for yourself, how to grow your community again, and all of the skills that are necessary to do these things, like carpentry, agriculture, plumbing, and electrical work. Once these skills are learned, they will carry them to the next project and the next house and the next community…and the community will continue to grow and grow.
Why you do this…why do you care?
I care because when I was a young man, we didn’t have programs like Sweet Water Foundation or people like Emmanuel Pratt. In my particular case, which is the case with so many youth in my generation and the generation now, there wasn’t any hope. So, it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter if you did something to get locked up, if you stole a car, or if you took something from another community member because there wasn’t any hope. Sweet Water Foundation’s program and the the Perry Ave Commons…when I first saw it, I saw a lot of young people doing positive things. I saw a lot of young people changing their behaviors and habits through the program. That’s why I care.
Anything else you’d like to share?
One of the most profound things I’ve experienced is what happens when visitors come through. We encourage folks to come and take a tour to see what we do. One of the most profound things I’ve experienced since joining Sweet Water is that there have been a lot of visitors that break down in tears after we show them the Think-Do House and the farm and explain to them what we do. They tell us, “I wish my son or daughter would have been able to come here.” Many times, we find out that they have lost a child or have had a child incarcerated. It’s always profound to me that while explaining this program, they literally break down in tears, saying, “I wish my kid who got killed could have came here first; he would have been on a different path.” I think that is my most profound experience as a part of Sweet Water Foundation.
Favorite movie: Lackawanna Blues
Favorite Book: Autobiography of Malcolm X and The Art of Peace by Morihei Ueshiba
Interesting fact about Mike: Mike’s first trip on an airplane was a trip to Dublin, Ireland in 2016 as part of an exchange program with artists and tradespeople of Sweet Water Foundation and the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Even more interesting, Mike’s third plane trip was one in which he leapt out of the plane, skydiving right outside DeKalb, Illinois. He plans to continue skydiving until he can fly once, on his own. “Then that’s it… that’s all I want to do.”
Mike has one final thing he’d like to share:
“I would like to thank my wife of 36 years, Sarah, for without her patience and support none of my accomplishments would have ever materialized.”
During the hour and a half workshop, Ms. Dillard prepared select, raw Vegan dishes to introduce attendees to the benefits of Living Foods and the transformative power they can have on one’s health. Using only a food processor, she combined fresh ingredients, which included fresh collard greens, mango, and mint from the Perry Ave Community Farm, to make three healthy and nutritious dishes: an Asian-inspired collard wrap, “salmon”-Pate, and mango sorbet.
To learn more about living foods and the recipes shared at the workshop, subscribe to Regina’s YouTube channel, or visit her website to find out about upcoming workshops and holistic living products by Inner Sanctum Wellness.
Summer is in full swing at the Perry Ave Commons! This season, Sweet Water Foundation is grateful to have had the support of dozens of volunteers to get the farming season off to a great start.
Dedicated individuals and volunteer groups, including CLAREO and BMO Harris Bank of America, have pitched in to support the Perry Ave Community Farm and participate in beautification and clean-up projects across the Commons. Volunteers weeded and cleared the fence along the farm, painted the Think-Do Pod and community garden stage, and transplanted seedlings.
We are truly grateful for their service!
Michelle Nordmeyer is transforming one of the toughest sections of the Perry Ave Community Farm into a permaculture-style urban fruit forest. Read on to learn more about Michelle and Permaculture at the Commons.
How long have you been involved with Sweet Water Foundation and how did you start?
I met Emmanuel (SWF’s Co-founder and Executive Director) in 2011 when he was an artist residency at the Hyde Park Arts Center. I went away for a year and came out here (the Perry Ave Commons) when I returned in 2014, but I didn’t do anything. In 2015, I would visit to help weed here and there, but was working two jobs so I didn’t have time. Last year, I met up with a couple people through the arts center who had fruit trees and were looking for a place to build a perennial, permaculture-style, urban food forest. I knew Emmanuel had this whole area towards the back of the farm that he couldn’t really do anything with because it was grassy and wet. So, he let us come and plant. So…last year, in 2016, was when I was really here on a consistent basis.
Can you tell us a little more about the permaculture?
It’s a permaculture style. We’re trying to use what we have and keep it kind of a closed system. We harvest seeds and replant them for the next year. We’re trying to compost all our green waste into soil that we can put down on the beds next year. We have fruit trees and fruit shrubs and around those we plant companion plants that are good for the trees.
“That’s the number one permaculture thing, know your area. Spend time to really know what your area needs and grows.” – Michelle Nordmeyer
What is growing in the permaculture garden?
Clovers, rye grass, fruit trees (apple, pear, peaches, persimmons and paw paw), raspberries, blueberry shrubs, elderberry, strawberries and currants. We also have rhubarb and a lot of perennial flowers and plants.
What are some resources for people interested in learning more about permaculture, the design concept and what this permaculture design is meant to do?
It was loosely designed by a permaculture designer named Matthew Stevens. He teaches permaculture design courses all over. So, it’s not his exact design, but he was one of the guiding people behind how we would fill things out. He uses Bill Mollison’s permaculture book.
If you had unlimited resources, is there a dream or vision for this space?
Yes, for sure. I would love to have a gathering area where people could come and teach classes or take classes. Ideally, we would like it to really focus on healing, things for health and also the soul and spiritual healing. It would be great to get more people involved in wanting to design their own area…to grow and harvest things for aromatherapy to support businesses, support other people. And solar panels! A wind turbine to pump our water in.
Stephen Ervin, Assistant Dean for Information Technology at Harvard Design School, recently visited the Perry Ave Commons as part of an ongoing partnership between Sweet Water Foundation and Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. During the visit, Dr. Ervin toured the Commons, provided feedback on upcoming design projects, and led a workshop to introduce Sweet Water Foundation staff to possibility of Arduinos.
Arduino is an open-source platform used for building electronics projects. Arduino consists of both a physical programmable circuit board (often referred to as a microcontroller) and a piece of software that runs on your computer, used to write and upload computer code to the physical board.The Arduino platform has become quite popular because, unlike most previous programmable circuit boards, the Arduino does not need a separate piece of hardware to load new code onto the board – you can simply use a USB cable.
As staff walked into the basement of the Think-Do House for the Dr. Ervin’s workshop, a roll of hundreds of LED lights flickered between a plethora of beautiful colors; all controlled by the Arduino computer chip that was programmed to “tell” each individual light what to do.
Sweet Water Foundation staff and other attendees learned the basic principles of Arduino projects through a simple demonstration of the Arduino-programmed LED lights that Dr. Ervin coded in real-time. The group, then, discussed the possibilities of using Arduino technology as a low-cost and easy way to use sensors to create devices that interact with their environment.
Soon, the ideas were flowing as staff and workshop attendees brainstormed ways to integrate Arduino technology into life at the Perry Ave Commons.
“With the right sensors, the lights could be programmed to show which plants in the greenhouse need watering. We could program them to be red, yellow, or green to show which plants need water the most…”
“The lights could respond to guests arriving at the Think-Do House…creating a unique arrival experience…”
“We could create a design with the LED light strips and program them to light up the Think-Do Pod at night…”
“Or, we can program the lights to say ‘Sweet Water Foundation’…”
Dr. Stephen Ervin was an inspiration to the team and left a lasting impression during his visit to Sweet Water Foundation. The Sweet Water Foundation team looks forward to welcoming Dr. Ervin back in the near future to see the team’s Arduino projects progress and looks forward to many future collaborations with the Harvard Graduate School of Design at the Perry Ave Commons.
Meet Devontae Phillips… a Class of 2016 graduate of Dunbar Vocational High School who started working as part of Sweet Water Foundation’s Apprenticeship and Outreach Program during the summer of 2015 via One Summer Chicago. Inspired by his experience and the camaraderie of the Sweet Water Foundation team, he continued working as an apprentice with SWF throughout his senior year via a work study program that replaced the last two periods of each school day with an internship at Sweet Water. This opportunity allowed him to earn, learn, and receive school credit. Devontae, who knew he wanted to do carpentry since he was young (Can you believe he started doing construction at 12 years old?!) is now a union carpenter and continues to work with SWF as a mentor and volunteer. Read on to learn more about Devontae.
How long have you been working with Sweet Water Foundation?
Since the summer of 2015, so…three years.
What’s been your favorite project so far?
The Think-Do Pod [see photo below]. People have done it before, but this is the first one in Chicago. Emmanuel [SWF’s Co-founder and Executive Director] saw somebody else do it in Belgium. He decided that we wanted to do it. So, we did it.
If you had infinite resources and time, what project would you do?
I want to build a house from the ground up. Emmanuel says that Sweet Water is going to do it. I just want to be here to be a part of that process. I want to help with the first ground up house that Sweet Water builds. I want to be there from the start…to help with the excavation of land, pouring the concrete foundation, and building it from the ground up.
Tell us about the next steps that you have after Sweet Water Foundation?
I’m a union carpenter now. It’s what I studied and trained for, but I want to keep working with Sweet Water. We are trying to figure out how I can continue working with SWF as much as possible while I continue working as a union carpenter.
Favorite memory with SWF?
Using the laser cutter at the Lost Arts …it was amazing…that topped everything.
Favorite movie: The Fast and Furious Series
Each summer, Sweet Water Foundation’s Perry Ave Community Farm brings locally grown food to more than 200 families each week on Chicago’s South Side. “Fresh Food Fridays” has become a neighborhood tradition in the Englewood/Washington Park community from June to October. Each week patrons take home fresh harvests of collard greens,kale, tomatoes, squash, zucchini, sunflower seeds, okra, turnips, peppers, basil , mint, watermelon and more. Come rain or shine Sweet Water Foundation (SWF) team members, youth apprentices and interns have been there to serve up fresh foods to neighbors, friends, and visitors. Fresh Food Fridays are also the vehicle through which SWF harvests large quantities of produce for distribution to local schools, churches, and non-profits that set up market stands to increase access to quality produce across the community.
However, Fresh Food Fridays is so much more than a farmer’s market. Sweet Water Foundation believes that food is an underutilized force for improving health, wellness, and socio-cultural connections in our community. Fresh Food Fridays provides an opportunity for SWF staff to give tours, host nutrition and cooking lessons, document the history of the community through photos and record interviews, and co-create a vision new possibilities for the Perry Ave Community with visitors. Elders share stories of their experiences in the neighborhood before blight. Mothers, grandmothers and uncles share recipes. Others offer preparation tips to encourage fellow patrons to experiment with unfamiliar foods. Some came out of pure curiosity. Regardless of what brought them to Fresh Food Fridays or which food they walked away with in their bags, all were able to experience the feel-good atmosphere of creativity and rebirth in this communal space.
With the support of The Mozilla Hive Chicago Learning Network and the Chicago Community Trust, the Re[CREATE]Ed Spaces project brought together a diverse group of 25 youth who curated their own project-based learning experience to envision and recreate an education and recreation space for youth from a vacant lot on Chicago’s South side.
Over the course of Summer 2016, the Re[CREATE]Ed Spaces program engaged youth from Chicago Architecture Foundation’s (CAF) Teen Fellows Program and Sweet Water Foundation’s (SWF) Apprenticeship and Outreach Program in a 6-week project that took participants through a full design+build program resulting in youth and community-inspired renderings for a full pocket park in Washington Park and construction of a mini-pocket park on a formerly vacant lot.
Youth collaborated in 6 design/build sessions over a 4-week time period in July, followed by 2 build weeks (week 5-6), and a culminating event at the end of week 6. Youth also established DiscoverDesign.org accounts and were issued participation badges from CAF for their work, exposing them to and engaging them in a learning pathway above and beyond this project.
Core programming consisted of 4 sessions focused on design and 2 sessions that engage youth in the construction of elements of their design (e.g., park benches). Sessions were led by professional architects, tradespeople, and/or CAF/SWF staff. Sweet Water Foundation hosted a culminating Harvest Celebration event in week 6 to celebrate the completion of the project and provide youth the opportunity to share their families and friends.
Ultimately, the youth’s voices will be the driving force behind the design of a pocket park and provided the narrative of the story of the project that will make the construction of this new youth-inspired space possible next summer (Summer 2017).
March 28, 2016
Sweet Water Foundation (SWF) is excited to announce the completion of aquaponics projects in partnership with Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) at three high schools and two elementary schools.
During the 2015-16 school year, SWF worked with MPS teachers and students to install aquaponics systems at The Alliance School of Milwaukee, Byron Kilbourn School, Casimir Pulaski High School, Ronald Wilson Reagan College Preparatory High School and Trowbridge School of Discovery and Technology.
In addition to these projects, SWF helped to reestablish an aquaponics program at Barack Obama School of Career and Technical Education.
Jesse Blom, SWF Milwaukee Director, gives credit to the teachers and students who have adopted these aquaponics projects. “The teachers and students are the ones who activate their learning on a daily basis, so they deserve most of the credit. MPS is using aquaponics systems to teach a variety of different subjects in an interdisciplinary way. Working with aquaponics systems can improve students’ eco-literacy and awareness of healthy foods, and can provide meaningful hands-on work, creating a positive classroom environment. We look forward to working with MPS on these projects for years to come.”
The new projects are part of the Urban Schools Aquaponics (USA) Initiative, funded by a grant from AT&T and the NEA Foundation. Over the past two years, SWF has provided intensive, hands-on training to 15 MPS teachers on aquaponics design, construction, operation, and maintenance. SWF has worked with students, teachers and administrators to install the aquaponics laboratories, and SWF provides ongoing consultation and assistance to these schools.
Since 2010, Sweet Water Foundation (SWF) has partnered with Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) on aquaponics projects at the elementary school and high school levels. SWF has trained teachers, provided supplies and materials, assisted with installation of aquaponics systems in schools, and provided direct instruction to students. In addition to the most recent projects, SWF has set up programs at Lynde and Harry Bradley Technology and Trade School and South Division High School.
Aquaponics programs have grown considerably in MPS since 2008, the year the National Education Association Foundation, with help from AT&T, began supporting MPS’ Urban Aquaponics initiative with grants. The program was developed to advance Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education among low-income and minority students and introduce students to a sustainable form of farming.
Expanding STEM education is part of MPS efforts to close the achievement gap, one of the district’s Eight Big Ideas to accelerate student achievement.
More information about SWF can be found at www.sweetwaterfoundation.com
More information on SWF’s partnership with MPS on aquaponics initiatives can be found at the following links: