The University of Chicago will partner with the board of directors for the South East Chicago Commission over the next year to transition the SECC to an autonomous, self-governing entity. The move reflects the desire of the SECC and UChicago to better position each organization to meet the shared goal of enhancing the quality of life in the communities of Hyde Park, Kenwood, Oakland, Washington Park and Woodlawn.
When it was founded in 1952, and for many years thereafter, the SECC served as the primary vehicle for the University’s local engagement efforts. During its 65-year history, the organization has addressed issues ranging from public safety to housing code enforcement. Today, the SECC implements a variety of programs in its five communities. Meanwhile, over the past decade, the University has significantly increased its direct engagement with surrounding neighborhoods, primarily through initiatives led by the Office of Civic Engagement, as well as through the direct impact of academic programs such as the Urban Education Institute and UChicago Urban Labs.
During the transition, the SECC will continue to fulfill the commitments it has made related to its existing programming. Concurrently, over the next six months, the organization will launch a strategic planning process, which will include an evaluation of ongoing and new programs that most benefit the five communities the SECC serves. A key component of the SECC’s future plans will be continuing to leverage its shared commitment to the South Side and its strong historical relationship to the University.
“The South East Chicago Commission has served an important role for both the University and surrounding communities for more than six decades, and we are grateful for its contributions,” said President Robert J. Zimmer. “As we continue the University’s efforts to engage more directly in work to strengthen the South Side, we look forward to a new partnership with the SECC and its board members.”
In recent years, the University has developed a number of new initiatives to help strengthen local neighborhoods. In 2014 the Office of Civic Engagement launched UChicago Local to expand economic opportunities in mid-South Side communities, and it introduced the Community Programs Accelerator to support nonprofit organizations that serve the mid-South Side. Since 2011, the University has undertaken a successful effort to redevelop and revitalize 53rd Street in Hyde Park, working in partnership with local elected officials, community leaders and the city of Chicago.
The SECC’s work includes management of the Downtown Hyde Park Special Service Area 61, the execution of the annual Woodlawn Community Summit and the coordination of activities to highlight Small Business Saturday. The SECC also has supported the efforts of individuals and businesses to improve local neighborhoods through the awarding of Neighborhood Enhancement Grants and funding façade improvements through its Business Façade Enhancement Program.
“The SECC has made significant contributions to the vibrancy of local neighborhoods on behalf of the University of Chicago,” said Shirley Newsome, chairman of the South East Chicago Commission. “Operating as an independent organization can bring new advantages and flexibility to the SECC, and we look forward to continuing our commitment to the needs of the communities that we serve.”
An important role of the SECC and its board members has been to serve as advisers to the University on numerous community issues through the years. The University remains committed to seeking community input.
“While the University and the SECC are different organizations today than when the commission was created in 1952, we continue to highly value the input and guidance that SECC board members provide,” said Derek Douglas, vice president for civic engagement. “Today, the University has a number of channels for receiving input on issues that affect the nine neighborhoods near our campus, and the SECC will continue to be one of those. We look forward to continued expansion of our community relationships and the input they provide.”
The University focuses its civic engagement efforts in the mid-South Side neighborhoods of Hyde Park, Kenwood, Oakland, Douglas, Grand Boulevard, Greater Grand Crossing, South Shore, Washington Park and Woodlawn.
The University, which has historically funded much of the SECC’s operation, will work closely with the SECC board to transition full autonomy to the SECC’s governing body. Once the transition is complete, UChicago will continue to closely partner with and support the SECC board’s initiatives and programs.