D-33, community partners 'go together' for West Chicago families

Published: Monday, Oct. 14, 2013 6:00 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Bill Ackerman - backerman@shawmedia.com)
First grader Adrian Vera (left) gets help from Sofia Correa during snack time at an after school program on Monday, Oct. 7 at Gary Elementary School in West Chicago. The program is part of District 33's WeGo Together for Kids program.

WEST CHICAGO – Families in West Chicago Elementary School District 33 have an entire support system behind them.

In 2006, the school district started a program titled WeGo Together for Kids that provides services to families and links them to resources from more than 40 community partners in the area.

“West Chicago is a community that’s always been open to bringing in resources to help its families,” said Marjory Lewe-Brady, D-33’s director for partnerships for wellness, safety and achievement.

The program began with a $5 million Safe School/Healthy Student federal grant received by the district in fall 2005. After the grant expired in 2009, D-33 decided to continue the program through other grants, donations and some district funds.

The collaborative system of care provided by WeGo Together for Kids includes resources such as donated winter coats and school supplies, after school programs and traveling food pantries and immunization clinics that visit district schools.

D-33 also connects families with local mental health services as part of the program.

“We really were looking at creating a system for the whole community to ensure we were meeting the needs of the families,” Lewe-Brady said.

A 21st Century Community Learning Center federal grant currently funds the after school programs at four schools, providing $150,000 per school, she said. The fifth program is operated by Wheaton Bible Church and supported by its members.

The district also receives about $200,000 of service, item and monetary donations each year for the WeGo Together for Kids program, Lewe-Brady said.

About $85,000 of district funds are used to support the staff needed to run the program, according to district records.

Although WeGo Together for Kids started as a way to effectively use a large federal grant to serve D-33 families, it also addresses the growing poverty rate in the district.

Since 2000, the percentage of low-income students in D-33 has grown from 22.6 percent to 75.9 percent by 2012, according to the district’s Illinois Interactive Report Card.

The district has the highest poverty rate of any public school district in DuPage County, Lewe-Brady said.

However, WeGo Together for Kids is meant for all D-33 families, regardless of income level. In general, any D-33 student is eligible to receive services from the program. One exception is the after school programs, which have limited capacities due to space, Lewe-Brady said.

WeGo Together partners include the city of West Chicago and its police and fire departments, the DuPage County Health Department, Northern Illinois Food Bank, Lifetime Behavioral Health, Wheaton Bible Church, Breaking Free and many more.

Breaking Free, a substance abuse and prevention agency, leads three of the district’s five after school programs.

The programs are a structured time for students to eat a healthy snack, receive homework help and participate in service projects and other learning activities.

Angie Nieto with Breaking Free coordinates the after school program at Leman Middle School of West Chicago.

Nieto has seen firsthand the positive impacts WeGo Together for Kids can have for students when their most basic needs are being met.

“Exposing kids to opportunities is what is going to help them, and that’s exactly what WeGo does,” she said.

WeGo Together for Kids has grown since its inception, when it had only nine partners, and it will continue to grow to meet the needs of its families.

“We really seek to support all our families in feeling good about how they’re raising their children,” Lewe-Brady said.

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