Ground zero on Elm

The Kankakee city and school district, along with the United Way, will call the house at 591 S. Elm Ave. home base in an effort to turn around the area of the city’s east side.

KANKAKEE — Residents of Kankakee’s 2nd Ward are invited to discuss needs in their community during two open houses this week in the Strong Neighborhoods Home at 591 S. Elm Ave.

Strong Neighborhood Homes are properties converted into something similar to community centers, but they are customized for residents of the neighborhood.

The city of Kankakee acquired the blue two-story house at the northwest corner of South Elm Avenue and East River Street for $90,000 in late May using federal grant funds.

The city as well as Kankakee School District 111 and United Way of Kankakee and Iroquois Counties intend to use this home to offer social services to help those in the surrounding neighborhoods.

The open houses will be from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday and 10 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday. Residents are asked to register online for 20-minute time slots via a link on the United Way’s Facebook page.

Barbi Brewer-Watson, executive director of the Kankakee Economic & Community Development Agency, said students studying social work at Olivet Nazarene University will be assisting in community needs assessment with 2nd Ward residents.

Information gathered will be used to determine what specific programs and services are most needed in the neighborhood.

“They are trying to learn what are their needs, what are their desires, what are the things they would like to have, not only in their neighborhood, but also what assistance they may need in their homes or personal lives to create more opportunities,” Brewer-Watson said.

Kerstin Rust, executive director of United Way of Kankakee and Iroquois Counties, said there isn’t much furniture in the house yet, but chairs will be set up to facilitate conversations with residents in focus groups.

Conversations will be centered on understanding residents’ views of the strengths and challenges in their neighborhood as well as what solutions they would prioritize to make their neighborhood better, Rust said.

“Really the purpose of this is to hear from the residents before we bring in any services so that we know what it is they want their community to look like,” she said.

Currently, the school district has an office set up within the house to offer resources for families in the neighborhood that need support, Rust said.

“That’s where we’re starting, and then with these conversations, we’re hoping to be able to identify our next steps moving forward,” she said.


Stephanie Markham joined the Daily Journal in February 2020 as the education reporter. She focuses on school boards as well as happenings and trends in local schools.

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