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Thursday, July 28, 2011 09:08 am

Activist youth gets involved in Ward 6

A new graduate of Springfield Southeast High School, Nathan Piper, says he’s tired of hearing his peers talk about how much they want to leave Springfield, specifically his part of town, Ward 6.

“Going to Southeast, we had a lot of Ward 6 students … and a lot of them said ‘our area of town stinks.’ There’s just nothing to do here,” Piper says, listing movie theatres and the mall on the west side as main attractions for young adults. “This community is just so westernized that the Harvard Park area, Grand Central area, Iles Park, they just don’t have the bustle that the west side of town has now. Kids just don’t like this side of town anymore.”

Piper, who’ll attend Lincoln Land Community College this fall, is hoping to help change that attitude as the chairman of a new youth initiative created by Ward 6 Ald. Cory Jobe. Piper says he contacted Jobe wanting to get involved in government after attending a youth day at the Statehouse in May. The youth initiative is part of the new alderman’s Ward 6 Revitalization and Rehabilitation Fund, an idea on which Jobe campaigned last spring. Jobe announced the program’s official start last week as he presented a $1,500 check to Ward 6 residents.

“They’re going to be our sounding board, and advising myself as alderman and the rest of the Ward 6 fund board members on how we can get youth leaders, young generations, more active in the inner city and really caring about what we’re doing,” Jobe says.

To be fueled in part by half of Jobe’s aldermanic salary – he’ll be donating about $7,500 annually – as well as outside donations, the fund will support grants for beautification and revitalization projects in Ward 6 neighborhoods, including Near South, Springfield South Corridor, Grand Central, Historic West Side, Hawthorne Place, Harvard Park, Old Aristocracy Hill, Iles Park and Vinegar Hill. The fund’s nonprofit application is still pending, but Jobe says a 15-member advisory committee should be awarding grants by next spring, by which time he hopes the fund will hold at least $12,000.

Piper is the only student member of the fund’s advisory committee and will serve as a liaison between it and the youth initiative, which will suggest projects and organize volunteers for some neighborhood revitalization efforts.

Already, Jobe and Piper are talking over possible projects, such as renovating Iles Park and creating public art murals. Remembering a tradition he grew up with, Piper says he also wants to encourage neighborhoods to host block parties to get community members of all ages more engaged.

“We want to make this place fun and accessible, so teens can come here instead of going to the west end,” Piper says. “We want to bring that hustle and bustle back here to Ward 6.”

To do that, Piper is recruiting his like-minded peers. Those who live in Ward 6 can serve on the youth advisory committee, while anyone can help with projects that Piper says will, in the end, benefit the entire city.

For more information about the youth initiative, contact Piper at 741-7218. For more information about the Ward 6 fund, visit www.jobeward6.com or contact Jen Dillman at 691-0592.

Contact Rachel Wells at rwells@illinoistimes.com.

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