As the end of mapping work with the high school students nears, the ten MAPSCorps interns share some stories from the field, including interactions with community members, observations on the CTA, and recommendations for improving the success of MAPSCorps.
As we map more communities, we have moved farther away from our meeting site, which means more time spent on the CTA. I don’t mind the extended bus rides because they provide a break from the heat. The buses provide more than just a respite, they are a snapshot of the community. You can get a good idea of the demographics of the community just by riding on a commercial street. If you listen carefully, you can hear about community events. Sometimes the buses provide a public forum where the bold declare their opinions about the modern world. My time with MAPSCorps taught me that CTA does more than just get you from here to there, it’s a way to connect with the community.
- Mehnaaz Chowdhury, Class of ‘13
On Thursday, we were passing out flyers about MAPSCorps. It was hot, so there weren’t a lot of people out. However, we crossed paths with an older woman picking up litter off the street. Hearing about from us the purpose of MAPSCorps, she invited us into a nearby church to meet her pastor. We asked her to pass on a flyer so that we could keep mapping, but she was very persistent. The pastor turned out to be a great resource. Because the pastor is like a community liaison, putting flyers in her hands was the smartest move we could’ve made. The future success of SouthSideHealth.org can be significantly strengthened from the strong connections and passion of our communities’ pastors.
- Janaya Gripper, Class of ‘13
One encounters such a variety of people while riding the CTA on the South Side. The mom trying to keep track of her two children, the uniformed young man falling asleep after a long shift, the elderly man for whom someone gives up their seat, the rambunctious teenager playing music through his cell phone speakers, the churchgoer preaching to passengers whether they wish to listen or not, and, of course, the MAPSCorps team in brightly colored shirts that no one can miss. The chance encounters these people have provide opportunities to share resources. We saw an older woman give information on her daycare business to a younger mother of two, for which the mother appeared quite grateful. I hope our work and SouthSideHealth.org help increase the chances of exchanging resources and turn coincidences like this into everyday occurrences.
- Anum Qadir, Class of ‘14
Walking in Back of the Yards this past week, a man turned to me and said, “Here to sightsee, eh?” I sensed disdain in his voice, and I wanted badly to explain why I was there. I didn’t get the chance because he walked away too quickly. If I had a second chance, I would tell him, “I’m sorry if you feel we are disrespecting your community. I know we can’t capture its history and vibrancy with some data points on a map. We are simply trying to make it easier for residents to find the nearest salon or grocery store. At the end of the day, we realize what we create is just a snapshot of what is out here.” I can’t predict how he would have reacted, but I’d like to think that a little sincerity can go a long way.
- Huiting Xu, Class of ‘13
The high school students and I learn a lot from community members while mapping. We encountered someone who had some rather helpful feedback about how we could make the website more accessible. He suggested including other languages beyond the English and Spanish versions, considering the diverse communities on the South Side. While talking to him, we learned that in East Side alone that there are considerable Eastern European and Caribbean populations. Thus, it could be helpful to have the site in multiple languages to account for the different cultures that the South Side represents. As a mapper, I feel it is important for me to present the good ideas from community members that might improve the project and give them a chance to make their voices heard.
- Ayesha Crockett, Class of ‘13
While walking through Englewood one of my mappers knocked on the door of a storefront church. From across the street I saw an elderly woman open the door, give my student a hug, and beckon her inside. This student lived not too far away from where we were walking so I figured that my student must have known the women or attended the church. After a few minutes I crossed the street to check on my mapper. Inside the church, she was surrounded by a group of older women praying over her. After five minutes my student emerged, I asked her if she knew them women. It turned out that she didn’t know these women or attend the church. I was a little bit worried, but my student was laughing and had found the whole experience amusing. Even though she did not know the women, she wasn’t nervous or frightened.
- Max Smith, Class of ‘15
On Thursday, I was riding a really packed bus after mapping Stony Island in Avalon Park. Trying to carve out a spot for myself, I was struck by the courtesy which I see every time I ride the CTA. It feels like second nature to put the elderly and family first – people are really concerned about helping out others. I admire the community established on the bus even if it only lasts the length of the ride. How can we replicate this in the larger South Side community?
- Ammon Owens, Class of ‘13
On Thursday, one of my students said, ”Talk to strangers. How would you ever make new friends if you don’t ever talk to strangers?” I thought this was incredibly applicable to our work out in the field. When you’re in a new neighborhood, it is quite easy to just curl up in your shy shell. I have found that if you are friendly and outgoing with those who around you, you are much more welcome. A simple “Hi, how are you doing?” is greatly appreciated on the South Side, and “Good afternoon ma’am” is never frowned upon. I hope to truly take to heart my student’s advice and “talk to strangers.”
- Matt Vecchitto, Class of ‘15
About three weeks ago, when the consecutive days of 100 degree weather hit Chicago, one of my students dropped behind the group to purchase a bottle of water from a street vendor. He paid $1, took his chilled bottle of Ice Mountain, and began walking away. The man then called out to the rest of us and, when we didn’t realize and immediately respond, asked why we had ignored him. I retracted my steps and said hello. He replied by saying “Assalamualaikum” (Peace be with you [a Muslim greeting]). I was surprised because I am Muslim, my students were confused because none of them are, and I responded with the appropriate reply, “Walaikumassalaam.” Next, the man asked us if we also wanted water and, when one of my students said he did not have money, scorned us explaining that he had not asked us to purchase the water – instead, he proceeded to hand us all our own bottles. Nothing could have been better on that hot summer day.
- Muhammad Shareef, Class of ‘13