Making Vacant Homes Pretty

Inspired by her experience as an intern at JCUA, Audrey Hutnick created and managed a campaign to call attention to abandoned homes in Peoria, where she is a student at Bradley University.

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Peoria, It’s our City, Let’s Make it Pretty

By Audrey Hutnick
JCUA Intern, summer of 2011

Audrey Hutnick, JCUA InternAs I packed up the car and returned to Bradley University for my final year of college, last fall, I recalled the many experiences I had while interning at the Jewish Council on Urban affairs.

I remembered celebrating the signing of the Illinois DREAM Act, preparing for the Rabbi Robert J. Marx Social Justice Awards Dinner, and helping out at the film screening focused on the 2008 immigration raid of Agriprocessors, Inc. I knew that I would eventually be able to use these experiences and skills, but I had no idea I would put them to use as soon as I took a seat in my first class of the semester.

Working together for a singular issue

As a public relations major, one of my requirements to graduate from Bradley is to complete a senior capstone class. My group and I were instructed to pair up a local for-profit with a not-for-profit organization and have them work towards a singular issue.

Having just spent the summer helping out with community development at JCUA and learning about their work regarding a boarded-up home in the Chicago Lawn neighborhood, I couldn’t help but notice the abundance of vacant homes in Peoria neighborhoods and the suspicious activity that occurs in them such as a drug use and prostitution.

Thus was the inspiration for our Peoria, It’s our City, Let’s Make it Pretty public relations campaign.

The campaign began with a two-week paint drive to raise awareness of the 5,719 abandoned homes in the area, as well as to collect paint and art supplies for the big event focused on a pilot vacant home. We also took part in a radio interview to talk about the safety issues these vacant homes cause.

To further attract attention to the issue, we held an event outside of a pilot vacant home where Peoria youth came and put their hand prints on the boarded-up door to leave their mark. They also planted a tree in the backyard and went up and down the block to inform their neighbors about the safety issues created by neglected homes.

Planting trees, talking about safety

These young people then decorated boards with messages directed at those staying in vacant homes, and later rewrote these messages and mailed them to their legislators. Along with the neighborhood youth, the event was attended by policemen to ensure safety, firemen to provide lighting, neighborhood association presidents, a news reporter, and the mayor of Peoria.

Following the event, informational kid’s flyers were distributed at public schools to emphasize the message, and a radio interview was conducted highlighting the campaign.

The Peoria, It’s our City, Let’s Make it Pretty campaign turned out to be a great success and was received well by community members.

If I had not spent the summer working with JCUA, my group members and I would not have had the inspiration to step out of our comfort zones and tackle a safety issue in a part of town that has never been touched in a Bradley University public relation senior capstone project.

Hundreds of young people have been inspired to work for social justice by their experience at JCUA. Learn more about JCUA’s internship program here.

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