West Elsdon is about three blocks east of Midway Airport and is one of Chicago’s 77 community areas.
Residents say it’s a hidden part of town that offers a suburban feel, home to many families, including a population of around 20,000, mostly Latinos.
Interactive map: More information on our community reporting series
Gerardo Trujillo is director of Louis Pasteur Elementary School. He organized a mural to be painted on the side of the school and said he wanted to give the nearly century-old school building some color and inspiration for the community.
“It’s a beautiful working middle class community, everyone has a lot of hopes and dreams for their kids, hence the result of the mural,” Trujillo said. “The theme of the mural is that it is a starting point, that education is the first step towards realizing your dreams. That’s why I’ve been here so long. I hope my son will get the same thing that I offer to these children and their families.
Trujillo has been the principal of Pasteur Elementary School for 10 years and lives in the neighborhood. He describes the West Elsdon community as having a large Latino population that has also been hit hard during the pandemic. At one time, the area was a hotspot for COVID-19 cases and he says that created many challenges for families.
“A lot of our families lost family members, so there were a lot of mental health issues because of sadness, trauma and depression,” Trujillo said. “We were very happy when we had the opportunity to reopen the doors and bring the children back even though we are still in the pandemic. We are taking safety precautions, but we find that having children in our classroom is better than having them virtually.
The Latino Organization of the Southwest has been providing crucial services to youth, adults and families since 1992. Everything from citizenship assistance to English lessons is offered at the centre.
Board chair Graciela Guel said the need for financial assistance is growing. She says hundreds of people came to ask for the Home Energy Assistance Program for Low-Income People (LIHEAP).
“Now it’s more necessary because everyone goes out and a lot of people didn’t need to pay for gas because they didn’t have a job,” Guel said. “Now they have to pay for petrol and we know how expensive it is, so the need is growing.”
Efforts are also being made to address food insecurity and health disparities in the community, starting with a new comprehensive clinical care center that opened in February 2021.
Dr. Heather Prendergast, associate dean for clinical affairs at the University of Illinois College of Medicine, was instrumental in opening the 55th & Pulaski Health Collaborative.
The clinic has since seen more than 400 patients.
“It’s really a partnership with the community,” Prendergast said. “We have assembled a great team of partners where we are able to really meet the needs. It really is about access for the community in the community… We often hear about patients with complex illnesses having to see four different specialists, but how nice to have everything under one roof within their community and not have to travel far.
Video: Watch our full interview with Heather Prendergast
“It’s amazing because often law enforcement is not ready to deal with certain situations and it’s not easy. It would be better if someone could defuse a situation before the police arrive,” Guel said.
This area was once represented by former Speaker of the House Michael Madigan for over 40 years. He was recently charged with criminal charges but pleaded not guilty.
His position has since been held by State Representative Angelica Guerrero-Cuellar. which now represents the 22nd arrondissementbecoming the first Latina to do so.
“It’s an honor to be the first woman, the first Latina woman and I’m very touched by this opportunity,” Guerrero-Cuellar said. “A long list of plans…the plan is to be here for a while. Right now it’s really about assessing the needs of the community.
She, with Ald. Marty Quinn, recently organized an external call intended to create solidarity between the police and the community following a recent shooting.
“We have kids here,” Guerrero-Cuellar said, pointing to Pasteur Park behind her. “I want residents to know that public safety is our number one priority. We will make sure the negativity understands that we as a community own the parks. We’re going to be here in conjunction with police so kids know they can have a safe summer.
Video: Watch our full interview with Angelica Guerrero Cuellar
Amid leadership changes, residents remain passionate about seeing their community thrive. It may be small, but locals have access to the CTA, Midway Airport, and a variety of restaurants and businesses.
Many would like to see the students of the region succeed in their studies, including the muralist Pablo Serrano who painted the mural next to the Pasteur elementary school.
“As much as it is about inspiring these young children to recognize their own beauty and their own potential, it is also about reminding parents, teachers and administrators that they are responsible, not to forget that young deserve constant consideration,” Serrano said.
Community Report Series
“Chicago Tonight” is expanding its community reporting. We’re taking to the streets to talk with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. See where we went and what we learned using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. Dots in red represent our COVID-19 Across Chicago series; blue marks our “Chicago Tonight” series in Your Neighborhood.