La Casa housing project offers hope to Latino college students, Pilsen community


Construction begins at La Casa

“Look to your left and right. One of you won’t be graduating. Most of you will end up dead, pregnant or dropping out.”

Monica Lepe was in a room full of freshmen like herself at Benito Juarez Community Academy when her principal announced this the first day of school.

“Wow. That right there said a lot,” said Lepe, 20, who remembers that moment every day she walks through the neighborhood where she was born and raised. “I remember looking to the left and right, and both of those people did not graduate.”

Lepe graduated and is now studying at Malcolm X College, but she says she doesn’t know where most of her freshman class ended up. “Some of those people are dead.”

What with Juarez having three times the state’s drop-out rate, Lepe said she expected resources and encouragement to help overcome the trend. What she remembers is getting a free pass to continue business as usual.

It’s a problem The Resurrection Project homed in on: Not enough students are achieving in high school and going on to college, leaving a dearth of knowledge in primarily Hispanic Pilsen. [Read more…]

Humboldt Park housing offers hope to homeless LGBT youth

Joel Booster says he’s one of the lucky ones – when his parents asked him to leave their family home after they discovered he was gay, he eventually found a friend’s family to take him in.

“At 17(-years-old), you have no plan for what you will do when your parents tell you you’re not welcome in their house anymore,” said Booster, now 23, who lives in Uptown. “I had nowhere to go.”

Vida/SIDA, an arm of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center in Humboldt Park that focuses on education and outreach to address the HIV and AIDS epidemics, is hoping to help young LGBT people in the city by offering them a safe haven when the door to the family home is slammed shut.

El Rescate Transitional Housing is a project in the works that Vida/SIDA hopes to have available to young adults by spring 2012, if not sooner, said Ricardo Jimenez, the head of counseling and testing for the organization. [Read more…]

Chicago is for foodies

Sure, tourists eat deep dish pizza and Chicago-style hot dogs when they visit the city, but the rest of us are enjoying the finer cuisine.

For one of my classes at DePaul, we looked at Chicago’s dining scene in terms of history and trends. Here’s two we focused on:

Food trucks: Gaztro-Wagon (sorry for the shoddy audio) [youtube]

Dining clubs: Grub With Us [soundcloud width=”100%” height=”81″ params=”” url=”″]

We also included an interactive Michelin Guide to Chicago.

We compiled this all on a webpage just for the sake of presenting it in class, which can be found here.

We also visited three upscale restaurants during Chicago Restaurant Week and interviewed them about their food and their businesses, but unfortunately the video quality wasn’t up to our standards. (But thanks to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, Alhambra and Carnivale).

Major props to James Mazurek and Lisa Klein who lugged 40 pounds of camera equipment through the ‘L’ turnstiles with me (and are overall rockstars).

Making some noise with SLU

For one of my classes at DePaul we spent two weekends working with graduate students at Saint Louis University making short audio documentaries. In both instances we had a little over 24 hours to report, record and edit the pieces.

This first one we created is about two neighboring, and rival, taco shops in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago.

Taco War [soundcloud width=”100%” height=”81″ params=”” url=”″]

The second one is about a clothing swap that occurred at the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis.

Shop the Swap [soundcloud width=”100%” height=”81″ params=”” url=”″]

It was a really stressful exercise but also one that was very fun and rewarding.

Writing about beer and cicerones

For a class I’m taking at DePaul University (Reporting for Converged Newsrooms), we had to write a local story of our choice.

I chose to write about a new certification program that’s essentially the beer equivalent of a sommelier – the cicerone. (Read it here.)

Lo and behold, about a week and a half later, the New York Times decides it’s a topic worthy of their pages too. (Read it here).

But let the record stand: I had it first.