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University of Illinois Special Presidential Advisor Dr. James Oliver Visits Our Community

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Dr. James “Jim” Oliver visited with cultural and educational leaders in our community on Friday May 3rd. He serves as a senior advisor to University of Illinois President Robert Easter. Dr. Oliver holds a doctoral degree in higher education and is concerned with how the University, especially the Urbana and Chicago campuses, can be meaningfully involved in educational initiatives with the community. He was accompanied by Professor Michele Kelley of UIC School of Public Health.

Over a delicious Puerto Rican lunch at the Institute of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture and led by Puerto Rican Cultural Center (PRCC) Executive Director José López, the vision for the Community as a Campus (CAAC) initiative was shared among the experienced attendees, including Madeline Roman Vargas, HPVEC, Eliud Medina, NNNN, Bill Gerstein, Special Projects Manager, Office of Family and Community Engagement, CPS, Marvin Garcia, Director, Praxis Project and Member of the Board of Trustees at NEIU, and Alejandro Luis Molina, Secretary, Board of Directors, PRCC and Vice-President, Board of Directors, YCCS. Dr. Oliver readily appreciated the concept and offered advice on possible sources of funding support. The role of the CAAC initiative in whole community efforts to enhance community well-being and quality of life was illustrated in lively, passionate discussion that included development of the built environment to include multiple rooftop greenhouses for sustainable food production- the urban agriculture initiative. Community leaders stressed the importance of these initiatives being driven by the community (organic) and therefore the adaptability to local conditions and sustainability are assured. Dr. Oliver commented that these features (community ownership) are what make for excellence and distinguish work being done in Humboldt Park from initiatives elsewhere.

School and youth involvement in these community-building initiatives are part of the concept of CAAC: learning occurs everywhere and the local ecology supports and is supported by students who then contribute to their community as young leaders. School – community connectedness as a best practice in education was strongly supported by all present and many outstanding examples, including urban agriculture, were discussed. In particular, the positive changes at Roberto Clemente Community Academy, as a partner in the CAAC initiative, led by Principal Marcey Sorensen, who was also present, were acknowledged.

Dr. Oliver promised to return with President Easter to move the discussion forward. Everyone acknowledged many possibilities for future collaboration to improve education and ultimately community well-being and life chances of children, youth and families

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