Long-term Relationships and Trust Underpin COVID-19 Vaccination Success in Homan Square June 14, 2021

On February 22, 2021, the City of Chicago launched a COVID-19 vaccination site in Chicago’s North Lawndale community as part of its Protect Chicago Plus campaign to make vaccines as accessible as possible to Black and Latinx Chicagoans. Located in the Homan Square Community Center, the clinic is operated by long-time tenant Lawndale Christian Health Center (LCHC), a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) that has provided affordable, quality health care in the community since 1984.

Within four weeks of the city’s first call, Lawndale Christian Health had established the site in the foyer of the community center and provided 3,200 vaccinations to community members. It was an accomplishment that was possible because of investments in critical community infrastructure and long-term relationships in Homan Square that have been nurtured over the last 20 years.

In a Nutshell

What: COVID-19 vaccination site at the Homan Square Community Center, facilitated by long-time tenant Lawndale Christian Health Center

Sector: Health Care

Location: Chicago, IL (Homan Square / North Lawndale)

IFF Role: Logistics to convert common space at the community center for use as a vaccination site

IFF Staff Leads: Kevin Sutton, Executive Director of the Foundation for Homan Square, and Mycindra Moore, Property Manager for the Foundation for Homan Square

Impact: 7,018 COVID-19 vaccinations provided, largely to residents of the North Lawndale community

Designed to serve as a comprehensive recreation, health, and family center, the 70,000-square-foot community center was completed in December 2001 following a multi-year fundraising campaign spearheaded by an advisory committee of local residents. Now home to five tenants and serving more than 6,000 visitors each week (pre-pandemic), the community center is managed by the Foundation for Homan Square in partnership with IFF.

As the first tenant in the community center, Lawndale Christian Health has been instrumental in its success from day one and has expanded its footprint over the years. Today, LCHC operates a 17,592-square-foot clinic that provides primary health care and dental services to adults and children.

As the clinic’s presence in the community center has evolved, so too has the depth of Lawndale Christian Health’s relationship with the Foundation for Homan Square and other tenants in the community center. It was exactly the infrastructure needed to get a COVID-19 vaccination site up and running quickly during an all-hands-on-deck effort to reach communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

“The relationships that made it possible for us to run the vaccination site didn’t just start during the pandemic,” says Pastor James Brooks, Lawndale Christian Health’s Vice President of Mission and Community Engagement. “So, when it was time to respond to the need to get residents in the community vaccinated, the relationships were already there, and it was just a matter of picking up the phone or shooting an email out and letting everyone know what we needed to do. In a time like this, I love how the Homan Square family gathered together to make a huge difference in the North Lawndale community.”

“One of the wonderful things about Homan Square is that the group we have on the campus has developed relationships with each other, and it’s part of the culture at the community center to support one’s another’s efforts to support the community,” adds Dr. Daisey Dowell, Lawndale Christian Health’s Medical Director at the Homan Square site.

It’s easier to have a conversation with someone about the importance of getting the vaccine when you’ve already provided high-quality care for them or their children in the past. That trust factor is huge.

These relationships allowed Lawndale Christian Health to coordinate with other tenants very quickly and efficiently, which enabled the vaccination site to get online quickly and efficiently, too. Since the vaccination site was in a common area used by all tenants, this coordination was essential. The building’s foyer provided space for the vaccination stations, and the circular drive in front of the facility became a parking area for those coming to get vaccinated.

In addition to providing the physical facility for the vaccination site, Lawndale Christian Health’s long-term presence in the Homan Square community also provided a sense of trust that was crucial to the vaccine effort. Members of the organization’s staff canvassed the neighborhood, along with members of the Chicago Police Department’s 11th District and Alderman Michael Scott, Jr. to get the word out.

“It made a big difference that we’ve been in Homan Square for so long and already established trust with members of the community before this need arose,” Dr. Dowell says. “It’s easier to have a conversation with someone about the importance of getting the vaccine when you’ve already provided high-quality care for them or their children in the past. That trust factor is huge.”

Through the end of May, 7,018 vaccinations were provided at the Homan Square site, almost all of which went to North Lawndale residents.

“Affordable housing, quality health care, and great recreational and family supports were part of the original DNA of Homan Square when conversations about how to develop the community were taking place in the mid-1990s,” says Kevin Sutton, Executive Director of the Foundation for Homan Square. “Here we are 25 years later, and we’re seeing the benefits of that type of comprehensive, place-based approach. During this crisis, all of the puzzle pieces were already in place, which facilitated a solution to a problem without having to scramble to figure it out. Homan Square represents what thoughtful community development can look like and illustrates how it can positively impact residents.”


The Foundation for Homan Square and IFF

Formed in 1995 to oversee the redevelopment of a 55-acre property that previously housed the historic Sears catalog facility, office tower, and power plant, The Foundation for Homan Square serves as an umbrella organization over a tapestry of community resources in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood.

Working closely with community members, the Foundation’s goals are to:

  • explore opportunities for development in the community,
  • develop quality housing across the spectrum of affordability,
  • develop mixed-use and commercial facilities that provide space for community programming and local businesses, and
  • inspire investment in projects aligned with the community’s strategic development plan.

IFF first partnered with the Foundation for Homan Square in 2005 to redevelop the former Sears’ power plant into a high school (now known as DRW College Prep). The success of the four-year, $40 million project laid the foundation for ongoing engagement between the two organizations.

Later, IFF and the Foundation partnered again to redevelop a 14-story tower, which previously housed Sears’ offices before the company relocated to its eponymous skyscraper in downtown Chicago. Now known as Nichols Tower, named for supporters John D. and Alexandra C. Nichols, the facility serves as a kind of ‘nonprofit hub’ with about a dozen organizations providing services there.

In 2018, IFF and the Foundation formally joined together to maintain and expand the tapestry of community resources in Homan Square by leveraging the best of each organization for the long-term benefit of the community. Working closely with residents and representatives of organizations based in Homan Square, who determine the long-term vision for the community, the Foundation provides deep expertise about the community, while IFF offers financing, real estate tools, and research to further realize the community’s vision.