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Bustos presents ICC with $500K check to bolster community revitalization initiative

U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, center, holds a ceremonial $500,000 check as she stands between Illinois Central College president Dr. Sheila Quirk-Bailey, Peoria Mayor Rita Ali and other community representatives Thursday at ICC's Peoria campus. The funding will jump-start the Peoria Cradle to Career Initiative that aims to revitalize the city's South Side neighborhoods.
Joe Deacon
U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, center, holds a ceremonial $500,000 check as she stands between Illinois Central College president Dr. Sheila Quirk-Bailey, Peoria Mayor Rita Ali and other community representatives Thursday at ICC's Peoria campus. The funding will jump start the "Peoria Cradle to Career" initiative that aims to revitalize the city's south side neighborhoods.

A half-million-dollar federal grant for the “Peoria Cradle to Career” initiative could lead to more funding toward revitalizing Peoria's south side.

U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos presented a ceremonial $500,000 check to Illinois Central College on Thursday to jump start the initiative aimed at addressing critical needs of Peoria's 61605 zip code.

Bustos said the initial award sets the groundwork for seeking up to $30 million in additional funding through the Department of Education's Promise Neighborhood program.

“This is the seed money to get everything started,” said the Democratic congresswoman. “When you look at 61605 being one of the most distressed communities in the entire nation, I think we also have to look at it from another perspective, which is: it's also a community that has so much potential and we want to make sure that we're tapping into that. This will allow family navigators to work with every single one of the families that has children in that zip code.”

Peoria Mayor Rita Ali, who initially conceived of the initiative while working as an ICC administrator, called the jump-start funding a rare opportunity to examine the needs of south side residents.

“The ultimate plan calls for hiring about 30 family resource navigators who go into the homes of the people that live in 61605, primarily targeting those families that have children — because education of the children is the center of the strategy,” said Ali. “That's where the ‘Cradle to Career’ comes from, that we're going to help them and provide support to them from the beginning of their life all the way throughout their adult life.

“So, it calls for these family resource navigators to go into the homes and to connect them with the resources that they need. Well, in order to connect them with resources that they need, we need to know what those needs are.”

Peoria Public Schools Superintendent Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat said the school district is very supportive of the initiative and eager to see it produce results.

“The focus would be on increasing school readiness, high graduation rates, access to a community-based continuum of high quality services for families,” said Kherat. “We all know that chronically high rates of unemployment, housing instability, high crime and incarceration, all of that contributes to lower graduation rates, life expectancy, and even business investments. So this is a good project to revitalize that area.”

In addition to the initial $500,000 federal grant, the PNC Foundation committed $70,000 in support of the family resource navigators.

“Ultimately, what we're doing is we're able to positively impact this part of our community that has suffered inequities for generations,” said Brian Ray, PNC Bank’s central Illinois regional president. “And as we lift up that part of the community, we lift up the entire community. So for us, it's all about reinvesting in the community as a whole.”

ICC president Sheila Quirk-Bailey said the $500,000 initial investment allows the initiative to establish a strong foundation.

“What it gets us is the ability to create baseline data, the ability to refine our approach with community navigators and really define what we're looking to build: a hub for that community where we can keep their information and they can store their information,” said Quirk-Bailey. “This really is the proof of concept, the set-up of all the systems so that when we get those major federal resources, we are ready and we can start transforming lives.”

Quirk-Bailey said partnering on the initiative with District 150 and the PNC Foundation shows the importance of collaboration.

“A ton of people have come forward in the past to help, but let's all do it together,” she said. “We hope doing this in an integrated way is going to make all the difference to lift people out of poverty and make them independent and secure.”

Bustos called the initiative a critical project to help deliver what south side residents need.

“The heavy lifting, the hard work happens here on the ground,” said Bustos. “I was just fortunate enough to be in a position to help them with a half-a-million dollar grant that can help them get started.”

Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.