McKinley Park Named Connected Community for Statewide Internet Program

Published July 10, 2020

McKinleyParkDevelopmentCouncil logoThe McKinley Park Development Council successfully applied for the Illinois Connected Communities program.The McKinley Park neighborhood of Chicago stands to receive improved Internet access through its entry into the first cohort of the Illinois Connected Communities program, a statewide initiative to expand high-speed broadband Internet and digital literacy services. 

 
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As one of 12 communities across Illinois chosen for Connected Communities, McKinley Park will work to build capacity toward participation in the $420 million Connect Illinois program, a state plan from Illinois Governor JB Pritzker to expand high-speed Internet, especially to underserved areas.

This program lands in McKinley Park thanks to the work of the McKinley Park Development Council, an all-volunteer 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization that dove into the application process this spring after being alerted of the program by Illinois 1st District State Senator Antonio ("Tony") Muñoz.

 
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"The McKinley Park Development Council is excited for this opportunity," said President John Belcik. "It will be a step in strengthening the resilience of the neighborhood by providing current and new businesses a way to stay competitive, and by providing residents the ability to be competitive employees in the changing job market."

Connected Communities

The Illinois Connected Communities program is an initiative of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity's Office of Broadband. The first cohort in Connected Communities, including McKinley Park, will engage in development of strategic planning and assessment to "ensure access, adoption and utilization of high-speed broadband in their communities," the department wrote in a press release about the program, which also lists the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society as a key partner.

 
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In addition to the McKinley Park Development Council, other Chicagoland organizations in the first Connected Communities cohort include the Neighborhood Network Alliance, the City of HarveyPalatine School District 15 and Park Forest-Chicago Heights School District 163.

Across the state, other cohort participants include Brown County School District 1, the Housing Authority of Champaign County, the Leadership Council of Southwestern IllinoisMattoon School District 2Mercer County Better Together, the Region 1 Planning Council (Winnebago County and City of Rockford) and the Village of Flanagan.

"I was very impressed by the breadth of organizations that applied, the articulation of their challenges, and the passion they exhibited," said Adrianne B. Furniss, Executive Director of the Benton Institute. "These grants will support our communities to think through broadband strategies and goals that will work best for them, inspire broad community involvement and engage more stakeholders in building broadband capacity."  

Broadband in McKinley Park

"Our service area of the McKinley Park neighborhood of Chicago represents a worthy location for implementing free and/or low-cost community broadband," the McKinley Park Development Council wrote in its Connected Communities application. "Significant gaps in broadband access, Internet literacy and market choice persist in all corners of the neighborhood."

In addition to supporting underserved communities such as the neighborhood's elderly and working-class and immigrant families, the council wrote the Connected Communities program will bear fruit in McKinley Park due to the "watershed for engagement and collaboration" as seen throughout neighborhood groups and advocacy, as well as programs like the comprehensive neighborhood plan the council is releasing in conjunction with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP).

 
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The council's application for Connected Communities received supporting letters from a broad swath of neighborhood institutions and elected officials, including Muñoz, Illinois 2nd District State Representative Theresa Mah, 12th Ward Alderman George Cardenas, the Illinois Small Business Development Center at the 36Squared Business Incubator, Evergreen Academy Middle School, the Velma Thomas Early Childhood Center, the Aquinas Literacy Center and the Adrian Dominican Sisters.

Call for Community Support

Additional volunteer help from neighborhood residents and stakeholders will be needed to implement Connected Communities in McKinley Park as planning begins to take place over the summer, Belcik said. In addition, the council welcomes engagement with local institutions and enterprises able to provide in-kind, financial or other support toward successfully implementing both the first phase of Connected Communities and future related opportunities from Connect Illinois.

Anyone interested in getting involved with Connected Communities in McKinley Park (and other council programs) should send email to mckinleyparkdevelopmentcouncil@gmail.com to voice interest and share any pertinent information.

"Fiber-class Internet delivered on an affordable basis to every residential and business address in the neighborhood may just now be a dream," the council wrote in its application. "But this ... support from the Illinois Connected Communities program will help McKinley Park take the first step."


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