In 2008, four churches on the west side of downtown Rockford, came together to give a gift to the low-income neighborhood in which they were located. Court Street United Methodist Church, Emmanuel Episcopal Church, First Presbyterian Church, and Second Congregational Church created Jeremiah Development, a secular, non-profit, 501(c)3 organization. The mission was to harness the positive energy of our volunteers and the people we serve, to bring about meaningful, sustainable improvement, in the Coronado-Haskell neighborhood (CHN).
Beginning with the first of many door-to-door surveys, Jeremiah Development listened to the concerns of the neighborhood. After much discussion with the residents in the CHN, it became clear the most important thing was a sense of community and trust. A foraging garden was created to help feed the neighborhood, as one of the first projects to come out of those surveys. We partnered with the City of Rockford, Rockford Urban Ministries, Home Depot, and the Community Action Agency of Boone and Winnebago Counties. This resulted in physical improvements, which focused on property rehabilitation and forgivable home improvement loans, as a part of the focus of our work in the neighborhood. Over the last 15 years, Jeremiah has evolved in the way it goes about working for the well-being of the community. Continuing its mission of building community, Jeremiah's focus has moved from renovating properties to strengthening relationships among neighbors. Connecting people with services and activities otherwise not available in the neighborhood builds equity and agency among residents.
This new direction started with the delivery of our newsletter, door-to-door and in person. Initial skepticism, on the part of the residents, turned into trust. This turned into informal front-porch discussions. Jeremiah Development was able to learn more about the current needs of the residents in the neighborhood and help fulfill those needs. With the help of the City of Rockford, abandoned properties have been razed, and blighted properties have been improved. Specially trained members of the Rockford Police Department, Rockford Fire Department, and qualified volunteers, help by educating the residents on personal safety, fire safety, and property improvements, that deter crime. Resource fairs, to provide easy access to social services, classes for our youth, a computer center, and a take a book and don’t bring it back library, are just a few examples of how Jeremiah is listening to the needs of the neighbors and responding.
Since the first initial push with the newsletter, Jeremiah Development has initiated many other projects along the way. Among the neighborhood residents, engaged leaders emerged. Over time, we created a cohort of neighborhood leaders who guide the direction of future Jeremiah projects. Those working and living in the neighborhood, make up a part of our board of directors, to ensure the people we serve, not only have a voice at the table, but also a vote.
Through the generosity of committed donors, grant funding, and countless hours donated by a multitude of volunteers, Jeremiah Development continues its work, making a difference, one household at a time.