EAST CHICAGO | Individual neighborhoods make up a city. Creating a true community spirit within a neighborhood takes residents’ involvement.
That’s the mission of the Concerned Calumet Citizens Committee. The nonprofit group formed in 1994 “to create a community together” in the West and East Calumet areas of East Chicago, said Theodora Williams, one of the founders.
This less-than-1-square-mile enclave of homes and businesses is surrounded on all four sides by railroad tracks. Home to about 2,000 people from multiple generations and diverse backgrounds, the Calumet area is bordered on the north by Chicago Avenue and extends from Parrish Avenue on the east and the Grand Calumet River on the west. Riley Park provides a playground, community center and a tree-filled picnic area.
Creating that sense and spirit of an involved neighborhood all started with a community picnic 19 years ago at Riley Park, Williams said.
“We brought together blocks, churches, families and friends to celebrate the Calumet area,” she said.
“It’s not a festival, but a community picnic,” said Randy Artis, CCCC president.
This year’s CCCC picnic is July 27 at Riley Park.
Another celebration has come out of the sense of community built by the CCCC. For the past five years, the Raphael Peterson family has hosted a Fourth of July event in the Calumet section that attracts more than 400 East Chicago adults and children.
Attended by Mayor Anthony Copeland, this year’s July 4 neighborhood party sponsored by the Peterson family included large inflated play stations, basketball nets, food, music, dancing and fireworks at sundown.
The CCCC honors the past, present and future of the Calumet section, Williams said.
Celebrating accomplishment, unity
Two years ago, the organization initiated the Calumet Champions of Legend to celebrate those who grew up in the community and have succeeded in their chosen professions. State Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, and his wife, Linda, were among the honorees.
“These are people who have paved the way,” Williams said. “The impact is for the children — so they know all things are possible.”
In this vein, CCCC encourages and honors children from the Calumet-area neighborhoods who succeed in school and strive to further their education.
Perfect school attendance at Carrie Gosch Elementary School won 11 young residents recognition this past academic year, with each child receiving a T-shirt and a gift certificate.
Since its formation, the CCCC has provided more than just encouragement for Calumet-area children who want to go to college, but whose families may not be able to afford the expense.
“We used to give $50 savings bonds when we started,” Williams said. “Now we provide college scholarships. This is why we get our funding.”
And those scholarships have grown from $500 each for one female and one male student to four $1,000 college scholarships given this year. High school seniors must apply for the scholarships and demonstrate academic abilities as well as community service, she said.
Fundraising for these scholarships begins in February with Black History presentations at churches throughout the area and continues with the sale of T-shirts and souvenir books.
“This year, one of our scholarship winners is Marcellus Gibson, the valedictorian from Thea Bowman Academy who has a 4.7 grade point average. He is going to University of California at Berkley to major in engineering,” Artis said.
Another CCCC scholarship winner, Shantanece Ellis, graduated as salutatorian of the East Chicago Central High School Class of 2013. She is enrolled in the Groups Program at Indiana University and will major in English and pre-law.
“We would like them to eventually return to this area, but we want them to succeed wherever they go,” Williams said.