Sweet Water Foundation Named Winner of Chicago Beyond’s Youth Equity Challenge

Investment and new partnership will support the launch of Sweet Water Academy

CHICAGO – Chicago Beyond has announced that the winner of its 2018 Youth Equity Challenge is Sweet Water Foundation. Headquartered where the borders of Englewood and Washington Park meet, at a site known as the Perry Avenue Commons (The Commons), Sweet Water Foundation blends urban agriculture, art, and education to transform vacant spaces and abandoned buildings into a place of vibrant community assets. They utilize a creative and regenerative social justice approach to revitalization by engaging local youth to produce skilled workers, locally-grown food, and affordable housing.


Chicago Beyond’s investment will support Sweet Water Foundation through its launch of the Sweet Water Academy, a neighborhood development demonstration site and living, learning laboratory designed tackle the complicated and interconnected layering of crises facing the city’s youth. The Academy will create a network of practitioners and leaders practicing Regenerative Neighborhood Development to rebuild infrastructure and economies, reversing urban blight in their own communities. Sweet Water is community-driven and exemplifies a model that has succeeded in revitalizing its neighborhood, while providing alternative life pathways and increased safety for young people.

The most transformative work happening in Chicago is at the neighborhood level

“and Sweet Water Foundation is a leader at the forefront of that regenerative, grassroots change. This new partnership signifies Chicago Beyond’s belief in what is possible. Sweet Water Foundation has the potential to expand far beyond its neighborhood to impact even more young Chicagoans, and we want to help make that happen.”


Sweet Water Foundation spans across four contiguous city blocks and includes, among other elements, approximately three acres of urban farms, a large community garden, two formerly foreclosed homes transformed into community and educational spaces (Think-Do Houses), a greenhouse converted into a woodshop (The Work-Shop) and a timber frame pavilion that serves as a performing arts and community space (Thought Barn).


In addition to community engagement through The Commons, Sweet Water Foundation has developed an Apprenticeship and Outreach Program (AOP), designed specifically for youth. AOP is an intensive urban agriculture-based education and career program that leverages educational programming, green-collar and environmentally conscious career training, and community outreach to orchestrate the transformation of blighted spaces. Apprentices learn critical job and life skills that include carpentry, farming and gardening, nutrition, and meal preparation.


Over the next three years, Chicago Beyond will invest $420,000 in Sweet Water Foundation to support the build-out of its approach to Regenerative Neighborhood Development through the Sweet Water Academy. The investment will also support the expansion of Sweet Water Foundation’s organizational capacity at a critical inflection point in the life of the organization.


“Sweet Water Foundation is incredibly honored to be selected as the winner of Chicago Beyond’s Youth Equity Challenge. For nearly a decade, we have built a library of youth driven, localized responses to the conditions of redlining that have plagued neighborhoods on the South Side of Chicago. In partnership with Chicago Beyond, we believe the formal launch of Sweet Water Academy will now provide a unique platform to accelerate our reach and scope of locally grown and community based solutions for transformative change,” said Sweet Water Foundation’s Executive Director, Emmanuel Pratt.


Sweet Water Foundation has already begun to implement The Academy via tours, workshops, and service days with local organizations. Furthermore, Sweet Water Foundation apprentices are fully integrated into this work, which is a core part of their learning and developmental journey.


Chicago Beyond’s Youth Equity Challenge sought 90-second videos from organizations that described how they promote equity for young Chicagoans. Previous year’s winners include Lawndale Christian Legal Center, the Dovetail Project, Storycatchers Theatre and Genesys Works Chicago. These four nonprofits received investments that totaled nearly $4.34 million, which has helped them expand their capacity, test the effectiveness of their program and ultimately, impact more young people.