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Tackling Urgent Youth and Family Challenges in Joliet and Beyond

The Chicago Tribune once described “The Hill” — the notoriously dangerous neighborhood on the east side of Joliet — like this:

“Warfare is common in the poor, mostly African-American Joliet neighborhood known as ‘The Hill.’ For years, it has been plagued by gunshots and gang members, dope dealers and malcontents. In the past, police said they would record an average of two shootings each night in the heart of that east side of town.”

The Tribune article was published in 1997, by which time Aunt Martha’s teams had been on The Hill for 13 years.

In 1984, Aunt Martha’s had accepted the offer to join a federal program targeting street gangs in Joliet. The area had changed over the years with the loss of industrial jobs, and unemployment had skyrocketed amongst youth in the area. Aunt Martha’s earned the trust of young people and local officials by being the first organization to address the urgent problems of gangs and unemployment in “The Hill” specifically.

“We tackled the hard stuff that other agencies didn’t want to deal with; we beat the streets and went into housing complexes where others didn’t want to go,” said Darryl Robinson, the Joliet office’s first manager.

Aunt Martha's first permanent site in Joliet was an office in The Barber Building, located at 68 N. Chicago Street.

Aunt Martha’s first permanent site in Joliet was an office in The Barber Building, located at 68 N. Chicago Street. (Photo by Bob Okon, Shaw Media)

The groundwork laid by the agency’s first permanent team in Joliet led to hundreds of success stories and job placements in that community, but also demonstrated that Aunt Martha’s could bring its distinct brand of caring and community engagement into new geographies and make an impact even as the new kid on the block.

In Joliet, we grew to provide services like Family First, Title XX Counseling, Teen Parent Services, Community Service Program, Unified Delinquency Intervention Services, Placement Stabilization, Comprehensive Community-Based Youth Services, Parenting Training, and Housing Advocacy. And we’d go on to replicate that model in responding to the needs of other communities, including places like into Kankakee, Oak Forest, Elgin and Aurora.

Westward Expansion

Before setting up shop in the historic* Barber Building at 68 N. Chicago Street in downtown Joliet, Aunt Martha’s westward expansion included an office in Frankfort (location decribed only as Rt. 45/LaGrange Rd. and White St.) and the New Lenox “outpost” office (pictured below), located at Rt. 30 and Williams St.

Aunt Martha's Outpost Office, New Lenox, IL
 

*Note: It probably wasn’t considered “historic” in 1984.

 
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