‘Chicago Tonight’ in Your Neighborhood: Avalon Park

Chicago’s Avalon Park is named after its nearly 28-acre park, which has a gym, tennis courts, baseball diamonds and a pool. 

That pool has been open at least five days a week this summer, despite a shortage of lifeguards citywide, according to Shedrene O’Neal, president of the Avalon Park Advisory Council.

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“It’s just a wonderful thing to see people in the pool when you walk in the park and hear the kids screaming and laughing, and splashing,” O’Neal said. “I love this park because it’s a hidden gem … we try to keep it a secret.”

The council formed in 2019, but shortly thereafter had many plans scuttled by the pandemic.

O’Neal has new plans now like community partnerships and programming and activities for youth –- be it learning about vocations, or anti-violence role-playing lessons.

“In the morning, starting at six o’clock, we have the seniors out here who are doing their nature walk,” O’Neal said. “They are creatures of habit. Same time every day. It’s a beautiful thing.”

O’Neal seemed to know everyone. Since she moved here 18 years ago, O’Neal said she starts every morning at the park. 

There are other events set to take place in Avalon Park, including the park district’s Movie in the Park. They’re showing “King Richard” on Friday, Aug. 5.

Interactive map: More from our community reporting series

Another heart of the Avalon Park community: Its commercial corridor. 

“I tend to look at a lot of our vacancies and opportunities to really brand and create the community you want,” said Frankye Payne, executive director of the Southeast Chicago Chamber of Commerce. “Everybody has an understanding of how they want the community to feel like and Avalon Park is a really great space and opportunity to do that. 79th Street is a main way straight to the lake, the Obama Center….there’s a lot of things happening.”

The Obama Presidential Center will be a stone's throw away from Avalon Park in Chicago’s Woodlawn community. 

State Rep. Marcus Evans, whose district includes Avalon Park, said he also wants to see improvements all along Stony Island Avenue, with the traffic it’s bringing.

“People are coming from around the world,” Evans said. “We want to make sure that the residents of Avalon Park have safety along Stony Island, and of course, continue to see the avenue beautified along with the Obama library. We want to be included forsure in the development … Avalon Park will be a big beneficiary, especially when it’s up and running.”

Evans is himself a bungalow homeowner in Avalon Park.

Video: Watch our full interview with state Rep. Marcus Evans.

According to the U.S. Census, about 9,500 people reside in Avalon Park; roughly 95% of residents are Black.

Payne said George Floyd’s murder, the subsequent unrest and the pandemic have brought to light disinvestments and the need for resources in Black and Brown communities.

Since then, more state and city grants, like the city’s Invest Southwest program, have become available, which has allowed the chamber to do more of its work supporting small businesses, helping mom-and-pop shops develop websites and point of sale systems, offering security and beautification. 

Payne said the post-pandemic struggles will be an opportunity for the chamber to lean in, listen and help.

“We’re very lucky that we have a home-owned residence community,” Payne added. “With that home ownership, there’s a long line of people who were here in the '70s and are here now and remember what bustling, thriving corridor they had. [They] miss that and want more of it.”

The local chamber of commerce has been focusing on supporting murals painted by local artists such as Max Sansing and others who have gained national and global acclaim.

These beautification spots are on a public tour in the area.

Meanwhile, school leaders, such as Principal Douglas Maclin of the historic Chicago Vocational Career Academy, have been filling their time preparing for the new school year.

“We’re very unique here,” Maclin said. “We’re the only school in the district that is early college, STEM, and has career and tecnhicational programming. From information technology, cosmetology, culinary, diesel….you name it. We’re really excited to continue that as well as engaging with new partners coming in…it's revitalizing our school. Our freshman enrollment has increased over 60% this year.”

Preservation talks are underway for Chicago Vocational Career Academy, also known as Chicago Vocational High School (CVS).

It’s an 81-year-old building that once held over 5,000 students, according to Maclin. Last year they had about 630 students, and this year they’re expected to have over 700.

“The district is constantly taking in new ideas of how we can restore ‘The Palace,’” Maclin said in reference to an old nickname for the school. “Any and all of those types of conversations is always a good thing. Community stakeholders, parents, alumni come in and talk about ‘how do we achieve the goal of restoring the pride at The Palace.’ Preservation talks are still underway. When we figure out exactly what the community wants to do with our school and how they can help support us, then we can finalize the answer to that question.”

Video: Watch our full interview with Chicago Vocational Career Academy Principal Douglas Maclin.

Located a few blocks away from CVS, Ramona and Curtis Pouncy are proud business owners of Avalon Park’s iconic roller rink on 87th Street.

“I am one of the owners of The Rink Chicago,” Pouncy said, emphasizing the word the. “Like The Ohio State, The Rink of Chicago. There’s no place like it on earth.”

The roller rink has been around since 1975, but has been closed for the past seven to eight months undergoing renovations.

The Pouncys have added fresh coats of purple and orange paint, a refurbished skating floor, and a starry, fluorescent carpet.

Many updates, but still, the Pouncys said, they’re keeping the old school flavor and aim to be nostalgic. 

Pouncy skated there growing up, and now she and her husband Curtis want local kids to do the same. 

“We have the rink, we have to make it into the best, safest place that families can come, kids can have fun…save lives. ” Pouncy added. “We have about 400 young people, when we’re fully open, on a Friday night. That’s 400 kids in this building doing what they do, loving the music, exercising.”

Her and her husband are not sure when The Rink will reopen, but they are hoping to have the grand opening fairly soon.

Community Reporting Series

“Chicago Tonight” is expanding its community reporting. We’re hitting the streets to speak with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. See where we’ve been and what we’ve learned by using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. Points in red represent our series COVID-19 Across Chicago; blue marks our series “Chicago Tonight” in Your Neighborhood.

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