4 South Side groups awarded $1 million in grants will offer free services to ‘transform health care’

Dion Dawson, founder of Dion’s Chicago Dream, will be able to deliver food to at least 125 more families with the help of a grant specifically for South Side organizations.

Courtesy of South Side Community Health Organization

About 10 years ago, Pierre Shuttlesworth’s mother was dying from cancer. During the years the South Side native was getting treatment, her son noticed there weren’t enough transportation options to get her to every medical appointment. 

Shuttlesworth, who has a background in creating tech platforms, decided to create a company and app for those who need non-emergency transportation for medical reasons.

“So when she passed away, I felt if I can build the platform for somebody else’s family, this might help them with their life and actually put more years on their life so they can be around their family,” Shuttlesworth said of his company, Trek World USA

The Chicago-based firm has expanded to about 30,000 drivers nationwide, Shuttlesworth said. Similar to Uber, rides can be requested in a five-mile radius from the person’s home to go to and from medical services. The rides — which are all wheelchair accessible — are $250 each without insurance. But soon, South Side residents will be able to order Trek World services for free.

A new grant from the South Side Healthy Community Organization has partnered with Trek World and several other organizations to give residents free services that aim to increase the quality of life of South Siders, the group announced on March 15.

Trek World’s rides will be free for South Side residents for at least one year. 

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South Side Healthy Community Organization has allocated nearly a million dollars total to these five organizations — Trek World USA, Dion’s Chicago Dream, Christian Community Health Center, Phalanx Family Services and ​​Centro Comunitario Juan Diego. 

Led by CEO Kimberly Hobson, the South Side Healthy Community Organization is composed of 13 hospital systems and applied for funding to give grants to organizations focused on four sectors: Food insecurity, transportation, housing and employment — all to address the social determinants of health. 

“We believe all four of those components together will transform health care over a period of time,” Hobson told the Sun-Times. 

With the grant funding, Dion’s Chicago Dream can feed more families. The group has sent a week’s worth of fresh fruits, vegetables and groceries to families since 2020 but now can send at least 125 more families free, healthy meals to help food equality. There are no requirements to join.

“There’s no income requirement because you know somebody who makes six figures who’s living check to check,” said Dion Dawson, the founder of Dion’s Chicago Dream. “And you also know someone who’s making $40,000 who’s debt free.”

Most of the groups were created by South Side residents. Still, legacy groups had the opportunity to receive grant money. Christian Community Health Center has been around more than 60 years and, with its funding, aims to provide housing and case management services after hospital dischargement. 

When South Side residents go to the hospital, they can indicate if they need housing help or support. A case management worker will determine if transitional, rental, supportive or shelter housing is right for them.

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Job training, like housing, doesn’t directly fall under health but rather the quality of life for residents. Phalanx Family Services, based in West Pullman, will be expanding their current job prep and skill training.

Phalanx also helps residents find and keep stable living situations and transportation so they don’t have to worry when starting a new job. Those coming to Phalanx have to be over the age of 14 and live on the South Side.

The recipients of the grants do not have restrictions on which South Side residents can take advantage of their services. 

“Even if you think (people)  might be doing well, you really don’t know individual circumstances,” said Rosa Perea, assistant director at Centro Comunitario Juan Diego. “And we don’t want to judge anybody.”

Centro Comunitario, in the South Chicago community, is an organization that provides lighting, gas, health care and food assistance to about 15,000 people a year. Still, they think they could serve more. Thanks to their grant, they’ll be able to do more outreach and participate in more community events. 

“I think because we’re such a small organization, people really don’t know about us,” Perea said. “Through this grant we’ll be able to bring in more people. We just can’t sit here and wait for people to come to us.”

The services powered by the grants are slated to begin around early May.

Mariah Rush is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.

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