ENGLEWOOD — From troubles facing Harper High School to a high-end grocery store trying to make its mark on the neighborhood, issues facing Englewood made local and national headlines this year.
1. Clara's House: This year was financially tough for Clara's House, a shelter for women and children at 1650 W. 63rd St. It faced closure in March after owing the city $41,969 in building code fines. But in August, the city had agreed to settle the debt for $1,000. Once it overcame that hurdle, the shelter, founded 26 years ago by Englewood resident Clara Kirk, 72, had its gas service disconnected in October for a past due bill.
However, gas service was restored two weeks later after an anonymous donor paid the past due amount of nearly $31,000. The next hardship for the shelter occurred in November when its electric bill was past due, but it avoided disconnection after Englewood-native and Detroit Pistons guard Will Bynum voluntarily paid off the balance.
2. Englewood Rats: It's not uncommon to have a rodent problem in or near abandoned buildings, but the issue at one empty building at 7047 S. Parnell Ave. was such a big deal that one neighbor on the block said these were "not your ordinary rats, but rats so big it has all the cats scared."
After months of trying to get the city to clean up the backyard of the vacant building, Ruthie Shivers, 83, reached out to the media and very soon after, the city cleaned up the lot.
3. Urban Prep Academy for Young Men High School: The all-boys charter school has three campuses, including its first one at 6201 S. Stewart Ave., which was founded in 2006. Since 2010, when its first senior class graduated, the school has successfully sent every graduate to a four-year college or university.
In April, the senior class was honored by state legislators in Springfield for its academic achievements. In May, the school hosted its fifth annual Father's Day program, where sons recognized their fathers at a school ceremony. Finally in July the school's founder and CEO Tim King announced his intent to expand the charter school nationally.
4. Whole Foods Market: The high-end grocery chain announced in September it plans to build a store in Englewood in 2016 at the corner of 63rd and Halsted streets. Supporters said it would help reduce the food desert in the South Side community, while critics said Englewood residents would not be able to afford to shop there. Local convenience store owners, however, aren't too worried.
5. Harper High School: Violence at this South Side high school made national headlines this year after a "This American Life" series highlighted how many students had been lost to gun violence there in recent years. In the midst of a national debate about gun control, First lady Michelle Obama visited the school in April while in Chicago, where she encouraged students to stay strong and focus on getting the best education they can. Later that month, the West Englewood school had two of its students chosen as 2013 Gates Millennium scholars.
Michelle Obama was so impressed with the group of students she met at the school, she invited them to visit her at the White House in June.