DUNNING — Melissa Kaszynski said she needed very little encouragement when Adam Price from Youth Outreach Services approached her with the idea of organizing a new group in the Far Northwest Side neighborhood of Dunning.
"I just wanted to get people in the room together and see what would happen," said Kaszynski, a Dunning resident and the manager of the Dunning branch of the Chicago Public Library.
Youth Outreach Services, a nonprofit with an office in Portage Park, received a grant from the state to help start a neighborhood group in Dunning that would focus on improvements, Price said.
At the first meeting of the Dunning Neighborhood Organization Jan. 29, dozens of ideas were floated, including a spring cleanup event, a garden walk to showcase the area's beauty and an expanded farmers market, Kaszynski said.
"Everyone left feeling a lot of hope and excitement," Kaszynski said.
The meeting was organized in part by Ald. Nicholas Sposato (36th), who sent an email blast to his constituents, promoted the meeting on Facebook and texted his friends and supporters about the new group.
"It is off to a really good start," Sposato said, adding that he plans to take a step back from the group now that it is off the ground. "I hope it brings the community, the businesses and the residents together."
Sposato, while noting that Dunning was one of the safest neighborhoods in Chicago, said the area was "cheated on public safety" because it was part of the "undermanned" Jefferson Park Police District.
"They do a great job with limited resources," Sposato said, adding that he hoped the group would highlight the neighborhood's strong schools and thriving businesses.
"I was very impressed by the turnout," Sposato said.
Kerry Murphy, whose son and daughter attend Dever Elementary School in Dunning, said she was one of about 50 people who attended the first meeting.
"The community seems to be a little compartmentalized so it would be great if we all work toward common goals, whatever those might be," Murphy said.
Kaszynski, who told the group the library was in need of beautification efforts and more after-school programs, said she understood Murphy's concern.
"I really hope we can build a sense of community," Kaszynski said. "We definitely need something that is open to everyone where everyone has a voice."
The group could also have political implications as the field of candidates for the 2015 aldermanic elections takes shape.
While Dunning was part of the 36th Ward when Sposato, a Chicago firefighter, was elected in 2011, 90 percent of the neighborhood will become part of the 38th Ward — now represented by Ald. Tim Cullerton — when the 2015 aldermanic elections take place.
Though most aldermen agreed to recognize the new ward boundaries last year even though they were not officially in effect, Sposato has continued to follow the map that was in effect when he was elected, creating tension between him and Cullerton.
Cullerton said he has spoken to another group of Dunning residents, the Dunning Square Neighborhood Association.
While he said he had not made a final decision, Cullerton said he didn't "see why he wouldn't run again" for 38th Ward alderman, adding that he loves serving the community and helping people.
In 2015, 80 percent of residents of the 36th Ward will be new to the ward, which is one of several new Hispanic-majority districts created by the remap.
Sposato said he was weighing five options for his political future. He said he might run for re-election as 36th Ward alderman, challenge Cullerton in the 38th Ward, or run for alderman in the 29th or 30th wards.
Sposato said he was also considering running for mayor.
"I'm weighing all of the options," Sposato said, adding that he had been asked to run for a number of offices. "It is an honor to be asked. I'll decide where I can serve the most people and do the most good."
The next meeting of the Dunning Neighborhood Organization is scheduled for 6 p.m. Feb. 26 at the Dunning branch of the Chicago Public Library, 7455 W. Cornelia Ave.