ROGERS PARK — A local church group is working to demolish a house and put in its place a brand new community peace garden, but it needs the neighborhood's help first.
The Rev. Wesley Dorr, who heads the local United Methodist Church's Peace Center, 1545 W. Morse Ave., launched a GoFundMe campaign this week asking for $10,000 to help cover the costs of a "teaching garden."
As of Thursday morning, the group had raised $355.
Designed at a discount by Alexia Paul of Semiramis Studio LLC, the garden would include an outdoor grill and bread oven, a labyrinth walking circle, planting beds, a greenhouse, a tool locker and open air classroom and gathering space.
"The church really is a hub in the community," Dorr said. "We focus on the positive things that happen, and that makes peace."
The church's after-school garden club currently uses land in the front yard of a white house next to the church on Ashland Avenue.
The house is owned by the church, but Dorr said after having it assessed by architects, ultimately the church decided it was too expensive to make repairs that would get the home up to city code.
The process to raze the house itself would cost upward of $30,000, Dorr said, half of which has already been raised from the congregation. Dorr said he hoped the house was down by January so planning and construction on the garden could begin by spring.
Once the garden is open, he said he hoped to partner with local schools as well as other youth organizations, gardeners and the community at large to help build a strong network of positive resources and activities for the neighborhood's youths.
Dorr said he knew firsthand the need for positive shows of community engagement after he helped a wounded man who was shot at the corner of Morse and Ashland avenues in August.
Dorr said he was at the church sitting in his office and children were in the garden when shots rang out. He ran out into the street to find a man who he recognized bleeding and helped him inside.
Though the corner near Dorr's church has seen more than its fair share of violence over the years, it's not the image of his neighborhood, or of Chicago, he wants to convey to outsiders.
"There's so many good things that go on our side of Morse, and very few people that are causing that kind of violence," Dorr said. "It happens, no doubt ... but we want to highlight the good things."
By building the garden for the community to use, he said he hoped it would encourage good behavior and decrease violence in the area when it flared up.
It will also help the children in the church's after-school program gain essential skills and explore creativity, healthy eating and urban agriculture.
He said he believed ultimately the garden could become another safe place for anyone in the community to feel comfortable coming to, and would keep peace at a sometimes rattled block.
"When we're outside and we've got a yard full of children, no one really messes with us or the children," he said. "I think it does promote community safety when we're out and we're present and we're doing organic things. Not out there to say, 'Hey, you go away,' but to say, 'Hey, this is our community' — and the more people you have outside doing positive things, the less gang activity actually happens."
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