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Cultivate Collective leadership, elected officials, community members and non-profit partners gather during the ribbon-cutting to open the wellness hub located in southwest Chicago.

Building Healthier Communities on the South Side of Chicago

Cultivate Collective recently launched a first-of-its-kind sustainable health hub on Chicago’s southwest side equipped with a wellness center to reduce health inequities, a public school, urban farm and more.

Life expectancy between Chicago communities can vary by up to 15 years, with many areas facing shorter lifespans concentrated on the city’s southwest side, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health.  

In 2018, Cultivate Collective purchased a 6-acre plot of land on the former LeClaire Courts public housing site with the goal of developing and scaling a community wellness hub to create a more equitable, sustainable environment for underserved Chicagoans.

The nonprofit partnered with Esperanza Health Centers to launch a federally qualified health care center on-site with an emphasis on supporting un- or under-insured groups. Health center staff include a family physician, family nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, licensed clinical social worker and care coordinator, providing preventive and mental health care, among many other services.

“Our mission is to unite health and wellness, sustainability, economic vitality, and multi-generational learning to cultivate resilient and thriving communities,” says Sarah Elizabeth Ippel, CEO of Cultivate Collective. “We’re grateful to partners like Blue Cross and Blue Shield that have enabled us to expand wellness programming and increase access to vital services such as fresh food and health care in order to ensure a more equitable future for all Chicagoans.”

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois awarded Cultivate Collective a $75,000 Blue ImpactSM grant to help develop the wellness hub.

“Our Blue Impact grants are one of the many ways we support nonprofit organizations that work to improve local health outcomes,” said Tonita Cheatham, executive director, Communications & Community Relations at BCBSIL. “We’re excited to work with Cultivate Collective and to see the impact of their services on Chicago’s southwest side.”

Another component of the 71,000-square-foot project is a new home for the Academy for Global Citizenship, a public PreK-8th grade school whose model is rooted in whole-child wellness and nature-based learning. The new building unites AGC’s approximately 600 students that were previously within two separate facilities.

Developers hope the community hub will achieve an international certification called the Living Building Challenge to become recognized as one of the most sustainable buildings in the country.

“Our steadfast commitment to addressing the inextricable link between climate and health justice makes this project unique, particularly at a time when environmental inequities are growing across the country,” Ippel says. “We are creating a roadmap for other organizations and communities to follow.”

Next year, they’re also opening a 3-acre urban farm that will supply fresh produce for the school, neighboring public housing residents, and surrounding community. The site will have walking trails, an orchard,  apiaries, and opportunities for green job training.

The grounds also house solar panels, 50 geothermal wells, and innovative water strategies that enable water- and energy-net-positivity — essentially allowing the project to be self-sustaining and climate resilient.

This development will sit next to a separate project on other former LeClaire Courts land that is bringing hundreds of units of affordable housing and other amenities and services to the area. 

A Division of Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company, an Independent Licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association