Chicago Street Soccer: Unifying Communities

Free from the rules and regulations of standardized sports and true to the essence of how futbol is played around the world, street soccer is a pastime rooted in many Latinos’ childhood memories and, for some, everyday life.

This summer, Mettle Sports, in collaboration with Sterling Bay and the Chicago Park District, is hosting the Chicago Street Soccer Tour, traveling around the city and setting up free, portable soccer fields in select parks. The tour began on July 14 in Ellis Park, with stops scheduled in South Chicago, North Lawndale, and Rogers Park, among others.

Mettle Sports was founded in Evanston in 2017 as a company that provides pitches and equipment to make street soccer more accessible to underserved communities. The company works to promote the culture of street soccer by providing gated areas to practice but allowing participants to organically organize and decide how to play. 

“We see it truly as what I think a lot of the world has recognized, that they’ve become these epicenters for communities, a place for people to gather, no matter if you play soccer or just want to commune with your neighbors,â€� said Mettle Sports CEO Neal Levin, describing the communal aspect of soccer. 

Mettle became an ARCS partner with the park district, collaboratively deciding which parks to incorporate into the program based on programming, space, and community, according to Levin. In mid-July, Mettle installed the soccer pitches at Harrison Park for a two-week stint in Pilsen.

“In Pilsen, I think we have a history of being a very strong community,� said 25th Ward Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez. “It’s meaningful to be in Harrison Park because I think a good number of our kids, our families, enjoy the game,� he continued, expressing the importance of unstructured activities like this existing in the neighborhood.

Studies suggest that physically active communities are physically and mentally healthier, have higher high school graduation rates, and lower obesity rates, which tends to be a more prevalent issue in communities of color like Pilsen.

One of the goals of the tour is to draw people outside, away from technology, to bond with others.

“The culture of street soccer has been overwhelming to bring people together that otherwise wouldn’t come together in unstructured, free play. That’s just blossomed to finding more ways that we could bring that to the people, and that’s been our mission,� said Levin.

The pitches are open for people to start their own games or even just kick the ball around. Visitors have noticed how this makes the sport more approachable. 

“It’s not competitive; it’s more recreational. So there’s a little bit of pressure off of you. You can just show up, play, enjoy the community that we kind of built right now and just have fun,� said local soccer organizer Diego Moreno.

Street soccer has no rules, and that approach to the sport was implemented into the plan of implanting these pitches into the parks. There’s no requirement to book the space ahead of time or to ask for permission to play. The pitches are accessible, unlocked, and remain on-site overnight for the duration that they are in the community.

“What’s nice too is that it’s out here; you don’t necessarily have to ask anyone to use it. You can just come out, be a part of it, and then soccer’s a very welcoming sport,� said Moreno.

It was important to Levin and Mettle Sports to keep the tour free of rules and commitments. He explained that in the United States, most soccer fields are largely built with the intention of programming. He says that Mettle approaches the sport with a conscious effort not to over-structure and give freedom to those who choose to use their amenities, regardless of age, gender, or skill level.

“There’s not a single rule to a street soccer pitch,� he said.

As summer has progressed and the pitches traveled around Chicago, their green walls have filled with the spray-painted names of the neighborhoods they’ve seen, a colorful collage symbolic of the city’s culturally rich neighborhoods. Levin said, “I think people really enjoy creating their own space. I think it’s very empowering to give ownership of how you use an amenity to the community.�

The pitches can currently be found in Field (Eugene) Park in Albany Park. The tour will conclude this fall with a tournament held at Fleet Fields from Oct. 13-16. Mettle Sports says both the Chicago Street Soccer Tour and Cup will return next summer.

The post Chicago Street Soccer: Unifying Communities appeared first on ILLN.

Mental Health Resources for the new school year

In a collaborative effort to equip parents with the information necessary for the upcoming school year Illinois Latino News, WBEZ, and Association House of Chicago hosted the free, virtual and bilingual event: Community Conversation: Student Mental Health in Chicago Schools on August 18. 

The online conversation brought together a variety of mental health experts and educators to discuss resources available for Chicago parents and students.

Araceli Gomez-Aldana of WBEZ moderated the event which consisted of five panelists: Myra Rodriguez, Community Health Supervisor at Association House; Dr. Tara Gill, Psychologist and Mental Health Consultant at Lurie Children’s Hospital Center for Childhood Resilience; Catherine Whitfield Martin, Principal at Charles Sumner Math and Science Academy; Brian Coleman, Counselor at Jones College Prep and President at Illinois School Counselor Association; and Lucia del Rincon Martinez, Trauma Therapist at La Rabida Children’s Hospital Chicago Child Trauma Center. 

In the weeks leading up to the event, Illinois Latino News and WBEZ shared a survey that gave the public the opportunity to engage in the conversation by telling the newsrooms exactly what they wanted to know. These responses helped develop the final structure of the Community Conversation.

According to survey responses, the mental health of students is on parents’ minds. Experts validate these concerns, with 2021 data from the CDC revealing that 37 percent of high schoolers in the U.S. reported poor mental health during the pandemic and 44 percent saying they felt persistently sad or hopeless during that year. The American Academy of Pediatrics even declared the state of adolescent mental health a national emergency

One concern shared in the survey asked how parents can know the difference between mental health issues and a child just being a child. Rodriguez said that it’s easy for parents to assume some behaviors are due to developing adolescents, especially in teenagers, but that parents should be concerned if they start to notice patterns or differences in eating or sleeping habits that are not typical for that child. 

Parents also voiced concerns with helping their children deal with stress from school and pressure from extracurricular activities. 

“I think it’s really important for parents to recognize that they can set the tone in their household based on their family values,â€� said Dr. Gill. She said it’s important to model emotional safety and healthy ways to deal with stress because children pick up on how this is dealt with at home. 

Cultural barriers can impact how mental health is addressed. 

“In the Latino community talking about mental health, disorders, illnesses, it’s still very taboo. You know, there’s a lot of these assumptions that one is weak minded or it’s all in your mind, it’s all in your brain, don’t think about it,� explained Rodriguez.

This stigma, which exists in both the Latino and Black communities, often prevents in need people from seeking resources. Dr. Gill said that it’s okay to stay true to your cultural traditions while also implementing a healthier approach to mental wellness.

The event focused on helping parents understand the resources available at the school level. Both Whitfield Martin and Coleman expressed that they’ve seen a shift in how Chicago schools treat mental health and wellness, with much more resources being available now. They said that it’s important to understand the makeup of a student’s school’s system, who the key staff members to turn to are and common language used in order to best take advantage of what’s available in each school. 

“It’s about reaching out, finding who your support players are and normalizing that trusting, collaborative relationship that’s so important,� said Coleman.

To assist in establishing this relationship with your child’s teacher, Whitfield Martin suggests being transparent about your child’s specific needs and approaches you know work best for them. For parents who feel hesitant to engage with schools due to language barriers, Coleman ensures that plenty of resources are available to help families with these needs, but that parents have to express that they want help.

“The more information that a school has, then they can meet you where you are but we have to first know where you are, which means we have to first know you,� said Coleman.

Viewers who would like to provide feedback of the event can do so in English here or in Spanish here. WBEZ has compiled a resource guide to keep students happy and healthy this school year. This list is expected to be translated and available in Spanish in the coming weeks. 

The post Mental Health Resources for the new school year appeared first on ILLN.

In the name of Democracy

Elections are instruments of democracy. Through voting, people can voice their opinions, express their hopes and aspirations, and ultimately influence the direction of their local, state, and national governments.

Voting in the United States can often be an inaccessible process preventing eligible voters, particularly in marginalized communities, from casting their ballot. This is especially true for Hispanic Latinos. Many of them are new to the electoral process, either because they just came of age or in the case of foreign-born members of the group – they just became naturalized citizens.

The New Hampshire state primary election (September 8) and midterm election (November 8) are coming up. New Hampshire Latino News (NHLN) is committed to providing Granite Staters with the information and coverage they need to perform their civic duty.

To that end, NHLN is partnering with AARP New Hampshire (AARP NH) in hosting: Community Conversation: Voting in the New Hampshire Midterms and General Election at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics on August 30 at 7 p.m., which is open to the public.

This non-partisan event will feature a panel of industry experts who will explain the voting process in New Hampshire and share resources that can help residents engage and answer questions. Panelists include New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan and Executive Director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College, Neil Levesque.

NHLN and its sister digital news and information outlets under the Latino News Network are taking a collaborative approach to prioritize communities through solutions-focused reporting rather than problem-focused.

That change in newsroom culture begins with you helping shape the programming of the upcoming Community Conversation. A survey asking the public what questions they have about the elections is being shared ahead of the August 30 event. Our newsroom sees our communities as more than just our audience; they are collaborators. Please take the time to answer the short questionnaire at the end of this article.

NHLN is also working with Friends Vote Together, a grassroots organization dedicated to increasing voter turnout and civic action by rallying Americans to become more informed and educated citizens and voters. 

Friends will help the Latino News Network provide voters with resources and information to better understand which seats are up for election and the impact the outcome will have on reproduction rights and voter access.

Collaboration and inclusion are best practices our newsroom adopted from the Democracy SOS fellowship. NHLN is one of 20 U.S.-based newsrooms elected to participate in the Hearken and the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN) fellowship, committed to building understanding, trust, and engagement.

New Hampshire Latino News’ mission in covering the election and democracy is dedicated to building trust with our audience through collaboration, inclusion, and transparency. We will achieve this by:

  • Before making assumptions about what communities need to know, we commit to genuinely listening to them through surveys and in-person and virtual events in order to provide information that they’re missing.
  • We will partner with trusted organizations, that help us increase accessibility to the public, broaden the reach of our coverage and prevent misinformation.
  • Our reporting will not just revolve around the candidates or one day (Election Day), but rather voters and year-round with a focus on the work of policymaking process.

Collaboration is integral to the health of news and the health of democracy. 


About New Hampshire Latino News 

NH Latino News is part of the Latino News Network (LNN). LNN oversees an independent group of local news and information, English language, digital outlets with a statewide, Hispanic-Latino community editorial focus in New Hampshire, Illinois, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.

About Hugo Balta

Hugo Balta is the Owner/Publisher of the Latino News Network. A 30-year news veteran, Balta’s experience includes leadership positions with NBC, Telemundo, CBS, and ABC News networks.

The twice-elected President of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), Balta has dedicated his career to championing the fair and accurate treatment of Hispanic Latinos and other marginalized communities in newsrooms and news coverage.

CTLN Opinion+: Dawn La Valle

Welcome to another episode of Connecticut Latino News Opinion+, where we talk about major issues local Latinx and underrepresented communities face.

This week we spoke with Dawn La Valle, Director of the Division of Library Development for the Connecticut State Library. 

“We basically help and support our libraries to enhance their services that they provide to the community,� La Valle explained. The Division of Library Development offers all academic, public school, and special libraries a wide variety of funding, education, and leadership services. 

In this month’s episode, La Valle discussed the importance of digital equity across Connecticut’s diverse communities and shared about other inclusive efforts by the CT State Library, including the Connecticut State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (LBPH). 

“Digital Equity is about everyone having access, everyone being able to use a device to do their homework, to do their work,â€� she said. “The work that we’re doing with these libraries and educating communities is that the libraries are a wonderful place to go, many libraries offer devices, many libraries offer digital literacy classes.â€� 

Everyone is invited to Digital Inclusion Week, which will take place from October 3 – 7. The CT Libraries & Partners for Digital Equity have planned a full range of activities to showcase their efforts this past year and engage with residents. American Library Association Executive Director Tracie Hall, who has worked within digital equity for decades, will be featured as a keynote speaker. 

“We are going to highlight the work, the data, and the outcomes from the four libraries that received funding for digital navigator pilot projects,� La Valle said. “We’re going to hear from the digital navigators that have been working with these communities and allow them to tell their stories…telling the story of how this has impacted their lives [and] how this has impacted the communities.

For more information about equity and educational efforts by the CT State Library’s Division of Library Development, be sure to watch this full episode of Connecticut Latino News Opinion+.

“It’s so important for people in our communities to know that if they have a question, if they need accessibility if they need to learn to use a device—go to your library. We can help you,� La Valle said. 


Main CT State Library website:

Learn more about CT Libraries & Partners for Digital Equity (CTLPDE):

For more information on the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped:

View specific programs, services, and guides the Division of Library Development offers at:

NHLN Opinion+: Sarah Robinson

Welcome to another episode of New Hampshire Latino News Opinion+, where we talk about major issues the Latinx and other underrepresented communities face in the state of New Hampshire.

This week we spoke with Sarah Robinson, the Education Justice Coordinator of Granite State Progress. Granite State Progress works to engage citizens around issues that are of immediate state or local concern.

“What I’ve always valued about this organization is that it finds the things that matter to local progressive communities and helps to shine a light in the places where a little boost is needed,� said Robinson, who says that reproductive rights, abortion access, education justice, and gun violence are the group’s top issues at the moment.

Through Granite State Progress’ collaboration with other local groups, they found that some advocacy for public education was needed, especially given all of the changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re also focusing on keeping classrooms healthy. We had a real push against mask mandates in school boards this year, so we wanted to make sure that folks and communities had all of the information they needed to understand why having all the tools in your toolbox, including masking, was important to keep healthy classrooms,� she explained.

Robinson shared her concerns with people in power attempting to redistribute funds from public education and transfer them towards private and homeschooling, which she says takes resources away from the majority of New Hampshire’s students who attend public schools.

She also explained that specific concerns she has for public education come from outside parties stating that she’s always trusted that people in her community and elected officials had her children’s best interest at heart but that the pandemic highlighted the intensity of right-wing extremism infiltrated in local school boards. According to Robinson, often times these people are not even parents or community members and only travel to these events with the intention of spreading misinformation.

Robinson remains hopeful that building community and collaboration is the key to continuing to advocate for a fair and healthy education system.

“We get across the finish line together. We succeed when we build community on a micro and a macro level,� she said.


Granite State Progress:

Granite State Progress on Facebook:

New Hampshire Latino News Opinion+: Josie Pinto, The Reproductive Freedom Fund of New Hampshire:

Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ):

Concord NH SURJ:

Sarah Robinson’s email address:

Community Conversation: Student Mental Health

WBEZ Chicago and Illinois Latino News (ILLN) will host a second virtual Community Conversation on Thursday, August 18 at 7 pm (CST) as part of their partnership in best serving the public.

Between the pandemic, remote learning, school work and social media, Chicago students have lots to be stressed about. Ahead of the 2022-2023 school year, WBEZ and Illinois Latino News are aiming to help parents prepare to keep their kids healthy while learning. This virtual event will be built based on survey responses from Chicago parents.

COVID19 revealed inequities in healthcare, and other determinants of health among Hispanics-Latinos. ILLN and WBEZ collaborated on their first Community Conversation: Lessons Learned From the COVID-19 Pandemic in March.

Dr. Marina Del Rios, the first person in Chicago to receive the vaccine was among the guest speakers.

“There’s been an improvement, but we’re seeing a delay,� said Dr. Del Rios about getting Spanish dominant Hispanic Latinos information in their language of choice. �(It) speaks to the importance of having a diverse body of decision makers in public health in hospitals and clinics so that messaging is created we ensure it is multilingual and culturally competent.�

Hugo Balta, Publisher of ILLN, was the moderator of that event. “Now, more than ever, it is crucial for local news outlets to listen to the needs of the public they serve in helping shape the content we produce,� Balta said of the Community Conversation’s inclusive approach. �A survey ahead of the event is imperative in letting us know what issues matter most to the communities we serve.�

Community Conversation: Student Mental Health in Chicago Schools to be held on 8/18 will be built based on survey responses from Chicago parents.

Click here to fill out our back-to-school survey and let us know your questions about student mental health.

To register for the free event, click here: Community Conversation.

This virtual event will be available in both English and Spanish.

Our goal is to give you the information and resources you need to start the next school year off on the right foot!

About WBEZ Chicago

WBEZ is Chicago’s NPR news source and one of the largest and most respected public media stations in the country, serving the community with fact-based, objective news and information. WBEZ’s award-winning journalists ask tough questions, dig deep for answers and expose truths that spark change and foster understanding. In addition to its local and national news programming, WBEZ Chicago is home to a growing portfolio of popular podcasts, including the “Makingâ€� series of Making Beyoncé, Making Obama and Making Oprah; an investigative podcast series, Motive; 16 Shots: A podcast about the fatal police shooting of Laquan McDonald; Nerdette; and Curious City. WBEZ Chicago has a legacy of innovation as the birthplace of nationally acclaimed programs such as This American Life, and Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!, and the ground-breaking podcast, Serial. 

About ILLN

The online news publication is one of five independent statewide coverage, Hispanic-Latino editorial focus English language news, and information websites under the ownership and leadership of nationally recognized journalist and media advocate, Hugo Balta. 

ILLN’s mission is to provide greater visibility and voice to Hispanics-Latinos in Illinois – an underrepresented community in mainstream newsrooms and news coverage.

The post Community Conversation: Student Mental Health  appeared first on ILLN.

AARP NH and NHLN Host Community Conversation On New Hampshire Elections 

AARP New Hampshire (AARP NH) and New Hampshire Latino News (NHLN) announce a new partnership to give Granite Staters the tools and information they need to vote in the 2022 NH primary on September 13 and the midterm election on November 8.

The collaboration features a free, in-person event called Community Conversation: Voting in the New Hampshire Midterms and General Election at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics on August 30  at 7 p.m. that is open to the public. Doors open at 6:30 pm for networking.

“We are excited to team up with New Hampshire Latino News for this unique event that will explain everything Granite Staters need to know about voting in the upcoming election,� said AARP NH Interim State Director Erin Mitchell. “The age 50+ voting bloc is the largest in New Hampshire, and we want to ensure everyone understands all they need to know to vote this year.�

This event will feature a panel of industry experts who will explain the voting process in New Hampshire and share resources that can help citizens engage and answer questions. Panelists include New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan, Executive Director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College, Neil Levesque, and AARP NH Associate State Director of Advocacy, Jennifer Delaney. This in-person event will also be live streamed on social media.

“The partnership is about helping people with the mechanics of voting,â€� said Hugo Balta, Publisher of NHLN. “Things like, do you know where to vote? How to vote? What you need to bring to the polling station, and much more.â€�

A survey asking the public what questions they have about the elections will be shared ahead of the community conversation and will be included in the programming. “It is a best practice our newsroom adopted from the Democracy SOS fellowship,â€� said Balta.

NHLN is one of 20 U.S.-based newsrooms elected to participate in the Hearken and the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN) fellowship, committed to building understanding, trust, and engagement.

Another resource available to help voters is AARP New Hampshire’s Voters Guide. It includes information about what’s new in this year’s elections, important deadlines, and when to apply for an absentee ballot.

This event is FREE but you must register here:

About New Hampshire Latino News NH Latino News is part of the Latino News Network (LNN). LNN oversees an independent group of local news and information, English language, digital outlets with a statewide, Hispanic-Latino community editorial focus in New Hampshire, Illinois, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.

About AARP New Hampshire AARP is thriving in New Hampshire with nearly 215,000 members. AARP serves as a one-stop resource for the age 50+ population in the Granite State. We provide information about the breadth of local offerings, community engagement, volunteer opportunities, advocacy, and community events. We are focused on advancing age-friendly communities, celebrating family caregivers, protecting financial security, and making your voice heard. To learn more, visit or follow @AARPNH on social media.

NHLN’s mission is to provide greater visibility and voice to the Hispanic-Latino community, amplify the work of others doing the same, develop competencies of journalists, and produce investigative reporting based on the principles of solutions journalism.

Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos: Opening Doors

On Monday, June 27th, Governor Dan McKee signed the $13.6 billion budget for the 2023 fiscal year, promising many benefits for Rhode Island residents. 

Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos appears as a guest on the Latino News Network podcast, â€œ3 Questions With…” to share details of the new budget and the benefits to the Latino community.

“I’m excited about this budget and the investment we’re making in the future of the state of Rhode Island,â€� said Matos as she shared the different elements and the impact the budget will have on the Latino community. 

“One of the areas in which I advocated for… and I’m very pleased to see that was included in the budget was the Cover All Kids campaign,� she said. This campaign will ensure that all children in the state of Rhode Island have access to health coverage regardless of their immigration status.

The Lt Governor shared other elements she advocated for that were included in the budget, like additional coverage for new mothers, investment specifically allocated for minority-owned small businesses, and a historical investment to improve homeownership in the state, taking an important step to eliminate critical disparities experienced by the Hispanic community.

 â€œI have seen first hand through my involvement with the housing advocate organizations… how building affordable housing transforms a community and transforms the quality of life of those individuals that live in that community. That’s why I make this such a priorityâ€�.

SUGGESTION: Sabina Matos: Leading The “Messy� Work Of Democracy

Lt Governor Sabina Matos was appointed as the 17th Lieutenant Governor of the state of Rhode Island on April 14, 2021, being the first Dominican American to hold this position in the United States.

“This appointment means so much to our community,â€� said Matos, deeply honored and humbled. “It means so much for our young people because they finally see someone that looks like them, that sounds like them, in a position of leadership in the state of Rhode Island…They can see that ‘this could be me, I can be this person one day.â€�

Do you have a suggestion for a guest to be featured on “3 Questions With…�? Send us your ideas to

Ilhiana Rojas Saldana is the Founder, and CEO of BeLIVE Coaching & Consulting.

She is the author of the collaborative book, Extraordinary Latinas: Powerful Voices of Resilience, Courage & Empowerment.

Rojas Saldana is also a member of the New England chapter of the Network of Executive Women (NEW).

Ilhiana is no stranger to the Latino News Network, she was a guest on the podcast “3 Questions With…”: Pulling Herself Up.

CTLN Celebrates 10 Years Serving Connecticut Latinos

CTLN founders Diane Alverio and Donna Elkinson-Miller first envisioned an inclusive media outlet dedicated to English-speaking Latino residents across Connecticut in July of 2012. 

10 years later, the flagship site has grown into a trusted and reliable network of five local media outlets that serve diverse Latino communities across New England and the Midwest.  

“There was no significant coverage of Latinos and Latino issues in CT,â€� Alverio said. “When there was any coverage by the mainstream press, it was extremely limited and at times stereotypical.â€� 

Alverio has been locally recognized by the Hartford Club, the City of Hartford, Progresso Latino Fund of the Community Foundation of Greater Hartford, the Connecticut Hispanic Bar Association, and more for her work through civic organizations—including CTLN. She is also been the principal and owner of D.Alverio & Co.

Elkinson-Miller had started Elkinson-Miller Marketing LLC in 2012, after building a successful career within marketing and advertising with over a decade of experience, when Alverio approached her with the idea of CTLN. 

“I immediately realized the importance of her vision,� Elkinson-Miller said. “My mother is first-generation in the U.S. from Croatia, and I recall her stories about her arrival [about] learning English, going to a new school in a new country, etc. She lived with relatives, so she had guidance. Today, navigating the available support systems is much more complicated!� 

Connecticut Latino News original logo, July 2012

There were a few initial challenges occasionally, including funding and finding interns, but mostly convincing advertisers that Latino residents could be reached in English through culturally competent media. 

However, Elkinson-Miller said there was a quick learning curve, and with the support of professional contacts and their own families, the publication soon became successful and well-received among a variety of local communities. 

Diane Alverio, CTLN/LNN Founder,
January 2022

“Within a year, we were nationally recognized and received a McCormick Foundation award to expand to Massachusetts and Rhode Island,â€� Alverio said. “I am thrilled Hugo Balta has continued to expand Latino News Network.â€� 

In 2013, CTLN was awarded McCormick Foundation’s New Media Women Entrepreneurs Initiative (NMWE)—a highly competitive national grant administered by J-Lab—to expand its coverage of Latinos across New England. 

Alverio and Elkinson-Miller always planned to expand CTLN’s statewide coverage and Hispanic-Latino editorial focus to other parts of New England with significant Latino populations. 

Current CTLN Owners Adriana and Hugo Balta acquired the publication in 2019, with immediate plans to rebrand and expand the outlet’s work. 

“I drew from what she (Diane Alverio) had learned and built on it in Connecticut, and New England, and now the Midwest,� Balta said. There are alarming news deserts, no matter the size of the market, when it comes to serving the U.S. born, English language first, Hispanics-Latinos.�

CTLN Publisher Hugo Balta first heard about the publication in 2012 when Alverio shared her vision for the outlet with him. Balta found her response to the lack of inclusion of Latino communities in English language legacy media innovative. 

“As a veteran journalist, I was frustrated at the excuses given by the homogeneous news managers for the systemic problems resulting in the one-dimensional negative, biased narratives of Latinos across all platforms,â€� Balta said. “CTLN afforded me the opportunity to stop asking for a seat at the table figuratively, and by collaborating with others—not just build our own seats, but our own tables.â€� 

Advocating for the fair and accurate treatment of Latinos in newsrooms and news coverage is familiar work for Balta and Alverio. They are both past presidents of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ).

Diane Alverio and Hugo Balta, 2012

CTLN General Sales Manager Adriana said it has been exciting to be a part of an initiative that is focused on best serving local Latino communities. Her work seeks to build bridges between people and businesses looking to understand the Latino population better and leverage their power. 

Adriana and Hugo Balta, Chicago, 2021

“Latinos are driving the population, cultural, political, and economic growth of the U.S.,� she said. “We, at Connecticut Latino News (CTLN), and the other affiliates under the Latino News Network (LNN) work in exploring opportunities to inform, educate, and empower the community.�

Latino News Network expanded to New Hampshire (NHLN), Massachusetts (MALN) in 2020, and Rhode Island (RHLN) and Illinois (ILLN) in 2021, with plans of extending to Wisconsin this year.

The network has built on the success of its founders. In 2021, the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN) chose LNN as one of 10 U.S. newsrooms to work on the Advancing Democracy project. CTLN evaluated barriers Latinos in the state have to the democratic process, as well as ways those problems are being addressed.

This year the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN) and Hearken chose LNN to participate in Democracy SOS, a nine-month fellowship supporting reporters and editors in significantly strengthening journalism’s role in advancing our democracy through innovative approaches that build civic engagement, equity, and healthy discourse.

This month, the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism announced it had selected 26 journalists to participate in its 2022 National Fellowship to investigate and explore challenges impacting child, youth, and family health and well-being in the United States. Annabel Rocha, Editor for Latino News Network – Midwest and Writer for Illinois Latino News (ILLN), is among them. For her project, Rocha will be exploring Period Poverty. Period Poverty or Menstrual Poverty is defined as the lack of access to menstrual products, education, hygiene facilities, and/or waste management. 

“Ten years later, and I deeply believe, CTLN and the other media sites through Latino News Network are needed more than ever,� Alverio said. “You just have to look at the polarization in this country and the attempted coverage by the media of what are clearly two realities. Latinos and our stories can not be lost in the chaos.�

About Connecticut Latino News (CTLN)

Founded in July of 2012, CTLN is the flagship news and information, multi-platform, digital outlet of the Latino News Network. CTLN is the first English language news publication in Connecticut solely dedicated to serving Hispanics-Latinos.

The online news source of Connecticut Latinos provides multimedia coverage and storytelling via its website, YouTube channel, podcast, and social media: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Linkedin.

About the Latino News Network (LNN)

The Latino News Network (LNN) oversees an independent group of local news and information, English language, and digital outlets with a statewide, Hispanic-Latino community editorial focus in Illinois, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.

LNN’s mission is to provide greater visibility and voice to the Hispanic-Latino community, amplify the work of others doing the same, develop competencies of journalists, and produce investigative reporting based on the principles of solutions journalism.

LNN is owned by Balta Enterprises, LLC.

Please support the work of Connecticut Latino News and the Latino News Network by becoming a member or making a donation: I SUPPORT CTLN!

Chicago’s Water Bill Burden

Publisher’s Note: Please participate in a short survey at the end of the story. Knowing how this story may have influenced you will help guide our future reporting...Thank you!

When Anthena Gore was a teenager, she noticed that water in her home tasted different than water at school or at her friends’ houses in the suburbs. She also noticed that other Black Chicagoans near her North Lawndale residence had a similar experience. 

Gore, an adolescent at that time, felt drawn to the natural world, especially water – “the only digestible utility we have,â€� she said that is so simple yet essential. Years later, she turned her fascination into a profession and became a programs strategist at Elevate, a nonprofit organization designing programs to bring clean and affordable heat, power, and water to vulnerable communities. 

Working with water, Gore still believes it is simple. “It’s really the system that we have built, the infrastructure we have used, and the way we have structured our communities that makes something so simple very difficult,� she says. And she knows about it first-hand too:

Gore is a co-author of City of Chicago Water Affordability Analysis, a joint report from Elevate and the Metropolitan Planning Council. According to the report, in Chicago, the water burden is not evenly distributed across households of different races or income levels. 

Photo by Chanhee Lee on Unsplash

The water bill burden is the percentage of a household’s income that goes toward paying water bills

“We saw that for Chicago’s lowest-income households, the burden is about 10%, “Gore explained. “Which is way over the 4.5% threshold that the Environmental Protection Agency set nationally.” 

Translated into more straightforward language, low-income households in Chicago have to pay a disproportionally big chunk of their income for water. Big bills result in water debt or shutoffs, leaving families without water.

Which households are the most affected? Since the household-level income data is not available, Elevate looked at the census tract and the income quintiles  – groups within the population that are compiled based on how much of their income they have left to spend freely after taxes and other deductions – to isolate small geographic regions and determine average household income in it. 

The report found that the most affected households in Chicago are on the city’s West and Soth sides – Such as Austin and Humboldt Park on the West side and Riverdale and South Deering on the far Southside – where the majority of the population is non-White. For example, the water bill burden for Black households in places like Riverdale reaches an alarming 19 percent of the household’s total annual income. In contrast, the water bill burden for majorly White families, for example, on the North Side, sits at 4 percent. Oliver Ciciora, an environmental justice organizer with the Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation (SOUL), attributes the disproportion to environmental racism and historical redlining of the city. 

Ciciora says investments in Black and Brown low-income communities are scarce – to the point where lack of such an essential service as transportation prevents Southsiders from accessing Downtown Chicago and its higher-paying job market. Gore agrees: “In certain places [across Illinois], the incomes have kept pace or outpaced the water expenses for households,� he says. “In many of Chicago’s southern suburbs, the incomes have not kept pace.� 

How is water billed in Chicago?

To answer why water expenses are increasing in Chicago, it is vital to understand how billing works: Each water bill includes charges for the sewer and garbage lines, fees, and additional payments. The average bill increases drastically – by $500 annually – if a household is not metered. In this case, a home gets billed once every six months, while its metered counterpart receives bills every two or three months. With significant gaps, bills are more costly, resulting in higher taxes and more frequent penalties for late payment. 

How is the City of Chicago responding?

The election campaign of now-Chicago’s-mayor Lori Lightfoot relied heavily on water-related promises. The promises came to life with varying success:

In 2019, when Lightfoot took office, around 150,000 households in the city had received shutoff orders. The same year, the mayor introduced a moratorium on water shutoffs, banning shutoffs due to non-payment. However, the pandemic prolonged the moratorium, which expired on April 1, 2022. By the end of April, the mayor re-introduced it, aiming to ban water shutoffs again, but it was voted down in May 2022. Water commissioner Andrea Cheng said at the time that the Chicago City Council generally agreed with the intent of improving water affordability. Still, it would also not be possible to implement what the ordinance required. 

Anthena Gore supports the ordinance and says water advocates are pushing to make it permanent. 

In 2019 Chicago terminated the MeterSave Program –which had installed 130,000 meters citywide since its launch in 2009 – citing concerns with lead levels in the water. In May 2022, however, Major Lightfoot pledged to resume the voluntary installation of water meters to 180,000 households without them.

Oliver Ciciora is skeptical about the initiative: “The current ordinance about metering is not concrete,� he says. “It states that the City may change the meters within 90 days, but it doesn’t say that they will install a meter into your home.�

As the metering process might prove lengthy still, Gore suggests formulating a new calculation for nonmetered households. The current formula is based on factors like the square footage of the building, the number of outputs, and others, so “bills do not reflect the actual usage of water in the household,â€� Gore adds. 

In 2020, Chicago also switched to a permanent utility billing relief program. Through the program, qualified residents of Chicago will be paying their water and sewer charges – with garbage charges not included – at a 50 percent reduced rate. In addition, after paying on time for 12 months, they will be forgiven their past water debt. 

“[Residents] can stay on the program indefinitely as long as they are income-eligible,” Gore explains. “So that helped a little bit with the non-meter issue, but it doesn’t exactly address the entire affordability challenge across the city.” Indeed, the program is limited to homeowners of single-family or 2-unit properties whose income qualification is generally 200 percent of the federal poverty level. 

Is there a better approach to water affordability?

Ciciora and his colleagues at SOUL have been working closely with their colleagues in Baltimore, Maryland, in an attempt to advocate for an equivalent of the city’s successful Water ForAll program. 

In 2015 the city of Baltimore was facing a wave of water shutoffs, where 20 thousand households were left without access to water. Advocacy groups, such as Food and Water Watch, got involved and have since been trying to change the city’s approach to water. As a result, Baltimore passed the Water Accountability and Equity Act this year – the model SOUL hopes to implement in Chicago. 

“The idea of this model is income-based water affordability,” explains Mary Grant, the Public Water for all campaign director at Food and Water Watch. The program uses a formula to calculate the maximum amount of bills a resident should pay for annual water and sewer services based on the household income percentage. The percentage can not exceed 3 percent of a household’s income and so would not burden it to the point where residents are forced to remain without water. 

Where grassroots organizations first popularized the income-based approach two decades ago, Philadelphia was the first and only city before Baltimore to pass the law in 2017. Since then, “they gave about $10 million in discounts a year, but the net cost after you account for improved bill payment patterns is $2 million,” Grant says. “So they’re actually only collecting $2 million less, even despite providing $10 million in discounts.” 

For Grant, this is evidence of improved bill payment patterns, where the city is collecting more money after assisting than it used to without it. “It’s a win-win situation for the city and the customers,” Grant adds.

Despite seemingly positive data from Philadelphia, cities have been reluctant to follow suit: In Detroit, advocates have fought for years, collecting data and generating research, but the city has not passed the law yet. Mary Grant sees this as a problem that easily translates to Chicago’s situation:

“The utility itself can be hesitant to change without good leadership, right?” She says. “You need proactive leadership and legislation to make that change.” 

“It’s really the system that we have built, the infrastructure we have used, and the way we have structured our communities that makes something so simple very difficult”

Athena Gore, Strategist, Water Programs, Elevate

Gore sees cultural factors in Chicago’s unwillingness to change: 

“The [utilities] industry has been predominantly homogeneous for half a century, with infrastructure that has not been upgraded for almost two centuries. America, in general, is at a turning point right now where once we bring everybody in, we can start from a place of justice.” She adds that affordability concerns should start with respect for every individual affected. 

Mary Grant echoes her sentiment by concluding in a clear, digestible manner – isn’t water the only digestible utility after all? – “Just providing assistance isn’t enough. You really need to meet people where they’re at, making sure they have bills that are affordable for them based on their income.”

Cover Photo by SHTTEFAN on Unsplash

Irina Matchavariani is a graduate student at the Missouri School of Journalism.

She is working with Illinois Latino News (ILLN) as part of the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute’s (RJI) Student Innovation Fellowships program, gaining hands-on experience helping the outlets connect with their audiences.

A native of the Republic of Georgia, Irina’s experience includes working with Vox Magazine and the Columbia Missourian.

Please take our short survey


The post Chicago’s Water Bill Burden appeared first on ILLN.