In an effort to bring the Knox and Galesburg communities together, seniors Eden McKissick-Hawley and Eric Coats have spent the past two years working to create the Galesburg Organizing Project, or the GO Project, a bipartisan nonprofit that collaborates with the Galesburg community on local initiatives. Recently, the GO Project turned its attention toward gaining feedback from local residents on what they want to see in City Council’s potential renovation of the Galesburg Armory.
“We want the city council to make a decision that is going to reflect the needs and wants of the entire community — not just those with the resources or the ability to speak up and voice their opinions, but those who are less heard in the community as well,” said McKissick-Hawley, who serves as co-director with Coats.
Located across the street from Fat Fish Pub, the Galesburg Armory was the first armory built in Illinois and once housed National Guard weaponry. The building, now vacant, was later turned over to the city for possible redevelopment. By canvassing across town, the GO Project collected survey responses from residents of the Galesburg community on what they would like to see from that redevelopment. On Monday, May 16, the project organizers presented data collected from 506 surveys to City Council.
Professor of Environmental Studies and City Council Alderman Peter Schwartzman was impressed by their work.
“I thought that the presentation that was given on Monday was exceptional,” he said. Schwartzman added that the council could make use of the information at an upcoming meeting in June when council members will discuss the armory’s future.
McKissick-Hawley credited one of Schwartzmann’s classes as a source of inspiration for starting the organization, along with the book “Boom, Bust, Exodus” by Chad Broughton, which tells the story of how Galesburg has been impacted by global trade. The GO Project invests its time in initiatives like canvassing because its members value the perspectives of local residents, who comprise roughly half of their membership.
“We are really here as students to serve the community and learn from them and not to lead, ” Hawley said.
The Project’s data reports show that many residents felt the redeveloped armory should provide Wi-Fi and include a teen lounge. Freshman member David Petrak, who spoke with members who completed the surveying, also noted that residents expressed a strong desire for a safe place for children to play.
“A lot of people are concerned about the safety of their children in the parks. I think a lot of people want the armory to be a safe place for teens, kids and senior citizens to hangout,” Petrek said.
Hawley estimated that about 25 active members have volunteered their time to canvass. She said they knocked on roughly 1,500 doors all over the city and received survey responses online, as well.
Canvassing the city, however, posed several challenges. Sometimes the homes they visited were vacant, and oftentimes residents were not at home. Coats mentioned that among the issues he experienced while surveying were residents who could not read or write or who did not speak English.
Coats feels he’s gained a lot from engaging with the community, despite these challenges.
“Canvassing is a great thing to build your ability to talk to different people. You don’t know who’s going to open that door,” Coats said.
According to Coats, now that the GO Project has presented what they learned from canvassing, the decision about the armory’s future is largely out of their hands. Schwartzman mentioned that City Council will hold an open house event at the beginning of June for residents to attend and possibly view new designs for the armory. However, he is unsure whether the council will continue using the GO Project’s surveys or develop new surveys in order to conduct their own research.
In preparation for next year, the GO Project has begun assessing how to reach out to more members in the community and attract more volunteers to the organization. Members have connected with local churches, for instance, in hopes of sparking interest within the congregation to volunteer their time. The Project has also started work on their Galesburg Timebank, a kind of “pay it forward” system used to connect members of the Galesburg and Knox community through volunteer opportunities.