Carley Mostar, MBA ’19, cares about her community and it shows. This summer, Carley was selected as a finalist in the Ford College Community Challenge (Ford C3) for two proposed neighborhood improvement initiatives. The challenge invites students worldwide to partner with organizations to design projects that address critical needs of their community. Carley first heard about Ford C3 through her involvement in the UIC Business chapter of Net Impact, a nonprofit membership organization for students and professionals interested in using business skills in support of various social and environmental causes.
After doing more research, Carley learned that Ford C3 awards funding of $25,000 to college and university students who design and develop solutions to improve their neighborhoods. As someone who was already an involved East Garfield Park resident, she saw Ford C3 as an opportunity to obtain the funding necessary to push existing initiatives in her community forward.
Once Carley decided that she would pursue Ford C3 funding, she went to work. She had two projects in mind that she considered submitting: one for an East Garfield Park community café and another for a shared, community green space called “Info Park.” For the East Garfield Park community café, she was already in talks with her local block club president, Tracelli Rockford, and other residents to develop the concept. “The café idea actually started because Mrs. Rockford had been trying to find a space and wanted to bring resources together,” Carley explains. Carley, Mrs. Rockford, her alderman, and a local clergyman agreed that there was a need for a community café space that could house block club meetings, trainings, and other local events. Carley appreciated that everyone involved was on the same page. “It felt like everyone knew that this [space] is needed. We’re approaching it from different angles, but the project was just really organic in that way. Even if this project does not get selected, I think we all still have the intention to make this happen some other way.”
In comparison, her other project, “Info Park” was more of a collaboration between Carley, her fellow residents, and the UIC School of Architecture. The Info Park would be conceptualized by community members and designed by UIC Design students. Similar to the East Garfield Park community café, Carley already had a plan in mind. “I live on the block where the Info Park would be, where there are a few empty lots. The idea is to turn one of the lots into a member-use space for the community to use as our own public or private space.” The Chicago Tribune reports that there are nearly 2,500 vacant lots in the city, most of them within south- and west-side neighborhoods, such as East Garfield Park (2018). Transforming the empty lot into the proposed “Info Park” would provide residents with a beautiful space to convene and unwind. Regardless of which project was selected, Carley’s mission was to ensure that the community received the maximum benefit. “It’s very important to me when doing this kind of work to make sure that the people who the work is for have their voices centered in the outcome of the project.”
Yet, with most projects come a few challenges. Carley found the process of submitting both projects difficult, but her drive and determination gave her the strength to power through. “I ultimately submitted both projects because I really loved them both and I never in a million years thought that both projects would make it to the top 20. Getting the videos together was a lot of work. The first phase was all writing – budgets, timeliness, and proposals. That was a little bit of a scramble, but getting both of those together was worth it to me because they’re both really great ideas.” She also credits entrepreneurship professor and Net Impact program advisor Maija Renko as a source of encouragement as well. When Carley was unsure of whether or not to submit both projects, it was Professor Renko who urged her to take a leap of faith and submit both.
Congratulations are in order for Carley: in July she was informed that her “Info Park” project secured the $25,000 funding from Ford C3, along with nine other winning projects. Since receiving the funding, the project has officially launched – she and her collaborators in the neighborhood and in the School of Architecture have started with community engagement workshops and have even started researching fabricators and vendors to work with in preparation for construction, slated to start in early spring of 2019. Carley’s work is an inspiration to business students as she shows that #UICMeansBusiness not only within the college, but within our communities.