Willenborg Internship Gives Political Science Major Experience in Community Organizing

Amy Villasenor, right, works on a butterfly sanctuary in the Pilsen community.

Preparing and serving food at a shelter for Chicago’s homeless gave Amy Villasenor her first taste of volunteerism as a high school student.

This summer, the rising sophomore and political science major at Dominican experienced community outreach in a new way — as a neighborhood organizer.

Thanks to a Willenborg Civic Action internship, Villasenor was partnered with Working Family Solidarity (Solidaridad de Familias Trabajadoras) in Pilsen, an organization advocating for housing and employment rights.

Her work has involved community door-to-door canvassing in the Pilsen community, talking to residents about Working Family Solidarity’s outreach efforts and key issues. These include fighting for affordable housing in the community, informing workers of their legal rights, urging businesses to hire local workers, and emphasizing the importance of green spaces.

In particular, Villasenor has reached out to residents to inform them of the organization’s fight to prevent former public housing land within the ABLA Homes area from being developed into a professional soccer training facility. Residents of public housing that once stood on the land were forced to relocate when the buildings were demolished two decades ago.

A federal lawsuit against the Chicago Housing Authority and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, alleging fair housing laws and civil rights were violated with the sale of the land, was filed by housing advocates and residents in June of this year.

“People were displaced with the promise that more equitable, affordable housing would be built in its place, but now 20 years later, that promise still hasn’t been fulfilled,” Villasenor said.

In her role with Working Family Solidarity, Villasenor collects input from residents, provides them with information, and encourages them to join the organization in their housing and labor fight.

Additionally, she has been involved in the building of a butterfly sanctuary for the community to enjoy and learn about the importance of native plants and green space.

“I love hearing people’s stories and what they think,” Villasenor said of her work. “Everyone is really kind when you talk to them and get to know them. And I really enjoy that the people I’m working with are so passionate about what they do.”

“I have valued from this experience in the people I have met and the people I work with,” she added.

The Willenborg Civic Action internship provides Dominican University students with real-world, hands-on civic engagement experience with organizations advocating for racial and economic justice.

By Yasmin Silva
Yasmin Silva