Former Chicago Heights public housing residents enjoy annual reunion
BY CASEY TONER firstname.lastname@example.org June 27, 2013 5:44PM
Vernice Mitchell holds up a shirt promoting the annual reunion for former residents of Wentworth Gardens in Chicago Heights. | Casey Toner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 30, 2013 6:04AM
Once a year, former residents of what was known as Wentworth Gardens get together and celebrate a reunion.
The housing project located at Lincoln Highway and Wentworth Avenue in Chicago Heights was torn down about 10 years ago. Before it was demolished, the site had about 10 three-story apartment buildings, all government-subsidized housing.
The land that once was home to more than 180 apartments now is vacant and covered by grass.
Vernice Mitchell, 44, lived in the public housing complex for four years until she turned 16 and moved out of state.
“It’s very sad,” said Mitchell, who is back in Chicago Heights, living on the west side of the city. “Every day I ride down there, it’s hard to believe. I remember we used to play outside from the morning until dusk — all the stores that used to be there are gone. It was a little world inside.”
To keep the memory of the housing project alive, Mitchell hosts an annual get-together for former Wentworth Garden residents. It’s called the Wentworth Reunion, and this year’s is to take place from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. July 20 at nearby Hodges Park, 352 E. 16th St.
Mitchell said the idea came up in 2009 when she and others went to the park to celebrate the life of a friend who died of leukemia. Every year since, Mitchell and Crystal Wallace have hosted an all-day picnic at the park. The turnout grows every year. More than 400 people attended last year.
“A lot of the people from Wentworth Gardens moved away and started a new life somewhere else,” Mitchell said.
“They drive in, they fly in, and we’re kind of shocked. There’s nothing to see (where Wentworth Gardens was), but they come back anyway,” she said.
This year at the reunion, Mitchell has booked camel rides, a bouncy house for children, a disc jockey, a magician, break dancers, singers and a motivational speaker, Emir Hardy, of Ford Heights.
Mitchell calls the gathering a celebration of life. In prior years, she had T-shirts made for the event that featured the names of all the families that used to live in Wentworth Gardens.
This year, Mitchell said, the picnickers will take a moment of silence and release balloons into the air to honor people who lived in Wentworth Gardens and since have died.
“You only see your old classmates and friends at funerals, when it’s a sad occasion,” Mitchell said. “We decided to put it together while everyone is alive. We always get together on a sad note, but this is a happy day.”