Born and raised on Chicago’s South Side, Sheray Wallace ’14 struggled with adversity and family dynamics but found support in a community where children respected each other’s parents and neighbors were like family.
Those impressions and lessons helped the now 51-year-old mother of three with six grandchildren to dedicate much effort and time to making the Meadowood neighborhood on the Southwest Side, where she’s lived for 14 years, a better place.
Since childhood, Wallace wanted to be a nurse, and left Chicago for Madison in 1999. She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in criminal justice from Upper Iowa University. She has a community health worker certificate and is certified nursing assistant. She currently works as a community health worker based at the Meadowridge Library.
In November, Mayor Paul Soglin announced that Wallace is the recipient of the annual Jeffrey Clay Erlanger Civility in Public Discourse Award.
What should people know about Meadowood?
Our neighborhood is a beautiful neighborhood and you have many people in this community that are vested and concerned about the people that are least fortunate. They would like to see everyone thrive to be able to live comfortable and safe. This is a neighborhood that continues to reach out and help each other.
What are the neighborhood’s strengths?
Meadowood Neighborhood Association, Good Shepard Church, Orchard Ridge Church and the other churches in our immediate community that get involved in the community. Joining Forces for Families has been a positive strength that has served our community well. The Meadowridge Library director, Alice Oakey, has brought a new dynamic to the community as she supports my community health work and the kids in our community. Her staff is awesome, especially how they engage the kids in projects and programs in the evening. They make sure the kids are not hungry and that they are doing their homework. Our alderman, Matt Phair, represents our community and engages with the people in our community, which makes a difference.
What about needs?
We need more support to help the people in our community to stay stabilized in housing and offer them help in searching for employment. Joining Forces for Families should receive more funding to help the people they are serving.
What is the Meadowood Health Partnership?
It is a collaborative of community-based organizations, city government entities, and local health agencies working together to provide information, services and access to residents living in the Meadowood community. The collaborative was established in 2016 to address racial disparities in healthcare in the Meadowood neighborhood.
MHP will improve access to health and medical information and services to families by each community partner providing assistance and services in which the entity excels.
Why is it important?
It opens the door for understanding what the people’s needs are, seeks solutions and allows you to hear and advocate for the voiceless people that don’t have time or feel it is useful to speak about their disparities.
How have things improved since the troubling Race to Equity findings were released a few years ago?
Conversations have improved awareness about the disparities in our community which have led to people like me being able to continue my work. More resources need to be made available so that neighborhoods will be strengthened.
What else do you do to make the neighborhood a better place?
I organize community suppers. I provide resources to people that are in need, such as the work I do with Project Babies Mobile Babies’ Closet. I have a Neighborhood Baby Closet in my home. I also provide needed information about community resources through my nonprofit, Neighborhood Connectors, Inc. My membership on the Equal Opportunities Commission has allowed me to enhance my interest in providing advocacy and information for people who are looking for justice.
What have you learned about the neighborhood and city through your efforts?
Be a part of the process. Make a difference in how you perceive your community.
(This article was posted to the Bridge Online with permission from Dean Mosiman and the Wisconsin State Journal. The story was originally published in the Journal’s “Know Your Madisonian” section Friday, January 5.)