John Groene, Humbolt Park Portal
Published: February 24, 2012

For the first nine years since moving to Chicago, the Shirk family of six lived in a 2-bedroom apartment, and had long believed that homeownership was out of their reach.  Until they discovered a vacant, single-family home for sale on the 200 block of North Hamlin – looking directly into the backyards of both the Garfield Conservatory and Garfield Park.  This location appealed to their belief in the church’s responsibility to community revitalization by loving and serving their neighbors.  It also appealed to their interest in gardening having volunteered for years with both the Wicker Park Advisory Council and Wicker Park Garden Club, even though they lived in a second story apartment.

After visiting with West Humboldt NHS and learning about NHS programs for first-time homebuyers, the Shirk family discovered that homeownership just might be within their means.  The Shirk family completed the 8-hour homebuyer education classes at North Lawndale NHS, individual pre-purchase counseling with West Humboldt NHS and applied for a purchase loan through NLS.  Through an NHS partnership with First Eagle Bank, a member of the NHS Community Banks Initiative, the Shirks were able to also receive a grant for first-time homebuyers through the Federal Home Loan Bank, making their new home truly affordable.

Since moving into their new house, the Shirk family has shown the power of what one family can do, organizing both neighbors and volunteers to transform the vacant lot on the corner of their block, long-overgrown with weeds and filled with trash, into a beautiful community garden, uncovering a stone walkway and planters just waiting to be re-discovered.  They worked with Alderman Jason Ervin’s office, the Open Lands Committee, the Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance and the Wicker Park Garden Club to carry out this transformation.  In October, the Shirk family shared their story at the NHS Annual Awards Ceremony. 

Today the Shirk family is continuing to explore partnerships to ensure that the two vacant lots, blooming with flowers again, remain a permanent asset to their neighborhood, and are leading a fundraising campaign to purchase these two lots – Wicker Park Garden Club has agreed to be the fiscal agent for this effort.  For more information on how you can support this budding community garden, contact Mr. Shirk at