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Meet the woman working to make sure neighborhoods across Chicago have safe places to play ball


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    CHICAGO (WBBM) — Alicia Gonzalez’s story and life of service started in Pilsen but it’s taken her to the North Side, where she’s working for more equity in youth sports, as executive director of Cubs Charities.

“I will say that I think it was always my purpose in life to be of service,” she said.

Few of us can say we knew our calling as kids, but Gonzalez did.

“I was literally in the womb at protests downtown,” she said. “Other little girls were playing with Barbies. I was folding flyers and going door to door community organizing with my father or my mother.”

She split her childhood between the Pilsen neighborhood and Mexico; her parents never missing a chance to show her how fortunate she was.

“Empathy was instilled in me at a very young age,” she said.

Then came an education in inequities.

“Sports was a huge part of my life, but I always had to go outside of my community in order to access those resources,” she said. “At six years old, I told my dad that it was unfair, and he said, ‘Mija, do something about it.’ And I said, ‘I will.'”

That conversation became Gonzalez’s driving force in a life dedicated to bringing opportunity for sports to every and any Chicago neighborhood. She founded Chicago Run, which works to get school aged kids moving and learning.

“One of the central focus areas of developing that organization was connecting children, through sport, from all these diverse community across the city,” she said.

Now with Cubs Charities, she’s working on bringing the resources required to play ball to more places. Its Diamond Project puts funding into giving facelifts to ballfields across the city.

“We’re trying to do something about that here at Cubs Charities by providing our youth with the same quality programs, the same quality coaches that a kid on the North Side can have,” she said. “We’re providing that free of charge for our youth.”

Inspired by her personal history, Gonzalez’ impact is in creating what she didn’t have growing up: the chance to be an athlete, with all the bells and whistles in your own backyard, no matter where you live. And she’s not done.

“We have a lot more to do. I think we have been building this continuum of programming for several years now. It needs a home. It needs an indoor and outdoor place where we can house our programs,” she said.

And if you ask her if she’ll make it happen, like her dad did decades ago, she’ll tell you she will.

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