North Lawndale students find solace in nature as they help restore Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

WILMINGTON, Ill. (WLS) -- Sixty miles south of Chicago along the historic Route 66 sits the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, which served as the Joliet Army Ammunition Plant during World War II. Thanks to a group of students at North Lawndale High School, it's now being restored to its natural glory.

"It's important to restore it because it's a big part of nature and our environment," high school senior Derrick Hawthorne said. "It's going to help animals, it's going to help us."

And it's helping these teens get out of their neighborhoods, and get a break from the day-to-day exposure to violence.

"What interested me in this job is that I was going to be leaving home," said Willie Isby, a senior at North Lawndale High School.

"You know, part of the neighborhood, there's a lot of shootings every weekend," teacher Steve Paglia said. "In fact, we were in touch with some tragedy. One of the students here lost her brother this summer. And for them to come here, they can focus on the work and they can relax. They don't have to guarded, they don't have to be defensive, they don't have to be tough and they can just be themselves."

For six weeks out of the summer, the students drive an hour and a half each way to Midewin to see a world they wouldn't see otherwise.

"I never knew nature was so important until I started working for Midewin," student Jahliah Bluntson said. "In the city, there's a lot of things going on - a lot of bad things going on - and this is like a getaway for me. I get a little bit piece of mind."

Twenty-eight students apply for eight spots, eager to get their chance to escape the city.

Building a Better Chicago is an ongoing series of ABC7 Eyewitness News reports spotlighting the people and groups working toward solutions and improvements across our area. If you know of someone who is Building A Better Chicago, contact ABC7 here.
Copyright © 2021 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.