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PUSH leader to leave organization that scored neighborhood successes

Aaron Bartley announced Thursday that he will leave People United for Sustainable Housing, an organization widely recognized for helping transform a 30-block area on the West Side.

Bartley, 42, has been executive director since co-founding PUSH with Eric Walker in 2004.

"I'm leaving because I have long felt that 'founder syndrome' -- when someone settles in for a lifetime of leadership in a single organization -- brings stagnation, and organizations demand dynamic leadership," Bartley said. "One of the greatest callings of community organizers is the idea that they should organize themselves out of a job."

Bartley will depart PUSH on Aug. 1, 2018. The board has appointed a transition committee to oversee the search for his successor.

PUSH has sought to improve the West Side by promoting affordable housing, energy efficiency, job training and green landscaping.

The organization has stood out for its activism and a multiracial leadership and membership that reflects its diverse neighborhood.

“Since I met Aaron in 2006, he has always been a person who looked for solutions to problems and didn’t back down from challenging ones,” said PUSH Chairwoman Maxine Murphy. “He has been a frontiersman for the West Side. It’s been wonderful working with him. I can say he is leaving things better than he found them.”

Concrete goals

Since its inception, PUSH members have picketed slumlords, pushed for transparent city auction practices, and urged utility and government reforms.

The organization has pumped more than $40 million through grants into a “Green Development Zone,” a 30-block section of the West Side.

PUSH also became a developer to better provide affordable housing.  It will have completed 110 affordable apartments and co-ops with the completion of its rehabilitation of School 77, now being converted into 30 senior apartments and office space.

More than 500 homes on the West Side and elsewhere have also benefited from PUSH’s low-cost weatherization program.

PUSH’s efforts for living-wage jobs led to a job training program providing workers experience on its housing projects. About 250 people have been trained, and over 75 have landed permanent construction jobs.

PUSH has also developed hundreds of landscaping and green infrastructure projects. They range from capturing rainwater, creating a net zero energy demonstration house and a community-shared solar facility that will be on the roof of School 77.

In addition, PUSH has operated an after-school youth center on Grant Street that currently serves 60 children Monday through Friday.

Bartley's future

Bartley plans to write a book on community organizing in the United States that draws on his experience at PUSH.

He said he plans to remain active in social change movements.

Bartley, who collects mid-century modern furniture, hopes to also open a pop-up shop with books and furniture at the end of 2018.

But his first priority, he said, will be as a stay-at home dad, “taking care of two young children, one 2 years old and another, God-willing, who will be 4 months.”

Bartley, 42, said he leaves behind much to be gratified by.

“There is tremendous pride that I feel, and I think anyone in this organization feels, knowing there isn’t a street in the core part of the West Side that hasn’t been touched in a pretty dramatic and significant way by PUSH,” Bartley said.

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