Bringing a Wider World View Back to Her HometownDudley returned to reconnect with family and friends and found a growing, energetic city waiting.
When Jessyca Dudley returned to her native Chicago after having literally traveled around the globe — the public health researcher had spent years living in Amsterdam, New York and Ghana, West Africa — she did so with a wider world view.
Among her new experiences was the time she'd spent serving as the head of The Building Fund, a nonprofit she had started to help fund schools in Ghana, where she'd volunteered. Today, The Building Fund provides capital and operating expenses for the Young Apostles International School. Last year, the organization helped build a library. Up next: a community center.
But The Building Fund is just one of the horizon-expanding projects that has led Dudley back to her hometown. "I came back to Chicago for grad school [at the University of Illinois at Chicago] because I wanted to reconnect with family and friends after having been in college on the East Coast," she says. Of particular interest was spending more time with her dad, Jess Dudley, who, she says, "knows the city better than anyone else."
Chicago's famous neighborhoods are a point of pride for locals, she says, and they also contributed to her decision to move back to town, both for personal and professional reasons. For a health researcher like Dudley, Chicago's neighborhoods, some of which were historically segregated, have a lot of useful data. "A lot of smaller cities have to do comparisons across other cities," Dudley says. "But we do not have to do that here. Everything is community-based, so we can do a wealth of research all focused on our city."
When she's not busy with her research, Dudley is out reconnecting with her dad and enjoying the city that made her the person she is. As an adult, she appreciates Chicago's urban pleasures, like its many watering holes. "I am a Midwesterner, so I drink a lot of beer," she jokes, citing Andersonville's Hopleaf Bar as a favorite.
But she also likes how easy it is to get away from it all. Lake Michigan is a popular destination. An avid bike rider, Dudley likes to ride on the lakefront, and won't pass up an opportunity to get on a boat and see the city from the water. When she needs to get out of the city, she heads to nearby suburban Evanston, which is a quick trip from Chicago, but can seem "calmer and not like a city." She also likes to camp downstate at Starved Rock State Park.
When a trip that far from home isn't possible, Dudley has one last outpost of calm hidden in the city: Uncommon Ground, a green cafe and restaurant known for its rooftop organic farm.
"Things are tucked away in neighborhoods in Chicago," she says. "You might go into an apartment building that used to be a hotel and see all these ornate elements."
Even for a world-traveled native, Chicago constantly surprises.
Check out Jessyca's Chicago.