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Jennifer Kirby/MEDILL

Rey Dorantes' stepbrother, Vincent Tenev, lights candles outside the family home Tuesday night. "It's hard to believe," he said. "My little brother Rey, he's gone."

Strangers become neighbors: Humboldt Park residents support family of slain 14-year-old

by Jennifer Kirby
Jan 16, 2013

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Jennifer Kirby/Medill

Dorantes' home, where he was killed Friday night. Friends, family and neighbors brought flowers and posted messages mourning his death and celebrating his 15th birthday.

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Jennifer Kirby/Medill

A flyer hangs in the window of a shop on Western Avenue. Peter Walke posted the flyers, saying he wanted to help Dorantes' family be able to bury their son.

From down the block you can see them: Balloons strung skyward on a family’s front gate, a patchwork of poster boards taped to the fence, full of photos and messages with “Happy Birthdays” stacked alongside “RIPs.”

Candles on the sidewalk spell out “Rey” – the first name of a 14-year-old Humboldt Park teen Rey Dorantes, who was gunned down late Friday night on his own front porch. He would have turned 15 Tuesday.

But Humboldt Park residents have rallied in support Dorantes and his family, helping to raise more than $2,000 for funeral expenses and dropping off meals to the home.

Many have cooked food and contributed to the Rey Dorantes Dreams Foundation, the fund set up by the teen’s family to offset funeral costs. But some residents only knew Dorantes’ family in passing, or just found out about the neighborhood’s efforts through sites like Everyblock.

Jo Ann Tenev, Dorantes’ stepmother, said she is amazed by  the community response, especially the support of strangers.

Lauren Hall, who has lived in the area for over a year, met the family this summer. She said after she heard of Dorantes’ death, she wanted to help in some way.

Hall asked friends and family in Chicago to take meals  to the family.  She posted her efforts to deliver meals on Everyblock, where other residents also have volunteered to deliver dinners through Monday.

“People really feel the gravity of it,” Hall said.

Traci Moss will bring her meal on Monday. Dorantes was killed a few blocks from her home, and this was a chance to support the family. She said though neighborhood relationships are a little fractured, “reaching out to neighbors is the kind of community-building to prevent these things from happening in the future.”

Hall said most volunteers were strangers to her and came from all different backgrounds. But regardless of socio-economics, she said, a tragedy like Dorantes’ shooting is a reminder that they are all – new and older residents -- part of the same community. “It’s affecting all of us,” she added.

Peter Walke lives a few houses down from Dorantes’ family. He knew them just from their greetings when he walked his dog, and he visited the family shortly after the shooting. “I just gave Jo Ann [Tenev] my card and said ‘if there’s anything I can do, let me know,” he said.

Walke found out about the funeral costs and wanted to help the family mobilize support online. He created a Facebook page and linked the Foundation to a PayPal account and FundRazr, an online fundraising tool. He alerted the community through Everyblock and posted flyers in local businesses.  

As of Wednesday, the Foundation had raised more than $2000, Walke said. Online contributions have ranged from $5 to $300. Most come from addresses near Humboldt Park, though others arrived from as far as Louisiana and Ohio.

The addresses of the donators showed Walke that residents were taking a stand. “We have a duty to this neighborhood to make it our own,” he said. “Maybe that’s what the difference it.”

Tenev said that as of Tuesday night, the family had raised enough to make the funeral arrangements.

Alderman Proco Joe Moreno (1st) said Wednesday in an email that deaths like Dorantes weren’t just numbers. “When institutions fail, the immediate community often fills the void, which seems to be happening here,” he said.

The neighborhood’s reaction has proved the loss her stepson’s death is to the community, Tenev said, adding that Rey [Dorantes] was always trying to cheer people up or jumping up to help with the laundry or to run errands to the grocery store.

Perhaps Dorantes’ stepbrother best summed up Dorantes’ most cherished future goal. “He was ready to tell his father, “ Vincent Tenev said, “that he was ready to become a man.”