As the weather turns colder in Chicago, many of us start taking out our winter clothes from storage or look to purchase new gear to stay warm. Unfortunately, there are kids in Chicago that don’t have this luxury. In fact, many children don’t even have the basic essentials in any season, let alone warm jackets and clothes for the winter. Almost 200,000 children in Chicago live in poverty, which is a staggering number. For Cradles to Crayons, their mission is to help make life better for these children in need by providing them the essentials they need to thrive.
I was recently connected to Cradles to Crayons because my family had some baby clothes to donate. We wanted to make sure that the donated clothes went to a cause or organization that will ensure the items reached kids who would need them most. Fortunately we found giveNkind, a nonprofit that helps connect donors with organizations needing the donations, which matched us with Cradles to Crayons. After dropping off the bags of donations at their facility on the northwest side of the city, the staff was kind enough to give me a tour of “The Giving Factory” and explain what they do there. The Giving Factory houses Cradles to Crayons’ local business and volunteer operations. The organization’s mission inspired me to learn more. In fact, I signed up to volunteer at The Giving Factory and also had a great opportunity to sit down and talk with their executive director, Bernard Cherkasov.
For many people, a single event can inspire and have a positive impact on the direction of their life. For Cherkasov, that was the case when he was a young child. “I have a vivid memory of being 9 years old and us receiving a box of boots and coats for us. I remember the sense of going to school the next day, wearing my brand new coat and feeling so excited that there are people in this world who really cared for us and really wanted us to do well,” he recalled. Years later after studying law in college and then working as an attorney, he saw a chance to become more hands-on in nonprofit and to be part of the change that he wanted to see in the world. The first opportunity that convinced Cherkasov that nonprofit was where he needed to be, was at Equality Illinois, whose mission is to secure, protect and defend the civil rights of LGBTQ Illinoisans, which he led for 7 years. But his memory as a child receiving services similar to what Cradles to Crayons provides stayed with him. “When I heard that Cradles to Crayons was looking to expand to Chicago I knew this was my mission and I wanted to be part of it,” he said.
Cradles to Crayons was originally started in Boston and the Chicago location opened in August 2016. Since that time, the Chicago branch has served 49,000 children (from birth to age 12) and looks to expand that impact even more. With just over a year of operation in Chicago, Cradles to Crayons has worked hard to get a foothold in the city and gain the trust of the community that their work is reaching the kids in need. For Cherkasov, getting established in a new city and gaining that trust of volunteers, donors, and the community has been one of the top achievements of the organization so far. The organization realized its impact was working when they noticed many returning volunteers and referrals. Running The Giving Factory to serve thousands of kids and building a strong base of volunteers and donors is hard work, so it’s incredible that Cradles to Crayons Chicago currently only has 13 staff members! Bernard said this speaks to the importance of the army of volunteers and generosity of the community in their mission.
The Giving Factory
When I volunteered at The Giving Factory a couple of weeks ago, I could feel the impact I had as an individual and how the organization empowers their volunteers to embrace the mission. The Giving Factory is a large warehouse and when you step inside you immediately see the vast amounts of donated material, which include clothes, shoes, backpacks, books, diapers, strollers and an assortment of baby items. Even though there was a tremendous amount of items stacked everywhere, the warehouse was neatly organized in stations.
The process of taking a donated item and getting it to its final form as a kid pack is purposefully detailed to make it as efficient as possible. The first step is to fill out a note with a positive message using markers and crayons for a recipient of one of the kid packs. Then you are directed to a station that the volunteer coordinator deems as a high priority for that day and time. For example, I helped sort clothes into different bins by age and gender and also ensured the clothes were of high quality. There are motivational quotes posted all over the facility that inspire you as you work. One quote in particular resonated with me: “Quality = Dignity”, which is central to Cradles to Crayons approach. Donations are required to be new or nearly new condition before they are delivered to a child. To these children, receiving items that are new helps support their dignity, which is so important.
When I asked Cherkasov who the main beneficiaries of Cradles to Crayons’ services are, his answer opened my eyes to the actual impact of their organization. “I feel we benefit all of Chicago,” he responded. Aside from the Chicagoland kids they serve by providing high quality essentials, Cherkasov explained that the volunteers experience a transformation as well. “Chicagoans that can contribute and volunteer, it is a transformative experience because every moment you spend in The Giving Factory, sorting products for quality, or cleaning toys, or putting together outfits, or customizing the kid pack orders, you know that you’re adding purpose to your own life.” Cherkasov pointed out this transformation is especially important when kids are volunteering and providing these services for another kid. He recounted a story of a little girl who volunteered with her family at The Giving Factory. When the volunteering session was over, the girl asked if she could stay longer. When her mother told her they needed to go, the girl asked if she could come back another time with her friends and possibly even host her birthday party at The Giving Factory. The mother was moved to tears to hear her daughter speak those words.
Volunteering for two hours next to a group of students from a local high school and college students from Northwestern University, I saw how people from all walks of life can band together to make a difference. But most importantly, seeing those students sorting through the donated clothes to ensure the clothes were in good condition, you can see young people comprehending how simple things like having nice clothes that fit could impact a child. Watching the future of our society giving back was pretty amazing.
Call to Action
There are many ways to make an impact with Cradles to Crayons. Check out their Take Action page to see how you can make a difference. Whether you’re donating goods or money, spreading the word, or volunteering at The Giving Factory, your efforts will directly impact a child’s life immediately. To see examples of the impact that volunteers can have, here are some sunshine stories from the grateful families and kids.
Winter is coming, and everyone can feel it. Learn how you can help Chicago warm up with the help of Button and Zipper!
Temperatures are dropping in Chicago, which means it’s time to turn on the heater, make a hot chocolate and snuggle under the blankets.
However, for the thousands of homeless people living in the Chicago area, that won’t be possible. Homelessness and poverty affect Chicago year-round, but they need special attention during this season.
Thankfully, some Chicagoans dedicate their days to making sure no one is cold this winter. One of them is Nancy, also known as Ira’s mom, the cofounder of Button and Zipper.
I interviewed her during the October event of HashtagLunchbag, where she collected winter coats. We decided to have a chat on the balcony – we were wearing no jackets and it was 32 degrees outside. It really put the whole issue into perspective.
Her son, Ira, lives in Denver, so Button and Zipper operates in both cities. When asked about how the organization came to be, Nancy said that Ira grew up in Chicago, watching her give back to the community, which influenced him to come up with the Button and Zipper idea.
One of their main goals is to “help kids make it”. For instance, one of their projects, Dress Up The Grad, aims to support at risk high school students for graduation. Still, right now they focused on helping everyone that needs winter coats. Ira’s mom mentioned that Button and Zipper is currently working on multiple new projects, and as it grows hopefully the word will keep spreading and we’ll keep hearing about their programs and their impact on the city.
Right now, Button and Zipper works as the middleman, partnering with different agencies to organize coat drives and then take donations to whoever needs it. If you want to donate winter coats, receive donated coats, or learn more about what they do, contact them directly.
Call to action
If you are ready to donate, check their drop-off locations and see which one is most convenient to you!
Thank you, Button and Zipper, for talking to us about your amazing organization, and we urge all our readers to take some time this month to separate winter coats that you don’t wear anymore. That old jacket thrown in the back of your closet can be someone’s light at the end of the tunnel.
The Broadway Youth Center (BYC) of Howard Brown Health is a haven for LGBTQ youth and young people experiencing homelessness or housing instability. BYC provides refuge and community as well as medical, social and mental health care services. BYC sees anyone, regardless of ability to pay, and serves more than 1,500 teens and adults aged 12 to 24.
You probably haven’t heard about this organization yet, but they are responsible for helping dozens of women around Chicago.
It is time for you to get to know them.
Chicago Women’s AIDS Project (CWAP) might have a very specific name, but their different programs target a surprisingly broad population.
Project SASS (Sister Advocating for Strong Sisters) helps HIV positive women by partnering with clinics and agencies across the city that provide treatment and education to HIV positive cisgender and transgender women. The goal is to strengthen these women’s coping skills, healthy relationships, and traditional STI/HIV transmission prevention skills.
Their other main project is called Returning Sisters, which is a prevention program. It helps women that are HIV negative, but at high risk of being exposed to the virus, which can be people that experienced or currently experience homelessness, incarceration, substance abuse issues, and mental health issues. CWAP offers free therapy, free recovery coaching, HIV and HEPC testing, and extensive rehabilitation support. They also often offer workshops about a variety of topics, which always have the intention of empowering their clients.
CWAP’s office offers a very informal and welcoming environment, where women can go hang out, ask for help, and feel safe. They are looking for volunteers, interns, and even new staff members. Want to hear more about these women’s stories? Get involved with CWAP’s work! Send an email to Velvian, the Returning Sisters’ Recovery Coach (email@example.com).
Recovery Coach, Velvian (middle), with two of her clients:
Clients often volunteer to help prepare the monthly events:
CWAP helped several women that did not have any social support to get their lives back on track:
In summary, they do an amazing job, and more people should know about them!
The 14th annual Disability Pride Parade took the streets July 22nd to talk about the civil rights goals they want to achieve for their community and how these issues are addressed in Chicago.
A recurring theme that came up during one of the meetings for organizing the parade was defining the difference between their parade and a protest. Hank, one of the Grand Marshalls, explains that, “The balance is: what do we want, what will it give us and how will we go about that and how far we are willing to go. My take is, that the balance is, that we’ll go as far as we have to.And that means that we may have to act as advocates”.
It is important to note that although the parade this year has passed, The Disability Pride Parade is striving to create a larger event next year. This can be an intimidating task considering the obstacles they’ve encountered when requesting for a larger street to march down, however this goal is definitely achievable and they are looking for support and solidarity from other Chicagoans.
To learn more about the parade, check out Disability Pride Parade on Facebook or their website !
You can read up on statistics of resources and employment for people with disabilities here.
Vibrant colors of the rainbow splashed across Chicago in June as residents celebrated Pride festivities. The LGBTQ civil rights movement has accomplished a great deal in its short existence, however there is still more to come. A prevalent issue is the lack of racial representation in the queer community, especially considering many of the leaders in the birth of the movement were queer people of color. Some point out that, because the movement is to be focused on sexuality and gender identity, race should not be involved in the matter. However, although ideally race should not be a factor, the intersectionality of race and queerness is very much connected in the way people are treated and viewed by society and thus there have been consistent instances of racism in the queer community throughout its history. Although allyship is always important, the shift of primarily middle class white people at the forefront of the movement has changed the prioritization of civil rights and led to the erasure of queer people of color as well as created an unwelcoming atmosphere from many pride festivities.
In addressing this issue, Philadelphia added two new stripes to the pride flag on June 8 to signify more inclusion to honor queer people of color who have lead the movement yet are rarely talked about as well as those simply living out their daily lives. This year, we decided to take the streets of Chicago’s Pride Parade and ask people of color in the LGBTQ community what these stripes mean to them, what obstacles they have overcome in navigating their identity, and what they are most optimistic about for the future.
What do these stripes mean to you?
Hiram Bowens (Left) expressed his dislike for the additional stripes because he does not think race should be expressed in the flag. Cole Graske (Right) stated, “I think it’s appropriate, especially with our country right now and everything that’s been going on. I’m all for more people of color and equality”.
What obstacles have you faced as a result of your identity?
Eric Obioha (Middle): “I did not overcome **** because I get judged by straight and other gay people…. Until the gay people can learn to unite with each other – the gay guys especially – can learn to unite with each other, then ain’t nobody gonna overcome nothin. It is too judgmental in these gay streets.”
Bowens: “It pisses me off when white people are like, ‘Well, I’m not really into black guys, but…’ Ooh I hate that. I really hate that. I just –“
Friend: “Or ‘You look cute for a black guy.”
Bowens: “Yeah! ‘I’m glad you’re not as ratchet as most black people’ and stuff like that, that really pisses me off.”
What are you most optimistic about for the future?
Graske: “I think with – hopefully, with what’s going on – people see that there’s a real issue and I hope that people join together (points to Eric) like you were saying.”
Obioha: “Just to be open minded and less judgmental.”
Bowens: “I think there’s so much prejudice in the gay community because you’ve got so many sub-cultures…”
Graske: “But there’s only one, really. I mean we’re all part of one community so… well we should be, I think, going forward.”
What do these stripes mean to you?
Regina Brown (Right): “Life basically, ’cause you got to think about it, black people aren’t always recognized, it’s good that we’re getting recognized, and not just black people, gay people too. For us to be gay and black? That’s a lot, and it means a lot for us to be added to something that’s united. And black and brown, you really don’t see that. You don’t. So when you got a whole rainbow, a full rainbow that’s completed, that’s what you call honesty right there. Cause the rainbow’s not completed without black and brown.”
Tateneisha Brown (Left): “It’s a blessing that people are starting to accept us for who we are…. And I’m a happy and humble person, I’m glad to come out here and I call everyone my family. That’s how I look at it, we’re just one happy family and we’re united and we all stand together. … Everybody’s entitled to their opinion, but I’m happy to be here and even the people who are not gay and came out to support us, it’s a beautiful thing.”
Regina and Tateneisha have been together 7-8 years and married for 2. They recently adopted a one year old child and are excited for their future together as a family.
What obstacles have you faced as a result of your identity?
What obstacles have you faced as a result of your identity?
Brianna Luviano (Left): “I feel like I go through many obstacles, not only being a female, but as soon as people know that I do like women, or that I am gay, it’s very difficult in the sense that they judge you right away. …
I’ve been with her (Brittany, Right) for 10 years, and as soon as people hear that… either they don’t take it seriously or they try to take it seriously…and they’re really confused. The reason why I fell in love with her was not on gender or like, I thought she was gorgeous. Her personality and her kindness is what drew me to her… Growing up, I never thought about ‘Is this right? Is this wrong? Should I be with a woman or a man?’ No, it was never about that. If I liked someone, I liked them. And when I had first seen her, I’ll never forget it. I…it was like, when time stops, that’s how I felt and I was like, ‘she’s gonna be mine.’
That’s how I felt.”
What do these stripes mean to you?
Brent Wolff (Right): “I just think it means more acceptance. If anything, that’s what it’s all about. Within the gay community, there’s a lot of different racial tensions and if adding two more colors means that people feel more free and more accepted, like, let’s do it.”
Jordan Jedry (Left): “For me, I really think it’s about coming back to our roots. Trans women of color really started the LGBTQ movement in the United States and I think adding those additional stripes to honor them and the sacrifices they made is something that we really need to think of as a community. They were the driving forces and everything we do is in their honor.”
What do the stripes mean to you?
Sylvia M.: “I think that’s amazing because whenever you look at pride, all you see is predominantly white people, that’s all that’s represented. Just because our community silences [sexuality], it doesn’t mean it’s O.K. We’re misrepresented and underrepresented. It’s so nice to see yourself represented cause when I was younger and having the feelings I was feeling… you didn’t see black gay people. Being gay was a “white thing” that’s what everyone said. So, to be bisexual and finally see yourself represented in this whole entire great thing we call “Pride”, that’s awesome.”
What obstacles have you been faced with as a result of your identity?
Sylvia discussed her internal conflict. Being bisexual, she said she is often dismissed as “straight passing” and so her experience was different, yet she still struggled with determining who she was as well as how she fit in with the queer community. A part of molding her identity was finding validation of her existence in the first place.
Sylvia M.: “When I found out that it was possible to be bi, that it’s possible to like guys and girls, it felt natural to me that that’s a real feeling.”
What are you most optimistic about?
Sylvia: “I’m optimistic that it’s not gonna be a big deal anymore if we add another stripe to the flag. Who cares? That’s just more colors, there’s more colors than just the few you see every day in a rainbow, you know? There’s so many different spectrums that we just can’t see, so I’m excited about that and I’m also excited about the whole community growing.”
Tyrese (Right) expressed that he does not think the brown and black stripes should be added to the flag. Jemily (Left) said she was split about it, concerned it was exclusionary but also stating that, “People of color have always been dehumanized and belittled by everybody else… I think it depends on the social class as well. But I don’t know, I think it’s a good thing”.
Natalia expressed her experience being Mexican and Spanish. The personal conflict she found was that half of her identity had an oppressive history while another half of her identity was the oppressed. She also acknowledged how her experience is different because she has lighter skin and colorism plays a part in her identity as well.
“There should be a general understanding among the Latino American culture that we’re all experiencing something together and to say that, because of our pigment, we can’t identify with our parents… I struggle with that.” She continued to discuss how racism among Latino Americans has created a divide between other people of color, citing her experience with her parents driving through a predominantly black neighborhood and them automatically locking the car doors
“That’s a learned racism, why are we disassociating from black culture if white government and white patriarchy also oppress that (Latino- American) culture? They oppress us and they oppress them, why can’t we find that common link?”
So do the stripes provide a change for that?
“Yeah, because we should all find that common link…. That link is what chains us all together”.
What are you most optimistic about for the future?
“There’s a number of young folk that are rising to the occasion in whatever way they can. So, that’s a difference. At the end of the day, if Black and Latino civil rights are connected, if they care about us, they’ll always care about you.”
CALL TO ACTION
There are many ways to get involved in local activism. Check out these sites to learn more about how you can help make a change!
Have you ever wished you could build something in Chicago that would last for years?
Have you recently gotten out of a long term relationship and now need to focus on something new?
Have you ever realized how boring you are after someone asked you what you do for fun and all you could think of was laughing at memes so you decided you need a new hobby?
We have the solution to your problem!
The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) is giving out free oak saplings to residents of Cook County. They have partnered with the Chicago Region Trees Initiative to create the “Restore the Canopy” project. All you need to do is go to one of their pickup locations to get them. You can choose between individual pots or bulk bags – it all depends on your level of commitment.
Never planted a tree before? No need to worry! You will get all the instructions you need once you get there.
What is the MWRD?
The MWRD, also known as District, is responsible for “protecting the quality of the water supply source (Lake Michigan), improving the quality of water in watercourses in its service area, protecting businesses and homes from flood damages, and managing water as a vital resource for its service area”.
Besides “Restore the Canopy”, MWRD has several other projects – for instance they are responsible for “greenifying” schools in Chicago. So if you liked this initiative you should definitely go to their website and learn more about them.
Why is MWRD doing this?
The goal is simple – restore the canopy! Besides making Chicago even prettier, oak trees provide lots of benefits to the environment. For example, they can reduce flooding, reduce air pollution and even provide protection from the wind.
How can I get them?
There are several pickup locations in Cook County. You can find them in Chicago at the Calumet Water Reclamation Plant (WRP) at 400 E. 130th St., Chicago. If you rely on public transportation, you can take Bus 34 to get there. To see other locations, access their website.
They distribute the samplings every Wednesday from 9 a.m. to noon.
It’s time to get out of your comfort zone and go pick up your oak sapling! Make sure to take pictures and post them on Instagram to brag about your new environmentally responsible persona. Don’t forget to tag us with #ChicagoRises and #MyMWDRTree
Still have questions? You can call their public affairs office at (312) 751-6633 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other important phone numbers:
Calumet WRP: (773) 256-3538
Small Stream Maintenance (report blockages/debris in streams): (312) 751-5106
Hazardous Waste Dump Hotline Illegal dumping of waste into waterways or sewers or complaints of water pollution: (800) 332-3867
Strung along a quiet strip of Paulina Street, just north of Howard Street and its eponymous CTA station sits the headquarters–several buildings in all, in addition to another facility on Morse Avenue and Ashland Avenue — of the Howard Area Community Center. Unassuming in appearance, the center is surprisingly prolific in practice, offering more than 40 different programs to a wide range of ages, ethnic and language groups and needs.
In order to familiarize myself with the dizzying array of services provided by this community cornerstone of Rogers Park, I sat down with the center’s Director of Development, Beth Ulion. She led me through the main building’s labyrinthine of hallways and rooms, and pointed out various facilities and spaces of such disparate uses that I eventually concluded she was joking. A daycare and separate adult ESL classrooms? Check. A Food Pantry? Check. A fully equipped and staffed dentist’s clinic?? Surprisingly, check.
Even more exciting, she mentioned, is the space at the Morse/Ashland branch. Here, the HACC houses a Teen Arts and Technology Center designed to offer teenagers from low-income or troubled households a safe, fostering haven in the mischief-prone hours of after-school freedom. If you’re picturing a beige-walled room with some scattered desks, chairs, and an assortment of cast-off art supplies, though, you couldn’t be further from the mark. The Clubhouse is proudly youth-oriented and youth-appointed—that is, planned, purposed, and decorated by the very adolescents who use it. This means that the basement—renamed the “ConCave” for reasons which will shortly become clear—walls are plastered in original comics authored and illustrated by program participants. The tech area offers not just computers and video games for business and pleasure, but also a super computer which the youth built themselves. A ‘cosplay station’—a workshop dedicated to engineering and executing costumes and props—occupies a corner of the basement. Additionally, the center offers support and guidance for teens interested in starting their own crafts or arts businesses, as well as a facility to make t-shirts and other art projects. The ultimate objective of this imaginative asylum—part-playground and part-professional development center—is, as Ulion puts it, to create “a second home that is a safer place than home.”
A shot of the Teen Center’s Computer Clubhouse. Photo courtesy of Howard Area Community Center
When I asked what Ulion would identify as some of the most unique characterizing features of HACC, she answered with a readiness that reflects how deeply she and other HACC organizers have considered the organization’s values and its activities. “I think the way we execute our programs shows how invested we are in helping people and building the community in the long term. Any (organization) can throw money at a problem, but we’re devoted to developing sustained community change and individual success.”
Oddly enough, Ulion’s comments and the HACC approach to authentic community change left me thinking of Leo Tolstoy’s exploration of the nature of meaningful social reform in his classic novel “Anna Karenina”.In the novel, one of the main characters, Konstantin Levin, struggles with effecting positive economic and humanitarian reforms on his farming estate. He notices that his landowning peers tend to follow en vogue technological and political movements blindly, assuming that they’re doing ‘the right things’ for their peasants by towing the popular social lines of the time. It seems to Levin, though, that such politically correct measures aren’t doing much good if one honestly confronts and evaluates the results: the peasants’ living conditions continue to deteriorate, farming profits keep shrinking, and farming practices appear no more efficient for all the newfangled British equipment and methodology than they had been during the primitive centuries of serfdom. Over the course of the novel, then, he comes to a reevaluate his approach to meaningful reform, learning among other things that authentic social reform takes more than good intentions: if you really want to make things better for other people and not just be smug about one’s laudable actions, you need to care about the actual outcome of your reforms—and not just the impressive nature of your efforts—on the communities and people you’re purporting to help.
It may seem like a bit of a long-winded digression, but the more I mulled over my conversation with Ulion, the more salient Tolstoy’s thoughts on authentic and counterfeit social change seem. After all, in an age where philanthropic successes are measured by viral hits and dollar signs, we seem more and more obsessed with the statistical trappings of charitable success and less and less concerned with what happens to the X-amount of dollars once it’s been chalked up to a fundraising total. The Howard Area Community Center seems to stand in inspiring contradistinction to these trends: its programs eschew the flashiness of short-term results for sustained and substantive involvement.
Photo courtesy of Howard Area Community Center
The New Era Project, for example, focuses on gang intervention and prevention, pairing at-risk youth with long-term mentors and activities. The goal is not to tally attendance at a one-off workshop and then claim dozens of success stories. Rather, the program focuses on building trusting, lasting relationships between the youth—many of whom have entire families and social circles involved in gang life—and positive role models, thereby making them lasting assets to—rather than detractors from—the community fabric.
Similarly, the Career and College Readiness and Scholarships program provides more than the limited or one-time guidance and support offered by many scholarship endowments. Rather, a case manager remains with their students throughout the full first year of their college careers, keeping track of their lives and helping them through emergent challenges in the unfamiliar day-to-day lifestyle of higher education. After all, Ulion points out, a scholarship program’s success shouldn’t be judged by the number of students it enrolls in college initially: if the unprepared and overwhelmed new students drop out over the course of the next year, you haven’t actually made any headway in the original problem and objective of the program; that is, to provide disadvantaged youth with college educations.
As if these programs weren’t sufficiently ambitious, the HACC offers dozens more, all geared to help the most vulnerable and under-served demographics of society, such as refugees, ex-cons, women experiencing domestic violence, those suffering from HIV/AIDS, and low-income families or single parents with small children. In addition to the more intensive outreach and educational programs offered, the center also strives to assist community members with basic services and amenities, such as a public computer lab, print station, and fax machine, as well as a food pantry and in-kind donations for things such as toiletries and diapers.
Photo courtesy of Howard Area Community Center
Again, I think to myself, donations like Ventra cards and a place to check emails are the kinds of things that so often get overlooked, the minutiae of overwhelming societal problems like joblessness or recidivism which can be every bit as insurmountable an obstacle to finding gainful employment or staying out of prison as the overarching economic and legal policies which produce them. By paying attention to these oft-neglected quotidian hardships, the Howard Area Community Center demonstrates a refreshingly practical approach to public service that values the details as much as it does sweeping community change. And, as Tolstoy or the organizers of the HACC can teach us, if your goal is to strengthen a community and bolster the wellbeing of its individuals—if you really want to help—then there should be no such thing as a minor detail, no need too basic, and no purpose too small.
CALL TO ACTION
When asked how interested members of the public can get involved, Ulion suggested a litany of opportunities, ranging from those requiring a significant time commitment and period of training to those which require little more than a few hours a month and a pair of willing hands. No matter how people get involved, she points out, the HACC boasts a special knack at keeping first-time volunteers engaged: “typically, once someone gets involved here, they never leave.”
And when the cow kicked it over, she winked an eye and said,
“There’ll be a hot time, on the old town tonight.”
Fire, fire, fire!
If you grew up in Chicago, chances are high that you’ve heard the song detailing the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The infamous event left the great city in devastation and shambles, but that’s not where the story ends. Some of the greatest minds from various industries joined forces, collaborated, and did the seemingly impossible. The community banded together to rebuild and better the city. Inspired by the spirit of growth and development that existed after the Great Chicago Fire, 1871 was founded in 2012. The organization has grown to be a valuable resource and support system for over 400 digital start-ups and events in the city of Chicago.
1871 is the main initiative of its parent non-profit organization, the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center (CEC). CEC developed 1871 to provide a tangible address and work-space for Chicago based entrepreneurs in the technology and digital arenas. The entire operation is run and supported by CEC. According to their website, 1871 “is a place where you can share ideas, make mistakes, work hard, build your business and, with a little luck, change the world.”
There have been a variety of events held at the eye-catching and modern work-space, such as the StartupAmerica: 1 Year Anniversary National Event, Innovative Technologies in the Automotive Industry: a French View on the Green, and most recently The Purpose Pitch. I was particularly impressed with the push to get young girls interested and involved in the technology scene.
The main goal of the organization is to connect people to resources- be it financial, human collateral, work-space, or simply acting as a think-tank to bounce ideas around. A wide variety of programs are offered to fulfill that mission like mentor/mentee programs, volunteer opportunities, classes and seminars, and the opportunity to hold an event at the Merchandise Mart work- space.
1871 is growing in popularity and helping Chicago based entrepreneurs. The organization is a prime example of the ideal that we are better together, and is doing great things for the city of Chicago.
CALL TO ACTION
Check out 1871’s website, social media pages, and get involved! That can manifest as taking a class, attending an event, or even sharing their page on your social media sites. Digital technology is an ever growing and expanding field and you don’t want to get left behind!
I visited Harmony House on a rainy Friday afternoon and was pleasantly surprised by the space they have created that is welcoming and comforting to cats and humans alike. Harmony House is unique because most of the 80 to 100 cats at the shelter on any given day are kept in rooms where they can roam around, that are clean, filled with toys and structures, and have big windows that provide lots of natural light and a window to the outside world.
Harmony House Board Member Mary Veeneman with a resident cat.
Mary Veeneman, a board member of Harmony House, and Jennifer Zameic, the Harmony House Shelter Manager, show me around the shelter. They walk me through the rooms, and introduce me to plenty of cats, who come in all different shapes, sizes, ages, colors, health conditions, and personalities. It seems like what they have in common is a safe space to stay for as long as they need.
Harmony House prides itself on not euthanizing cats for space or money, so cats are allowed the time they need to heal, develop, and come out of their shells. Mary explains that some cats get adopted as soon after being in the shelter for a few weeks, while others take a few years to find their forever home.
Mary and Jennifer introduce the cats to me and introduce me to the cats’ individual stories and personalities. This seems like a concept Harmony House holds dear.
For example, Olympia is 17 and has been with Harmony House since she was six months old. She was completely unable to be handled for several years. But when Harmony House moved to their new location in 2012, Olympia decided that she likes people and now she enjoys being picked up and pet.
Harmony House is a cat shelter that has become a cornerstone of its neighborhood, and it’s easy to see why. It’s welcoming, it’s eco-friendly, it rescues and adopts out cats, and it is part of the wider trend happening in Chicago where people are taking steps to protect stray and vulnerable domestic animals.
Fewer and fewer of the stray and unwanted animals brought to Chicago Animal Care and Control are being euthanized, and more are leaving alive and finding forever homes. Much of this is due to community involvement and the presence of shelters like Harmony House. See the long term statistics published by Chicago Animal Care and Control here.
Mary takes pride in the unique role Harmony House has in the city. “Part of what we do and part of how we see ourselves as being a little bit different from other shelters is that we’re lower volume, so we intentionally take in fewer cats than other shelters,” she says.
Mary explains that by doing this, Harmony House is able to take in cats with special needs, such as cats with behavioral issues, health problems, or cats that just may need more time to find a forever home. These cats may need to spend more time at a shelter before they are ready to be adopted out.
Freddy and Cheez It are a perfect example of cats that needed a little more time at the shelter. Freddy and Cheez It arrived at Harmony House separately but quickly became attached to each other. When Cheez It arrived, he was very shy, hissed, and didn’t like to be handled by people. Freddy was extremely boisterous and needed time to work on his cat manners. Freddy has helped Cheez It come out of his shell and Cheez It has helped Freddy become calmer.
Harmony House focuses on rescuing cats from the Chicago area. “We feel very strongly about taking cats from the area,” Mary says. Harmony House has a stray license from the city of Chicago and usually adopts out between 120 to 140 cats and kittens each year.
As we finish the tour I think of any questions I could have missed about Harmony House. I think about the very important but often hidden role animal shelters play in our community. They constantly process and care for the animals that get overlooked or forgotten about by the rest of us. Getting a glimpse of how they function and the love and care needed to keep them thriving helped me to appreciated even more the role they play in our community.
I asked Mary and Jennifer what they liked most about their job. “The cats” they both answer without hesitation.
CALL TO ACTION
Harmony House is located on 2914 North Elston Avenue. They welcome volunteers, adults and children alike, and have adoption hours four days a week. Harmony House also holds regular fundraisers, including a Kitty Summer Social on June 11th from 1-4pm which features arts, crafts, drinks, and a raffle. Check out their website here. You are welcome to get involved!
Within the last several years, the city of Chicago has been widely known as having one of the highest murder rates in the United States. Due to this, the term “Chiraq” has been infamously coined for the lively city because of the constant shootings frequently committed in predominately the West and South sides of the city. In the West side of Chicago however, two women are aiming to make a difference regarding the issue of gun violence.
Arielle Maldonado and Krystal Robledo created The Healing Corner, an organization that sets up tables on street corners in neighborhoods that are affected by gun violence and provides an array of resources for those in the community, especially for young men in these communities that are involved in gang-related activity. The Healing Corner works to build a dialog on violence while simultaneously providing resources and necessities for those in the community.
The Healing Corner began in 2015 when Robledo attended a prayer vigil with her children in the West Humboldt Park area. It was during that prayer vigil, a group of people were praying in a circle holding hands, when suddenly shots were fired on the other side of the ally, interrupting the vigil entirely. Traumatized, Robledo and her children fled the scene and then she called l Maldonado to inform her about the shooting. Thinking that prayer vigils were not enough to solve this rising issue, Maldonado responded by saying to Robledo, “Something needs to be done because the people who keep shooting are going to think that it is acceptable.”
Shortly after, both Robledo and Maldonado visited an organization on the South Side that handed out free food. The women proposed that they should do something similar to that on the West side. To do this, they reached out to several different organizations to come together and start this corner to try to leave an impact in these communities.
The first ever Healing Corner was hosted on the corner of West Division Street and Keeler Avenue in West Humboldt Park, where Robledo resides. This corner was chosen to host the first Healing Corner because it had numerous issues and was notoriously known as the “Killing Corner”. The various organizations came together to grill and converse, while the young men who were hanging out across the street came to help out, carry things, and set up.
After hosting a very successful corner, those young men approached Maldonado, Robledo and others. Maldonado explains, “The guys that helped us in the beginning came up to us and said, ‘Man, if you were to start this two years ago there would be peace here right now. So we left with the idea that we have to keep doing this because volunteers and people of the community would ask when the next corner was.”
Setting up on corners in West side neighborhoods like Humboldt Park, Austin and Garfield Park, The Healing Corner offers various beneficial services. The organization tries to avoid setting up on busy streets and instead settles on empty lots and playgrounds that have been neglected. This set-up presents several tables offering food, resources, and sometimes an additional table dedicated to special events and holidays like Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Mother’s Day.
The resource table features a mixture of different resources and assets located in the area that are directed to bettering the community as a whole. Some of the assets that the Healing Corner has to offer ranges from the Humboldt Park Food Pantry booklet, homeless resource sheets, flyers for upcoming summer activities and programming, GED tutoring, and much more. “We try to compile resources to make it easier if somebody is looking for something specific,” Maldonado said. The organization also tries to bring bubbles, chalk, jump rope, and playing balls in order to give the corner a welcoming feeling.
The corner also includes several features that enhance the conversation on violence for both adults and children. These features include a binder where children can enter their drawings and a poster board asking the important question of how the violence should end, as people are free to write their opinion on the subject.
The Healing Corner spent all of 2016 building relationships and trust with the neighborhoods. “Before they would ask us if we were apart of the law and we were not affiliated with a church, so some guys were skeptical and thought it was weird,” Maldonado said.
The organization’s current aim is to focus on education for 2017. “Now were trying to start the dialog in the communities of what is happening in the local city and state governments as well as what policies are coming into place that will affect these neighborhoods and their everyday living,” Maldonado said. “Education can help form unity, especially to the younger guys.”
Since it’s founding, the organization has expanded to other areas apart from the West side. They have hosted Healing Corners in Rogers Park and will have two events in the South Side this upcoming summer. Outside of Chicago, the Healing Corner has also set up sites a couple of times in neighborhoods in Boston and North Philadelphia. Maldonado states that the Healing Corner’s goal is to try to host a corner at least once a week, aiming to improve these conditions in these different areas week by week.
After being asked if the violence in Chicago has gotten better or worse, Maldonado broke down the many factors that she believes cause the frequent shootings and other violence that occurs in the city. She explains that the gang structure has changed drastically especially after the destruction of the Cabrini Green housing projects as this dispersed many people in the city. There were also many police stings, Maldonado said, which sent gang leaders to prison, as this led to more cliques and more youth not listening to elders. Now, a lot of the gangs consist of younger men. Guns are also easier to access as well, Maldonado explained.
The biggest factor however, Maldonado said, is the role that schools play regarding the violence affecting the city. The combination of schools closing and teachers’ short school tenure creates a lack of a stable platform. Because a lot of these children in these communities do not have parents involved in their lives or permanent teachers they can look up to, the lack of guidance immensely contributes to the schools’ unstable nature.
“That’s why The Healing Corner tries to go back and go to the corners we visited before to show we did not forget about them. Through that, we restore hope and spread love which is really needed,” Maldonado said.
The impact that The Healing Corner has left on the neighborhoods they have touched is rather immense. By constantly showing up in different neighborhoods that need improvement and education, they “set a positive example of what community is and what it should look like,” Maldonado said.
CALL TO ACTION
The Healing Corner will be hosting a corner on Sunday, June 4th on the corner of Washington and Parkside in Austin if you would like to attend. They are also participating at Kelvyn Park High School’s End of the School Year Event in Hermosa on June 9th. They will also host their first corner in the South side on July 8th on 25th Place and Washtenaw by Washtenaw Park in Little Village. In addition, the organization is raising money for their future events and other various resources they can attain. If you would like to donate, you can go on www.YouCaring.com/TheHealingCorner or share the link on Facebook. To follow them on social media, like them on Facebook @TheHealingCornerChicago
On one of the first warm and sunny days of the Chicago spring, while clusters of galloping children and strolling adults soak in the long-awaited rays, a group of poetry aficionados gather in the friendly confines of Sulzer Regional Library. The event they’ve assembled to see is entitled “Not-Your-Grandma’s Poetry,” part of a month-long initiative by the Chicago Public Libraries to celebrate National Poetry Month. The series of events will culminate in the April 30th Poetry Fest at Harold Washington Library, where attendees can take advantage of a variety of free offerings, such as writing workshops, readings, and open mics.
But for now the Poetry Fest is still a couple of weeks away, and the audience currently gathered has come to see Emily Thornton Calvo, a Chicago-based multimedia poet who exhibits her watercolors—many of them with poems inscribed into the paintings—while reading her original verses. The group isn’t exactly diverse or youthful—indeed one could gamble that most of the listening parties are in fact grandmothers explicitly excluded in the event’s title—but the resultant atmosphere is decidedly welcoming and thoughtful, with audience members listening carefully to Calvo’s engaging oratory while examining her corresponding paintings.
Calvo’s poems and paintings span from topics deeply personal and profound to ones light and humorous, moving seamlessly from smiling, frivolous observation, to wincing memories of family and painful personal crises. Her first poem, for example, is called “Hunting Down Dinner on Highway 13,” a light-hearted recollection of dinner at a Missouri café called the Beefmaster. After speculating cheerfully that the restaurant’s patriarch—presumably the Beefmaster himself—has “a past as checkered as the tablecloths,” she turns her eye on the rest of the diner’s supporting cast: Mrs. Beefmaster, Junior Beefmaster, and the ever-attendant swarms of flies making the rounds of the tables. Ever insightful and good-natured, Calvo’s eye transforms a decidedly prosaic event and setting into an engaging character study and contemplation on the universal experience—part awkwardness and part adventure, part drudgery and part curiosity—of traveling the countryside.
Original artwork by Emily Calvo http://emilycalvo.com/artist/
After this carefree jaunt down Highway 13, Calvo changes gears to contemplate her father’s legacy in her life and childhood. In “Daddy’s Gay and I Don’t Mean Happy,” she reflects on how her father’s later-in-life coming-out affected their friendship and her perception of him as a good father and husband. Though he always kept part of himself hidden—the gay man separate from his family, the family man discrete from his friends—Calvo concludes that he was ultimately a wonderful father whose parenting she couldn’t fault: “whatever half of him was a husband,” she writes, “all of him was always my father.”
From such deeply personal reminiscences of her parents and children, Calvo proceeds to reflections on her own battle with cancer, thoughtful observations of African art exhibits at the Art Institute of Chicago, travels in France and the delights of the French cafe, and life-changing conversations with a Holocaust survivor. Despite this disparity, no topic seems out of place or jarring to the general flow of the reading, each shift in tone and content creating a resilient smoothness—which must in part be owed to Calvo’s artless delivery and openness—rather than a sense of unevenness or lack of context. Indeed, while wall-to-wall personal subjects might have left everyone feeling claustrophobic and uncomfortably vulnerable, the alternating somber and buoyant tones produce an admirable balance.
Calvo closes her reading with an unconventional ode to Chicago, a hometown she loves but one which she perceives as mishandled or romanticized by fellow poets. “Chicago is not a woman,” she objects to the implied voices of these mischaracterizing peers, “he’s your cousin who borrows money from you and pays you back with a wink.” This sneaky but lovable persona, she elaborates, trundles through winter “drunk on snow, high on blow” while boasting multiple character flaws—including its notoriously segregated neighborhoods—overlooked by poets attributing Sophian, gendered wisdom and gentleness to the gigantic and complex metropolis. Ultimately, though, it’s an ode all the same, a loving gesture to the bright lights big city made all the more intimate and affectionate by the acknowledgement of its avuncular charm, weaknesses, cruelties, and anomalous features.
Original artwork by Emily Calvo http://emilycalvo.com/artist/
This off-beat depiction of Chicago seems a fitting farewell to Chicago’s celebration of National Poetry Month, as it reflects not just Calvo’s unique perception of the Windy City, but the quirky nature of the readings I’ve attended this month and even, in some ways, the Chicago Public Libraries system as a whole. For anyone who has stumbled into a busy CPL branch on a warm weekend or a chilly workday, you’re familiar with the motley crew of fellow patrons that greets you, a crowd as diverse as the buildings, neighborhoods, and industries of the city that cradles them. They’re not all angels, as you’ll quickly discover when a cranky senior citizen grumbles at you for speaking above the meekest whisper—ironically using a decidedly audible and un-blushing tone to do so—but they’re nevertheless part of Chicago’s “treasure,” a few cantankerous frowns to match the “magnificent smiles, all colors all shapes” that make up this city.
Call to Action
While this year’s National Poetry Month is now over, interested readers can attend a variety of ongoing poetry events across the city of Chicago. The Poetry Foundation hosts year-long readings and workshops at various venues in Chicago and Chicagoland, including two upcoming events in May celebrating the works of Gwendolyn Brooks, a mid-twentieth-century Pulitzer Prize-winning poet whom Emily Calvo claims as one of her main literary influences.
When one walks into Salonathon, they can automatically sense the mission it is aiming to accomplish: establishing a safe and open community that forms an inclusive and creative platform for “underground emerging genre- defying artists,” as founder Jane Beachy puts it. Beachy and curators Joe Varisco, Will Von Vogt, and Bindu Poroori, and the many enthusiastic attendants of Salonathon have created this unique space for artists and performers in Chicago to express their creativity in an environment that is overall accepting and encouraging.
Beginning in July 2011, Salonathon has been hosted at Beauty Bar in the Noble Square area every Monday night at 9:15. Before leaving its mark on Beauty Bar every Monday, Salonathon has come a long way and has evolved organically to what people know and love today.
Beachy, who is originally from Kansas City, was creating these artistic spaces in her own home when she was a college student living in Seattle. “I was trying to figure out what it meant to be a writer or an artist or how one could find a way to express themselves. I was writing all these weird stories and I was having a hard time finding where these belonged and that made me feel very bad and worthless artistically,” said Beachy. After talking to people who felt similar to what Beachy was feeling, she soon took matters in her own hands and started hosting “salons” (a name that was influenced by the salons in France), at her home monthly and transformed her basement into a theater and her garage into a gallery. Eventually she would do this in Brooklyn and Chicago.
Beachy discovered that hosting these salons was an excellent way to meet and network with other creative individuals. “I became obsessed with the format of the salons and found that I was most passionate about making these bases and finding ways to bring people together, which was both celebratory and inclusive”.
When Beachy finally arrived to Chicago she worked at the About Face Theater for three years, a theater that aims to enhance the national dialog on gender and social identity. By working there, she met many queer emerging artists and was inspired to host salons in her home again. This was a way for Beachy to get immersed in the creative community in Chicago. While hosting these salons, she worked with some of these artists that eventually lead her to manage a band called Bath House, “a band that described them selves as ‘queer electroshock’,” as Beachy puts it.
Some time later Beachy booked a show for Bath House at a bar called The Empty Bottle and asked the owner if she could curate a salon at The Empty Bottle. Instead, the owner proposed if she wanted to do a weekly salon at Beauty Bar, which he was partnered with and like that Salonathon was born.
“I never tried to do anything that frequent before and it was very daunting and scary,” describes Beachy. She met Kelly Kerwin who helped Beachy build the foundation for Salonathon and aided her in curating and hosting the events. When Kerwin left Chicago after that first year of Salonathon, Beachy met current curators Varisco and Von Vogt. Both Varisco and Von Vogt brought all types of different people to Salonathon, which helped establish this open community. Over a year ago, a fourth curator Poroori was brought on the team and introduced another type of younger community that ultimately constructed the following that Salonathon has today.
The Monday night performances at Salonathon are not limited in any way. A melting pot of individuals go on stage from singers, dancers, poets, and even just people almost venting and releasing this raw emotion in their performances and a variety of other different acts that all follow the theme of the week. “The artists that perform have created their own path that doesn’t pre-subscribe to the traditional form,” describes Beachy. “There are two types of performers that are at Salonathon. One is the professional artists that do that for a living and the other is the people who have never performed in their life and they are doing that for the first time ever. Both of those type of performers are equally valuable to Salonathon”.
Outside of the Monday evening events and performances, Salonathon also hosts other performance outlets. This ranges from curating at the University of Chicago’s Chicago Performance Lab for genre-defying artists, hosting an annual artists retreat at Camp Wandawega in Wisconsin, curating at the Museum of Contemporary Art, to numerous other activities and events that are held outside of Salonathon Mondays.
Salonathon’s goal is to present these genre-defying artists while creating this unique and artistic community that makes one feel automatically welcomed once walking through the door of Beauty Bar. That feeling of acceptance and inclusiveness is extremely rare to find anywhere, yet Salonathon succeeds this effortlessly.
Call To Action
You can catch a Salonathon show every Monday at 9:15 located at Beauty Bar on 1444 W Chicago Ave in Noble Square or visit them on their website www.salonathon.org. If you want to perform at Salonathon, feel free to contact Jane Beachy or sign up on their website.
When speaking about Rise from the Ashes, a Plainfield-based 5013c nonprofit that provides legal and emotional support to low-income women suffering from domestic violence, founder Stephanie Austin is quick to point out some truly staggering numbers. Domestic violence, for example, causes more injuries to women every year than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined. Additionally, abusive partners seeking sole custody of children achieve their ends in 70% of cases in which the victim of domestic violence lacks representation. These numbers, she says, speak for themselves, testifying resoundingly to the urgent need for her organization and its work.
And they aren’t, she points out, just empty numbers, black-and-white statistics she’s culled from the pages of reputable journals but to which she cannot attest in real life. This is because Austin herself is a survivor of domestic violence, once a near-penniless mother struggling to sever the legal ties binding her to an abusive husband. “It was a desperate situation,” Austin says. Even when she considered trying to leave her husband, she “quickly found there was nowhere for me to go. You can stay in a women’s shelter, sure, but you can only stay for six weeks. Then what?” Not only was there nowhere to flee in the short-term, but the prospect of long-term solutions seemed equally grim: “No matter where I ended up staying,” she explains, “I needed legal representation to obtain a divorce and get custody of my kids. But this is almost impossible if you don’t have the money to hire an attorney.”
After all, she continues, the issue is more complicated than people think: “People will say, go to legal aid—you’re entitled to an attorney even if you can’t afford one!” she remembers, her words recalling the Miranda warning made famous by popular police and court procedurals, such as Law and Order. “But they don’t know or haven’t thought about the fact that this pertains to criminal law, not civil cases.” You’ll get a state-funded attorney if you’re charged with a crime, in other words, but not if you’re pursuing a civil matter, such as a lawsuit, a divorce, or a protection order. This means that many women—often already vulnerable due to straitened circumstances and abusive relationships—are left in a legal no-(wo)man’s land, struggling to address their problems legally but possessing no fiscal means to do so.
Original artwork by Charlotte Farhan https://panmelacastro.carbonmade.com/projects/6093377
It makes sense, perhaps, that people don’t know much about this side of the system as long as they’ve never had to deal with it personally; after all, Austin herself only comprehended the complexities of the problem once she encountered it. Faced with the urgent need for a divorce and custody of her children but with almost no money to do so, Austin threw herself at the mercy of an attorney she found by googling the term “aggressive solo custody lawyer.” Upon learning of her plight, this lawyer—Chicago-based attorney Michael A. Biederstadt of Biederstadt Law, P.C.—agreed to represent her.
Both Biederstadt and Austin would find the case and partnership to be an eye-opening experience: Austin encountered countless other women battling similar circumstances, women who, without the magnanimous assistance of an attorney, were faring far worse in their own cases than Austin was. At the same time, Biederstadt was learning about a side of the civil court system he had never so much as glimpsed before: even after years of practicing family law, Austin’s case was the first time he witnessed the unique and astonishing problems specific to domestic violence cases. He saw how the system tended to work against women in violent marriages and result in their legal underrepresentation. For example, many women experiencing domestic abuse do not possess an independent income or access to marital funds or assets, meaning that they cannot afford to hire their own attorneys. This material disadvantage does not, though, translate to free legal services as it would in many other cases: most free or subsidized legal aid services take the husband’s income and assets into account when considering whether an applicant qualifies for assistance. Consequently, women just like Austin were suffering in violent marriages because they couldn’t get representation to escape them.
The shared experience was so profound, Austin says, that neither one felt they could continue their lives as before, even after Austin’s own divorce and custody cases had been satisfactorily adjudicated. In recounting the formative inspiration for their venture, she recalls a favorite saying of her cofounder: “[Biederstadt] says all the time that you get opportunities in life to really make a difference, and it’s up to you if you take them or not.” So, the pair resolved to form a nonprofit that would support women in abusive marriages, connecting philanthropically minded lawyers and counselors with the women most in need of them.
Only two short years after its formation in 2015, Rise from the Ashes now provides an array of services to Kane, Kendall, DuPage, and Will counties. Not only do volunteers provide legal representation and counseling to needy clients, but they also arrange court companions for women set to attend or testify in court against their abusive exes, as well as organize legal clinics at women’s shelters around DuPage and Kane counties. These clinics are a way for Rise from the Ashes to reach and assist a wider range of women than the relatively few clients who qualify for and receive the organization’s more intensive, one-on-one legal and counseling services. “Many women,” Austin explains, “don’t qualify for our services due to financial factors, but they can still get a lot of useful information, community support, and legal advice when they attend our clinics and forums.”
Image by Taproot India for the Save Our Sisters campaign
At a recent event, she recalls, the organization held an open-ended Q&A session where women could ask legal professionals any question they might have about their own personal plights and efforts to escape abuse. Many women asked whether or not it was legal for them to record abusive telephone calls or in-person confrontations with their current or ex partners—after all, they reasoned, they would be asked later for evidence to support claims of abuse and mistreatment. No, the lawyers, answered, surreptitious recordings of any kind—with the exception of those documenting a crime—are not admissible in court in Illinois. This means that, while women may want to capture instances of their husbands yelling at them or their children for future reference, it’s actually illegal to do so. Similarly, if one wants to videotape an abuser’s violent behavior, one must disclose the fact that one is recording the altercation in order to use it as evidence.
Despite the rapid expansion and resounding success of the young organization, Austin concedes that there are some challenges. Fundraising and finding relevant grant opportunities, for example, can be a huge headache: since each case usually takes a long time—sometimes over a year—to complete, the organization is still building its finished client statistics. This means that many of the statistics grant committees look for are misleading, unable to reflect the fact that RFTA has provided over $200,000 in billable hours—including legal clinics and counseling services—in the past year alone. It can also be a problem to find highly qualified professionals: while signing on attorneys willing to donate their time and energy to the organization has been relatively easy, Austin notes that it has been more difficult to find pro bono counselors and psychologists. This dearth of mental health volunteers is particularly problematic because victims of domestic abuse don’t just need physical and legal separation from their abusers; they also require intensive therapy to administer to the psychological scars of long-term trauma.
Thankfully, these challenges shrink to a speck when compared to the rewards of keeping Rise from the Ashes afloat. Not only does Austin feel that she gets to “pay forward” the tremendous gift she received from her lawyer’s initial generosity, but she also gets to witness firsthand a kind-heartedness and goodwill in Chicagoland residents. “In a lot of ways we’ve been really fortunate to have received such immediate and generous support: when people hear the numbers and find out about the lack of services available, they want to help. I always say, it’s an obvious problem with an obvious solution. Once people see the problem, they’re—more often than not—willing to help with the solution.”
Call to Action
Rise from the Ashes is always looking for volunteers to help the organization. More specifically, they are looking for women who can commit their time to acting as court companions for RFTA clients. They also need people who can help plan and put together fundraising events, as well as experienced accountants or bookkeepers who can help out with the clerical side of the organization. If you’re interested in performing any of these duties, just reach out! Email email@example.com and someone from the organization will be sure to respond—just be sure to indicate what kind of role you can envision yourself playing in the organization, as it can be difficult for organization members to assign and coordinate ambiguous volunteer requests.
Or, if you’re short on time but still want to help out, visit the official RFTA website—rfta.co—and donate directly. All donations go directly to client services and assistance, and even modest gifts are greatly appreciated.
Thanks to Danielle Roper speaking at Hoodoise, I was informed about the Tambourine Army movement happening in Jamaica right now. This movement aims to combat sexual violence against women and girls and empower them with their basic rights. The name of the movement was coined by a woman who hit a rapist priest in the head with a tambourine. This resistance has spiked more resistance as people across the Caribbean have been marching in solidarity. As a form of intimidation to this resistance the police have arrested Latoya Nugent as she, the founder of this movement, has been demanding justice. I am unsure if she is still being held in jail. However, it is crucial that we get the word out about this movement and place some international attention on it. Our women everywhere deserve to be heard, respected, and uplifted.
CALL TO ACTION
Share this post with your friends. International pressure is vital. For more information and updated news on the movement like their page here.
At the Volunteer Expo in late February, Chicago Rises had a chance to connect with some amazing organizations. One of the them was Openlands. We hope to partner with Openlands to help spread the word on their mission to connect all of us to nature here!
Connecting People to Nature in Chicago
Founded in 1963 as a program of the Welfare Council of Metropolitan Chicago, Openlands has been at the very forefront of the urban conservation movement. As one of the first organizations in the United States to address environmental issues within a metropolitan region, their/our work has focused on people as much as on the nature, and Openlands strives to foster a great appreciation among the residents of Chicago for the natural areas around them.
Through the years Openlands has helped protect more than 55,000 acres of land for public parks and forest preserves, wildlife refuges, land and water greenway corridors, urban farms, and community gardens. Openlands’ work in Chicago empowers residents to care for their city by improving the health and wellness of their neighbors, engaging in the greening of their streets and schools, and caring for their local parks and community gardens.
Join the Openlands Community and Get Involved
Become a TreeKeeper, volunteer, plant trees, include your whole workplace or start a community garden. Here are a few of the ways you can get involved with Openlands this spring:
TreeKeepers work throughout the region to keep trees healthy, administering proper care and promptly recognizing and reporting harmful pests. New TreeKeepers complete an eight-day professional certification course and join a network of over 1,800 internationally-respected volunteers. Once you complete the course and are certified, TreeKeepers are an egalitarian network – everyone can get involved right away. It is a commitment to taking responsibility for the care of our city, there are volunteering opportunities most weekends between April and October, and it is a great way to spend your weekends outdoors.
Birds in my Neighborhood® is taught by volunteers at Chicago Public Schools with the goal of fostering youth interest in the natural world. Openlands believes school gardens and birds can be the entrée to connect youth with a long-term passion for the environment, and Birds in my Neighborhood supports the observation of birds in students’ schoolyards and neighborhood blocks. Openlands is always looking for willing adults to help with Birds in my Neighborhood field trips and to assist this great program that is reaching 1500 students across Chicago.
TreePlanters Grants – Openlands believes we must engage and communicate with local residents who benefit most directly from the trees in their neighborhood. TreePlanters Grants facilitate community tree plantings, bringing neighbors together in the community goal of healthy trees. Grant applicants will identify a planting location and gather volunteers interested in helping. On planting day Openlands provides tools and training to all volunteers, and with help from TreeKeepers, will educate communities on best practices to keep trees healthy.
Chance The Rapper has donated 1 million dollars to CPS schools. After discussing and protesting all the cuts CPS schools have been/are experiencing, this motivating news was much needed. Seeing the divestment of both the students and teachers especially in marginalized communities is disheartening, therefore waking up to some encouragement and even a challenge can help us continue the fight to invest into the youth of Chicago.
Everyone should have access to the knowledge of what is in their water. Many places in Chicago are at risk for hazardous lead, which Chicago should be held responsible to remove. If you are interested in learning more make sure you go see water expert, Michael Tiboris, speak at Lozano Library on 1805 S Loomis this Saturday January 28th at 2pm. This will be hosted by the P.E.R.R.O organization. Get ready to learn about the social and legal complications as well as the next steps you can take with this knowledge.
Thanks to Kirbi Range and Deanna Hallagan from Project Hope, we get to spread some awareness on what it means to be a pregnant teen and how Project Hope has been working to empower these mothers for over 30 years.
Before starting Project Hope, after the 60’s riots, Kay Hallagan began volunteering with Marillac and started a bus service called Mothers to Mothers. This was necessary since the food deserts and lack of transportation were barriers for the mothers to have access to a healthy selection of foods, which is something we still see in present day Chicago. After running this service, Kay was encouraged to go back to school and receive a Masters degree in social work at the Jane Adams School of Social Work at UIC. Since then she was offered a position as the head of the family services. As a mother of 12 she could easily empathize with the mothers in need, in turn she started Project Hope.