Giving Kids the Essentials to Succeed

Giving Kids the Essentials to Succeed

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.

Spread your love through coats and warmth

Spread your love through coats and warmth

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.

 

Photo by Blake Lisk on Unsplash

A Safe Space at Broadway Youth Center

A Safe Space at Broadway Youth Center

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.

Chicago Women That Will Inspire You

Chicago Women That Will Inspire You

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 (velvian.cwap@gmail.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!

Disability Pride Parade

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.

In Living Color

In Living Color

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!

http://www.chicagohouse.org/mission-and-history/

http://www.getequal.org/

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/project-fierce-support-a-grassroots-effort-to-address-queer-youth-homelessness#/