Changing children’s lives through dancing

Changing children’s lives through dancing

How great would it be if the world was one big “Step Up” movie, where all conflicts can be resolved through dancing your feelings away?

You’re right, it would be amazing! Thanks to one non-profit, this idea is not so far-fetched to many young people in Chicago.

Everybody Dance Now! [EDN] is a national organization with different chapters around the country that offers free or low-cost dance programming to elementary and middle school students (and soon high school students as well). Jordan Ordonez, the Chicago chapter director, explained that EDN uses dance as a vehicle for youth empowerment and community building. They chose hip hop because it is the cheapest and most relatable option – kids can wear whatever they were wearing to school.

EDN started in Santa Barbara, California with a fourteen-year-old named Jackie Rotman. She started teaching at the local community center and it quickly branched out. Years later her dad was catching up with an old high school friend when he told him to “google my daughter”. This friend was no one less than Sophia Horwich’s father, the girl who brought EDN to Chicago. By that time, Horwich was a DePaul student and EDN then began as a student organizations where college students could volunteer. The club later became the Chicago chapter.

Besides offering dance classes, which can be either summer or semester sessions (at locations near schools), EDN has other programs as well. They offer an enrichment program in the middle of each session, where they bring a guest teaching artist. They tend to invite instructors of different types of dance, such as Latin, Polynesian, and even the Chicago Footwork. The idea is to show students the different goals they can pursue within dancing.

They also have an annual showcase, where they bring all the classes together. This year’s showcase is in June, at the Harold Washington Cultural Center. Each student will be partnered with a community dancer to do 2 vs. 2 youth battle and breaking. The battles are a new addition to the annual showcase, and according to Ordonez the students are very excited about it. They are quickly learning that there is more to dancing than just performances, such as battling for example.

The showcase will also consist of a hip hop dance summit, where children can meet community dancers and learn how dancing can be used as a means to express, resolve conflicts, advocate and can even become a career.

Ordonez also shared future plans for the program – EDN is piloting a wellness and leadership program. For the wellness aspect, the organization aims to bring nutritionists to teach kids about grocery shopping and healthy eating habits as well as a fitness coach to show them how to treat their bodies well in order to be good dancers. For the leadership part of the program, they are looking into bringing a life coach to show the students how to set up goals. As Ordonez explained, EDN is exploring “What else can we do now that we have their attention?”

Call to Action

There are four different ways to help EDN:

  1. Donate! As a non-profit, EDN appreciates any financial support you can offer
  2. Interact with them on social media. They have an Instagram page that you can follow and increase their audience
  3. Get physically involved by becoming one of their faculty if you have dance experience
  4. Volunteer your time! EDN has a wide range of volunteers – dance instructors, therapists, journalists, video editors. Fill out their form here.
The Night Ministry: Bringing Support to the Streets of Chicago

The Night Ministry: Bringing Support to the Streets of Chicago

      Instead of waiting for people to come to them, The Night Ministry is taking to the streets of Chicago. The Night Ministry is a non-profit which provides housing and support for those confronting homelessness.

      Unlike many similar organizations throughout the city, The Night Ministry puts boots on the ground in the streets of Chicago each day in their Health Outreach bus. This bus, which is roughly the size of a CTA bus, transport social workers, nurse practitioners, members of The Night Ministry’s team, as well as volunteers throughout the city  to help individuals who aren’t able to reach clinics and other service locations that are open during the day. The team on the Health Outreach Bus provides free services such as confidential testing for HIV, Hepatitis C and STDs. They also provide basic medical care, pregnancy tests and provide referrals for medical and dental care for those in need. For encampments these large buses are unable to reach, The Night Ministry sends out a street medicine team to help those in need. The street team visits individuals living under bridges and other outdoor locations to provide survival supplies and connect them to needed support services.

     The Night Ministry also makes an impact through its five housing programs for young people experiencing homelessness. The non-profit’s doors are open to anyone and everyone, with specific support services for LGBT youth and teen mothers. Barbara Bolsen, Vice President for Strategic Partnerships and Community Engagement at The Night Ministry, stated “Success is measured in small steps – almost 90% of former residents of our youth housing programs say they feel confident and stable in their current living situations and more than 60% of Health Outreach Bus visitors say that relationships they’ve built at the Bus have led to new opportunities”. At The Night Ministry, they are not simply lending out a helping hand, they are setting individuals up for a successful and independent life.

 

Call to Action

  • Donate! The Night Ministry is always accepting packages of new white or black adult socks, packages of new adult sized underwear, single-ride Ventra passes, and $5-$10 gift cards for McDonald’s, Subway, Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks and $15-$30 gift cards for stores like Jewel, Mariano’s, Walgreens, CVS or Target. Drop off times are Monday-Friday 9am-5pm at 4711 N. Ravenswood Ave. 
  • Volunteer! Serve a meal with a group of friends at “The Crib,” a LGBTQ-friendly overnight shelter, or provide street meals alongside the staff of the Health Outreach Bus. Volunteer on a Saturday to create hygiene kits for distribution! E-mail volunteering@thenightministry.org or call 773-784-9000.

  • Learn!
    Invite The Night Ministry to your workplace for a “Corporate Lunch and Learn” including a presentation on their efforts, and complete a service project (making sandwiches or creating hygiene kits) with your coworkers!
Good Food, Good Company, Good Cause: Soup and Bread’s 10th Season Is Underway

Good Food, Good Company, Good Cause: Soup and Bread’s 10th Season Is Underway

Winter break ushered in temperatures in the single digits and the days of below-zero windchills have carried into the new year. The January cold may be an indication of dark winter days and cabin fever yet to come, but it also marks the return of a beloved Chicago tradition: Soup and Bread at The Hideout.

In a major metropolitan area like Chicago, a chance to bump elbows with your neighbors and break bread together in a small, cozy setting may sound like a vestige of a bygone era, but every Wednesday through March, Soup and Bread serves as an opportunity for community members to do just that. Each week volunteer chefs bring a soup—and plenty of it—to share with anyone who cares to drop by. Partakers pay a donation in an amount of their choosing and then enjoy the offerings of the day, along with delicious bread donated by Publican Quality Bread. All proceeds are donated to local nonprofits combating hunger in Chicago, like the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

Call to Action

We all know that heavy winter feeling that beckons us inside, shielding us from the harsh elements right beyond our doors. But summon the intrepid winter traveler within you (you know you have one if you live here) and check out Soup and Bread, which kicked off its tenth season this week at The Hideout. Sample some outstanding food (with vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options often available), enjoy some camaraderie with your fellow Chicagoans, and support important causes that serve Chicago’s most vulnerable citizens. You’ll be glad you did.

Fancy yourself quite the cook? Consider making a pot of your favorite soup for Soup and Bread this season! Email soupnbread10@gmail.com to get in touch with the organizers.

Raising the Next Generation of Givers

Raising the Next Generation of Givers

You’re never too young to learn the importance of giving back, and Families Helping Families Chicagoland [FHFC] knows it.

Families Helping Families Chicagoland aims to improve the lives of low income families and foster children in the Chicagoland area. The charity collaborates with different social service agencies, homeless shelters, and schools to find needs they can help fulfill. To meet those needs, they hold monthly donation collections, sponsor foster children for their birthdays, and host hands-on events. These events give children opportunities to immerse themselves in the idea of giving back.

Families Helping Families Chicagoland started with founder and president Amy Newman four years ago. Inspired by her mother, a woman who was all about giving back, Newman wanted to find a way to help kids for the holidays. She began collecting donations, and with the help of others, was able to help 200 kids all from her own home.

Since then, Families Helping Families has grown, now complete with its own board of directors, and even a junior board. All 12 board members are volunteers and actively involved in pick-ups, drop-offs and running events. The junior board helps to plan and spread the word about events.

“Getting children involved is very important to FHFC. We feel that giving back is something to be modeled, so our children see it as [a necessity], not just a choice,” Newman said.

With four years under her belt, Newman has enjoyed watching all kinds of people come together to make a difference. The most rewarding part is “seeing the relief on people’s faces” and knowing that they’ve helped make hard times a little easier.

Call to Action

Want to get involved?

  • Visit FHFC’s facebook page to find info about their events and volunteer opportunities.
  • Visit their website to find out how to donate.
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.

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.