For Gretchen, Family Matters is more than just a tutoring organization. It is a community, the source of numerous new friendships, and a place that has felt like “home” for nine years.
It is also the spot that has given Gretchen the opportunity to get to know Arin, a sixth-grader at St. Mary of the Lake who Gretchen describes as smart, hard-working—and just a little bit sarcastic. In the four years that Gretchen has been tutoring Arin, the pair has worked on everything from vocabulary words to science experiments. Gretchen has been impressed by the breadth of Arin’s intelligence, her analytical skills, and her willingness to learn.
“I don’t have time. I don’t have time, and I thank God for this program. I work very far away, and Ashaki [the Teen Girls Director] supports me very much. Every year since my girls started coming to Family Matters in 2011, we have had new coats, new gloves. We had just left the shelter, and I couldn’t take my girls many places.
Through Family Matters they did a lot of things I can’t provide myself, like trips to Indiana and Chuck E Cheese. One day my daughter Heidy was jumped at the park after school. Ashaki took her in like her own child – she went to the police, talked to the principal and the teacher,she even sent me a text message and said, ‘Don’t worry.’ I thought, ‘My kids just moved from Africa where we have civil war, and now my daughter is traumatized because she was beaten in front of her friends.’
Being a member of the board has been a good experience for me because I can talk with people of means. They are very humble, and they support this program, and I’m very proud of how much I’ve learned. I’m the kind of person who is open, and this has opened my mind too because I have learned how to talk, how to be a part of meetings. I have learned how to be a leader, how to talk with others, how to share my mind, how to deal with different kinds of people.
The last Family Matters gala was my first time going out in Chicago at night. That day I said, ‘I’m in the US now.'”
Megan: “It’s always a pleasure working with Enrique. The place is set up to really support the pairs in tutoring or whatever program it might be – you don’t feel like you’re just left to your own devices, there’s a lot of good support there.”
Enrique: “Megan is really helpful, she encourages me to do things, she gets me involved in programs at school that I don’t really know about, she takes her time with me, it’s a lot that she does for me. I couldn’t have gotten into Lake View [High School] without Megan’s help.”
“Family Matters has changed me in a lot of ways. I’ve learned many things – how to be a better person, a better worker, a better friend, and basically a better self. I wasn’t trying hard enough and Family Matters gave me that push to try harder. They inspired me to keep going and never give up. I’m very proud that I took the time to be here and hang out with the youth and the people my age as well. I’ve learned how to deal with a set of different people. We get a better understanding every time we come together.
[Family Matters] is like a second home for me. A place of peace, a place I come to when I need things, when I need to get my work done, and other good things like that. It spreads my talents, shows my weaknesses, and helps me improve on them to make them not weaknesses but strengths.”
I thank God every day for Family Matters – to have had somewhere to come to be safe.”
“I love coming to Family Matters. I feel safe here. I learn about ways to solve
conflicts and I have fun. I wish I could come to Family Matters every day, even
on the weekends. I learn something new here every day. “
“Besides the smell of the house (good smells, like books) I remember feeling very safe and peaceful at the Family Matters house back on Ashland street. I remember just going in the attic and looking out through the small window and reading books. As a recent immigrant family, when we came to Family Matters, my parents were not aware of the school system, nor anything in this country, and Family Matters became a resource to them.aware of the school system, nor anything in this country, and Family Matters became a resource to them. They were not only helping me academically, but also supporting my family.
I volunteer at Family Matters because I think there’s a need in our communities for these types of organizations that support our youth, who are our future leaders. If there is no guidance or enlightenment during our formation years we will become lost adults. I want to feel and be part of a better society.”
I have been interning at Family Matters for the past 10 weeks. During my time here I have worked in administration and with the Teen Girls Program (TGP). I have witnessed the girls plan and execute workshops and projects, among many other things. The TGP Open Mic, the girls’ most recent initiative, allowed the girls to not only showcase their creativity and talent, but also presented them with the opportunity to direct and produce their own show. The teen girls were responsible for every aspect of the show ranging from decorations to refreshments to performances. I witnessed the girls navigate challenges during rehearsals as well as on opening night.
At the TGP Open Mic event I witnessed community members come out and support the girls and the community they live in. I also witnessed a passerbyer drop in and take hold of the entire audience with her words and spirit. While the passerbyer and her performance were sensational, the act was also a testament to the Teen Girls Program, and the entire Family Matters, being a safe place for the participants as well as the larger community. So many times I have witnessed the girls do things that are so minuscule in their eyes, but for me as a newcomer, their impact is more obvious than ever. They created a space for people to share their deepest emotions through spoken word, singing, drumming, and any other medium of their choice. In doing so the girls ignored the limits of comfort zones and created a space where everyone felt both welcomed and comfortable.
Other golden moments of the night occurred every time the girls leaned on each for assistance. Instead of running to the program director or one of the interns, the girls went to each other when they had a question or looked for suggestions. They were solely self-sufficient. While the audience got to witness the girls’ hard work and creativity come to life, there was so much more going on. The night was certainly something to witness.
Although my days as an intern are few, it brings me comfort to know the teen girls program is constantly growing and the girls are molding themselves into the young women they want to be and know they can be with the support of the program director, the community and one another.
Family Matters and the Teen Girls Program have had a lasting impact on me and I am so thankful I was given the chance to learn and grow with and from them. They are truly amazing inside and out, back and forth, up and down… generally all around.
They’ve teamed up for a garden beautifying project, and we’re loving the results! Elijah has been passionate about urban gardening for many years, and Laurel has been meeting with him several times a week to tend to Family Matters’ front yard, which was torn up during some sewer work earlier this year. Through this mentorship, the pair have taken trips together to local gardens, shops and other attractions. The experience has been a rewarding one for both Elijah and Laurel. She says:
Elijah is a joy to know. I think I’m working with a young master gardener – Elijah knows his plants! He often teaches me, and on a field trip to the Chicago Botanic Garden he could identify almost every plant. Wow! He had informed me that it’s not dirt but soil, to be scientifically proper, when I said I like digging in the dirt. Elijah loves to cultivate native plans and would like to develop a butterfly garden to attract monarchs, a very endangered butterfly.
Laurel and Elijah work a few mornings per week. Many people who pass by will stop to comment about their progress and to chat for awhile. The Teen Boys have also helped out with heavy lifting of mulch and soil bags, and to haul away bags of weeds.
Thank you to Laurel and Elijah for your dedication to this project!
Do you have an area of interest that you’d like to share with our students? Please contact us for information on volunteering at Family Matters.
|Zoe and Melissa during a tutoring session|
It was so much fun to create a project with Ivette that was completely directed by her creativity and comfort level! She learned how long it took to make a jewelry set, how to brainstorm her creative abilities, and how to price items based on time and costs. And what did I learn? I learned how to loop loom using rubber bands from Ivette. This experience also reminded me that I can learn something new at any age, from anyone.
The finished product!
*Family Matters is so grateful to be the recipient of this year’s proceeds from Jellyvision’s auction. Thank you, Jellyvision!