Volunteer Spotlight: Marietta McPike

Marietta McPike has been teaching piano at Family Matters for 20 years. In that time, she has worked with approximately 75 young people who participate in Youth Development programming. She began playing piano herself at the age of nine. She fondly remembers her own teacher, and how he would later become a friend. An important figure in her life, he taught her piano, harmony, and theory.

In addition to teaching piano, Marietta worked at IBM for 35 years. Still, she always found time for music. The skills that learning piano develops translate across several applications. It is a discipline where one must use the eyes, ears, brain, and muscles in order to progress. It requires the mastery of multiple senses as well as the mind. When asked how it feels, from her perspective as a teacher, when a young piano player demonstrates improvement on a song, she affirms, “The very best it when someone conquers a persistent problem… and suddenly can do it!”

She reflects, too, on how the youth have influenced her and on how they have shaped her thinking on very different perspectives as to expectations. She notes that one can be influenced by one’s surroundings, either to grow or to be stifled. Marietta remarks, “I like to challenge their ideas of what is possible and try to encourage them to reach higher, overcoming limitations.”

Learning piano is one way that youth, families, and Family Matters are contributing to building an equitable society in the North of Howard neighborhood. As Marietta says, “I think exposing the students to successful classical musicians of color, of different nationalities, of different ethnic backgrounds shows them that anyone….absolutely anyone…..can learn an instrument and be a star.  I adore showing them Winton Marsalis….Kathleen Battle…because it proves that they too can accomplish their goals.”

Family Matters is deeply grateful for all that Marietta shares with our community—time, talent, and a tenacious belief in Family Matters’ youth. There are currently five Family Matters youth piano players, and we are always seeking portable pianos for them to take home to practice, music books, and accessories to supplement their learning. Or you might consider sharing your own time and talent in another way!


Project RISE 2018

Two summers ago, Family Matters’ Boys to Men program launched an employment initiative, Project RISE, in partnership with the Community Church of Wilmette. Now in its third year, and with the support of the City of Chicago’s Chicagobility Summer Internship Project, Project RISE expanded this summer to include 31 youth.

Project RISE works to address biases and barriers that impede access to the workplace—deepening an understanding of how to leverage youths’ strengths and build relationships across ages, ethnicities, and socio-economic backgrounds. The program encompasses leadership, financial literacy, resiliency skills training and employment readiness, including the mock interviews and resume support given by members of the church’s congregation.

Mock Interviews

This summer’s participants worked 15 – 20 hours per week and had the opportunity to earn up to $450 in total. Teens were also provided a nutritious daily snack.

Community business partners included Sol Café, Little Beans, Neon, Urban Warrior, V-Tone Fitness, Neon CRM, Heartland Café, Ya Mon Jerk Grill, and the United Church of Rogers Park – all of which provided safe and supportive learning environments for youth.

Exposure to Possible Career Paths

Project RISE also afforded youth an opportunity to attend six field trips and to host four guest speakers. Guest speakers’ presentation topics focused on banking and personal investment strategies.

Field trips exposed youth to a diverse array of postsecondary college or career tracks and included:

–   Morningstar, Inc. (to deepen their understanding of financial literacy and the power of personal savings).

–   WNBA Chicago Sky game (including a “meet and greet” with a player and the coaches to learn more about sports management).

–   Exelon (to learn from a panel of diverse employees about their experiences as people of color in corporate America).

–   Specialty Print Communications (to get a “behind the scenes” look at direct marketing and the company’s innovative online and manufacturing operations).

–   Oakton Community College (to be introduced to the offerings of two-year schools: two-year degrees, certificate programs, and how one can take alternative paths by combining the two – i.e. obtaining an EMT certificate to fund a nursing degree).

Project RISE youth leaning in and asking questions in the Morningstar Board Room

Reaction from Teens

When asked to name one skill gained during the Project RISE experience that they are most proud of, youth shared:

“Teamwork.”

“Getting along with new people I meet.”

“Better listening.”

“Working hard so I can get what I want.”

“My communication skills.”

“Patience and understanding my limits, and finding a way to go beyond them.”

Project RISE continued to provide youth a forum to build transformative relationships, created opportunities for leadership development, and fostered teachable moments. We are excited to continue to grow the Project RISE program in the coming year!

If you are interested in hosting Family Matters teens at your workplace, or in supporting the program in a different way, please contact Chris at chris@familymatterschicago.org. To make a contribution, visit our donation page here.


Family Matters’ 2018 Graduates

We’re excited to share the following list of Family Matters’ 2018 graduates. Congratulations to all!

High School Graduates

Ket Net Pree, Acero Cruz High School. Ket will attend a two-year program at Arrupe Loyola this fall, then plans to transfer to a four-year university.

Melissa Soriano, Senn High School. Melissa will attend Truman College in the Fall to complete her Associate’s Degree before transferring to a 4-year University.

Maung Htay, Senn High School. Maung will attend School of the Art Institute of Chicago this fall.

Yissel Saenz, Rickover Naval Academy. Yissel will attend Lake Forest College this fall.

Kaleyah Wesley, Pathways in Education. Kaleyah was the recipient of the CCH (Coalition for Chicago’s Homeless) Scholarship, and will attend Harold Washington City College this fall.

Shaniya Spears, Pathways in Education. Shaniya will attend DePaul University in the fall.

Ariel Thoma, Amundsen High School. Ariel will attend Wright College this fall.

8th Grade Graduates

Jennifer Nunez, Gale Math & Science Academy. Jennifer will attend Sullivan High School.

Serena Phillips, Disney Magnet School. Serena will attend Evanston Township High School.

Jair & Joav Silva, Nichols Middle School. The twins will attend Evanston Township High School.

Orimoloye Wiliams, Nichols Middle School. Ori will attend Niles West High School.

Alex Torrez, Gale Math & Science Academy. Alex will attend Sullivan High School.

Lamonte Weathers, Gale Math & Science Academy

Michael Porter, Gale Math & Science Academy

Jaheem Adams, Gale Math & Science Academy

Other Graduates

Kevin Jones, Curt’s Cafe Training Program

Bianca Armour (Teen Girls Alumna), Concordia University, BA in Healthcare Management and a minor in Human Resources.

Nachelle Burton (Teen Girls Alumna), Arizona State University, MA in Criminal Justice.


Teen Filmmakers Start a Conversation

Members of Boys to Men (Family Matters’ Teen Boys Program) have hosted four community screenings of their film, Silence the Violence, a documentary that looks at the multiple causes of gun violence through the eyes of young men in Chicago. The film is a culmination of roundtable discussions with the police and the community at large.

Silence the Violence was filmed in Rogers Park and includes stories from all around Chicago. It was produced by Chris Spence, Family Matters’ Director of Teen Boys and Youth Engagement, and members of Boys to Men. Funding for the film was generously provided by the Community Church of Wilmette.

The young men in the film provide courageous, genuine reflections about life and death. They maintain that the violence is an issue of easy access to firearms and lack of access to alternatives to violence. The result is a powerfully arranged collection of everyday footage, statistics, 911 calls, and personalization of what have come to be all-too-familiar news stories.

Through the screenings and panel discussions, Family Matters seeks to offer Rogers Park youth a platform for relating their experiences of discrimination, sharing their opinions on the issue of gun violence, and providing other youth an opportunity to offer insight on promoting peace within our neighborhood and city.

“The experience I had at the theater was amazing. It gave me a platform to show other people how minority youth, including myself, struggle in the neighborhood we live in and to tell our personal story. Being on stage answering questions from the audience made me feel as if I was a spokesperson, speaking on behalf of the people in my community.”  

– Elijah, Boys to Men member

The four screenings (held at the Community Church of Wilmette, Centered Studios, and the New 400 Theaters) were followed by panel discussions, which engaged diverse audiences in constructive dialogue with the young men. Given participant responses, we believe that they emerged with a deeper understanding of these complex issues.

“The screening was a great thing. I love the way I got to talk about our community problems and to find a solution. We need all the help we can get to make our community a better place.”

– Derek, Boys to Men member

Proceeds from the screenings support Project RISE, which offers internships for the youth at local businesses.

We are hopeful that the screenings have inspired future opportunities for collaboration and justice-oriented action.

If you or someone you know is interested in hosting a group screening of the film, please contact Amanda Reuter at amanda@familymatterschicago.org. We would also welcome feedback from anyone who attended one of the screenings.

If you would like to make a contribution to support Boys to Men, please follow this link.


Jennifer and Faith

With eighth grade on the horizon, Jennifer, That Goddess Power (Teen Girls Program) member since 2015, decided she could benefit from Evening Tutoring. In the past twelve months, she has suffered two devastating losses – an uncle to cancer and a close friend in a drowning at the neighborhood beach. Focusing on academics was difficult to do with the anger that surfaced.

Her tutor-mentor, Faith, shares, “That’s one of the first things we bonded over – losing someone. It’s a challenging situation, and I think it’s why Jennifer ended the last year with D’s and F’s. She’s got the drive and motivation. She can do anything she puts her mind to.”

Faith supported Jennifer, and Jennifer worked closely with Ashaki, the Director of That Goddess Power, on ways to regain control of her emotions. The Family Matters community watched eagerly as Jennifer gained the skills she needed to be the star she always wanted to be. She now has all A’s and B’s and is going to sing at her eighth grade graduation ceremony. “It’s because of [Faith and Ashaki]. Because they tell me not to give up; that if I want something I have to earn it.”

Looking back, Jennifer recalled the crucial love and support Ashaki showed to her when she was feeling at her lowest. “She was always there for me. She told me ‘Never give up on what you want. You’re a strong girl. You’re a powerful girl.’ I’d like to thank her for everything she did for me, and especially for listening to everything I had to say.”

Jennifer and Faith also find enjoyment each week when they play math games and listen to music. Faith appreciates the collaborative nature of the Evening Tutoring program, and how she feels listened to and supported. “I’m a piece of the puzzle here.”

Jennifer realizes that hard work and community will be integral in achieving her long-term dreams. She wants to be “a social worker, a dancer, a singer, and a counselor who helps kids who’ve been through things like I have.” She knows, too, that self-love will be the first step in accomplishing these goals. “First we have to love ourselves, then we can love others.” she reflects.

For Jennifer and Faith, that’s what Family Matters is all about. Faith says, “It’s Supportive. Positive. Collaborative.” Jennifer adds, “It’s Community. Leadership. And Love.”


Teens at Work

Recent research suggests that unemployment among Black and Hispanic youth in Chicago is higher than anywhere else in America.

The academic and economic potential in inner city communities and students has been largely unrecognized and untapped.

In response, last summer Family Matters’ Boys 2 Men program (which works with young men ages 12-19), launched an employment initiative, Project RISE, in partnership with the Community Church of Wilmette. Six members of Boys 2 Men were placed in local businesses for a six-week job experience. The program encompassed leadership, financial literacy, resiliency skills training and employment readiness, and was enriched with mock interviews and resume support given by members of the church’s congregation.

This summer the program has expanded to include the Teen Girls – in all, 18 Family Matters teens participated. The youth were employed at:

Charmer’s Cafe
Dollop Coffee
Lady B Botique
Little Beans Cafe
Neon CRM
Sol Cafe
Spex Carwash
Studio 876
Urban Warrior Fitness
V-Tone Fitness
Symphony (center) and Shaniya (second from right) at Sol Cafe.

The experience has been transformative for the teens involved. In addition to learning new skills and gaining work experience, the jobs have instilled a sense of pride in earning money. The employers are sending a strong message to the participants: we value you, we welcome you, and we want to work with you.

Maku and Antwon in the Sol Cafe kitchen.

“Thank you, for the opportunity to be a part of Family Matters Project RISE Internship Program this summer. It was a great learning experience for the cafe and our entire team. Savion is a wonderful young teen to work with. He was timely, friendly to all, completed all tasks asked of him, and took initiative when and where needed. Most importantly it was best getting to know him. Savion is a wonderfully cheerful, smart young fella with lots of amazing interest. We wish him the best in all of his endeavors.Today, we took a field trip to Restaurant Depot and I shared with him how I shop for the cafe. He was amazed at the gigantic warehouse.  It proved to be a good team building experience for us both.”
– Roseanna, Charmers Cafe

The program was a tremendous success:

  • 100% of partners are interested in participating with the program again next summer.
  • 100% of partners were encouraged by the progress the interns made over the summer.
  • 100% of participants learned and developed new skills.
  • 100% of participants believed they are better prepared for school and the world of work as a result of participating in the RISE Program.
  • 100% of participants would like to return to the program next summer.

“Every day I learned something new. Communication with my fellow workers is so important. I learned what it means to be responsible.”
-Savion, 14

One of the unintended benefits of the program is that it became a poverty reduction strategy in the community as all of the students were able to support their families with their resources.

We are incredibly grateful to the Community Church of Wilmette for its generous support of this program, and to the local businesses that have welcomed Family Matters youth this summer.

If you would like to employ Family Matters teens at your business next summer, please contact Chris at chris@familymatterschicago.org.


2017 Family Matters Graduates

Family Matters celebrated the graduation of three high school seniors in June 2017.

Cindy Borski and Adrian Hernandez have tutored together since Adrian was in fourth grade. Over the most recent years, Cindy has supported Adrian through numerous academic and personal goals he’s set for himself and assisted him in his application process for various colleges and financial aid. One of their favorite tutoring pastimes this year was having lively discussions about politics and its relevance in their lives.

This spring, Adrian graduated from Mather High School’s Information Technology Academy and will be attending Oakton Community College in the fall to continue his education.

Enrique and Jaime have worked with their tutors, Megan Fellman and Brad Schwarzhoff, for six years. Both young men plan to attend Northeastern University in the fall.

Brad attended Jaime’s graduation ceremony in May, during which Jaime was asked to hand out roses to three people in the audience who played a role in his success. He chose Brad as one of those recipients. During the signing ceremony for a  scholarship awarded to Jaime, Brad shared that he is going to continue his tutor-mentor relationship with Jaime, meeting with him at least once a week as he transitions into college next year. Jaime plans to study computer science, in large part because of Brad’s encouraging guidance when Jaime showed interest in the field.

 

Enrique insists he could not have gotten into his high school without Megan’s guidance. During his eighth grade year, she worked with him on his application essay to Lake View, which Enrique was attracted to in part because they had a strong STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program and offered art classes. With Megan’s support, Enrique was accepted into his first choice high school. Four years later, she was by his side when he accepted his college scholarship.

A positive relationship with a consistent adult can nurture a youth’s potential in powerful ways, and Adrian, Jaime and Enrique are powerful examples of that. We are so excited to see what their next chapters bring!


Anna’s Story


Anna, 12, attends the Family Connections program, where she she spends Monday through Friday afternoons receiving one-on-one literacy coaching, learning and practicing life skills, and engaging in hands-on learning projects. She also has time for things she loves – music, dance, and being with friends. “At Family Matters I like how respectful everyone is. I also like all of the activities we get to do, skills that we learn, and having access to computers so I can get my homework done. “Through Family Matters, I can be a better person and I learn new life skills. At Family Matters I feel free, joyful, and excited to see what’s in store for the day. I love Family Matters!”

“Being in the classroom all day is difficult for me. I have trouble focusing because I need to move often. The material is very hard and I don’t always understand it.” At Family Matters, Anna learns strategies to cope at school. “I learn life skills that I can use now and when I grow up. They really help me in the hardest of times. For example, when I am very frustrated I use the balloon to remind me to take a deep breath and calm down. And the hula hoop – which reminds me to ask for personal space and give it to others.”

Anna’s mother Vivian shares, “Family Matters was there for my family during a critical time when my child was in need of educational support. Not only were they able to assist her academically, but since attending the program her confidence level has skyrocketed and she has flourished emotionally and socially. There is not a day that goes by that I have not recommended the program to someone I know. The wonderful staff and the dedicated families have truly become like family. It is our home away from home.”

Anna is one of nearly 100 children who come to Family Matters each week, where they are heard, supported, and encouraged to dream big.


Alex’s Story

Alex Smith Hickman came to Family Matters in 2004 at the age of 12 and participated in the Teen Boys program until he graduated from high school. “My father knew about Family Matters and put me in the group – it was something for me to do after school instead of being out on the streets.

“I’ve realized how vital Family Matters was to my growing up. We learned art, electronics, business skills, and carpentry – how to work as a team and to communicate with each other. Family Matters helped me, as a young man, to see how I could contribute to the world with the talents that I developed here, in a space where I was with brothers. It brought us together as a family. Dan shaped us into the young men that we are today. I’m so grateful to have this place to come back to. Family Matters will always be like home to me.

“Family Matters showed me how important teamwork is. In this neighborhood, I don’t see a lot of teamwork between younger guys in a productive way. They need direction and guidance. I think there should be a Family Matters in every neighborhood in Chicago. More people should be able to have access to a place like this.”


Tabitha and Judi

In 1994, thirteen-year-old Tabitha Williams joined the Teen Girls Program at Family Matters after hearing about the program from friends. She says, “Through each meeting, I felt a kinship with the girls and it became apparent that this was the place I needed to be.”

Tabitha was paired with her mentor, Judi Schindler, who met with her regularly both inside and outside of Family Matters. Tabitha connected deeply with Judi and her husband Jack, and became part of their family. Twenty-three years later, they are still close. In January, Judi and Jack traveled to New Orleans to celebrate the opening of the Troubador Hotel, where Tabitha is now the Director of Food and Beverage. She shares, “Right now, I’m at the top of the world.”

“Family Matters became a family – to me and to all of the other girls in the program as well. It provided an environment where there was no judgment and where you could be who you were. We learned about choices and consequences, and we were listened to. Everything at Family Matters started me on the path to where I am now, and I am so grateful.”

Tabitha (left) with Judi (second from right) and Jack at their son’s wedding