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


Julissa’s Birthday Cake

Spring is a time for celebration at Family Matters – celebrating warmer weather, longer days, and some other special celebrations like this one. Julissa, a student in Community Tutoring’s IREAD initiative, is celebrating her birthday and her efforts sharpening her reading and writing tools. She baked the cake with her tutor, Mattie, and composed the following writing piece with her tutor, Laurie.

Julissa’s Birthday Cake

First we washed our hands. Then we went to the kitchen. In a pan there were chocolate candies, colored frosting (pink, purple, black), sprinkles, eggs, oil, chocolate cake mix. We put the cake mix, water, eggs and oil in a mixing bowl and stirred it up. We heated the oven to 350. We put the mix in the pan and put the pan in the oven. We waited then took it out. We let the cake cool down. We put pink frosting on top. Then we put purple icing on it and decorated with the chocolate candies and the sprinkles. We made it a gymnastics cake. Then we ate it!

Love,
Julissa Nuñez, 10 years old


Silvina, Ofelia and Family

Ofelia and Silvina have three children at Family Matters. Francesca is a member of the Teen Girls Program, Alexis attends the Teen Boys Program, and Nathan is in the Family Connections program. They share:

“Family Matters is a place where we have fun doing our homework; where we are learning how to be strong and positive; where we discovered a world full of possibilities; and where our kids are safe, happy and better people. Family Matters is a place where, as a family, we learned to take care of each other, our community, and our world.”


Theresa, Mason and Madison

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Mason and Madison attend the Family Connections program. Their mother Theresa, an alumni of Family Matters, shares:

“I have been a member of Family Matters for 20 years. I started out in the Teen Girls Program​ and became a member of the​ ​L​eadership ​C​orp​s​ and ​the Board of Directors. Family Matters has played a very important role in my life ​through​ the philosophies and leadership skills I have learned​ there​. It has groomed me to be the woman and mother I am today. When picking a neighborhood to move back to after having children, I decided to come back to Rogers Park for one reason only: to get my children into Family Matters. I knew this was the only program I wanted them to be a part of because it would help me ​guide them and ​continue to teach them what I already had instilled in them—choices and consequences and learning to think positively. Family Matters is my second family and I am so grateful for everyone​ there​.”


Anna & John

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John is in 8th grade and attends the Teen Boys Program and Evening Tutoring. His mother, Anna, shares:

“Family Matters offers my son and me a community where we can both offer help and get help. I wanted John to be part of something where he felt like he belonged, not just where he attended or showed up — a place that really fostered relationships, connections and values about accountability and leadership in a very intentional way. The Teen Boys program is exactly that. Homework time was a source of tension and frustration for us. At Community Tutoring, John’s tutor is really able to encourage and push him to pay attention to the smallest details that make big differences in the quality of his work. I [recently] started tutoring a 3rd grader named Lar May and that’s been really rewarding – he set goals of getting A’s and B’s on his tests and that goal helped him get on the honor roll this past fall.”


Vivian, Anna & Avah

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Anna and Avah attend the Family Connections program. Vivian, their mother, shares:

“Family Matters, for my family, is a place for social connection, a place where each of us – Anna, Avah and myself – can feel truly accepted regardless of our race or ability. 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 and Diamond | A Tutor Story

When Anna and Diamond started working together six years ago, Anna devised a simple but effective tool for motivating Diamond: stickers.

“She loved stickers,” Anna says.

The two laugh as they remember the binder Diamond covered with all of the stickers she earned for things like writing down her assignments.

Although she still has that binder today, Diamond says stickers aren’t quite the motivator that they used to be. “Don’t get me stickers now,” she jokes.


Her love for stickers isn’t the only thing that has changed. Six years ago, Diamond was a shy sixth-grader who hated books. Today, she is an outgoing high school student in Senn’s theater program, and she cites reading as one of her favorite hobbies—thanks, in part, to Anna.

The relationship between Anna and Diamond has evolved, too, from that of tutor-tutee, to that of friends.


“It’s just interesting the way it’s changed so much,” Anna says, explaining that early on, the pair focused more on skill-building, like multiplication and reading. Now, though, Diamond is able to complete most of her assignments on her own.  “So we just talk about things,” Anna says. “It’s just more of a relationship that way.”


Their relationship extends outside of their weekly tutoring sessions, with Anna frequently attending Diamond’s theater performances, such as Our Town. The two also enjoy spending time together baking cookies and apple pie, a hobby Anna introduced to Diamond. Diamond has also taken advantage of Family Matters programming other than tutoring, such as the Teen Girls program and weekly piano lessons. “I have so many memories from here,” she says.

Yet both agree that their friendship is one of the main reasons they return to evening tutoring year after year.

“It’s just Diamond,” Anna says. “Just the relationship that we have.”

“I agree,” says Diamond.


Gretchen and Arin | A Tutor Story

In 2006, Gretchen signed on to idealist.org, looking for an opportunity to tutor in the Chicago area. She had no idea that, almost a decade later, she would still be riding the train to Family Matters every Thursday evening. 

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.


But it’s the time that Gretchen and Arin have spent just hanging out that Gretchen has enjoyed the most. Gretchen constantly shows up to Family Matters with something new in her bag: Boggle, art supplies, the ingredients to make homemade biscuits. Arin says she likes working with Gretchen because of her fun personality and sense of humor. Gretchen similarly appreciates how much Arin makes her laugh.

“I just really like working with Arin,” she says, explaining that her reason for tutoring is pretty simple: “It makes me feel happy.”


And although Gretchen has seen a lot of exciting developments over her nine years at Family Matters, her favorite thing about Family Matters is that it still feels like the same place she found on idealist.org nine years ago. “It’s a home, it’s a community, and that hasn’t changed.”





Faces of Family Matters | Part 2


“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.”



Megan and Enrique | A Tutor Story


When Enrique, a high school sophomore, first met Megan, she struck him immediately as someone who could offer him “a lot of help” with his schoolwork.
            He was right.
            Over the last three years, Megan and Enrique have used their weekly tutoring sessions to tackle a range of projects including bringing up Enrique’s algebra grades, improving his punctuation skills, and learning new vocabulary words. For a recent English project, Enrique was required to memorize and perform at least 14 lines of a Shakespearean sonnet. The idea of making eye contact while delivering his lines made Enrique nervous, so the pair drew pictures of peoples’ faces and hung them around their tutoring room. Delivering his lines to this “audience” over multiple tutoring sessions paid off: Enrique earned over 100% on the project.
            Megan, who works in Northwestern’s media relations department, says that she enjoys tutoring Enrique in part because of his pleasant personality and intelligence. She also credits Family Matters with providing an environment that supports tutoring pairs. “You don’t feel like you’re left to your own devices,” she explains.

            Beyond schoolwork, Megan also encourages Enrique to try out new activities at school. Last year, he participated in volleyball. This year, she has urged him to learn about his school’s drama program since he enjoyed performing the sonnet for his English class. “She takes her time with me,” Enrique says. “It’s a lot that she does for me.”
And though Megan is quick to deny it, Enrique insists he could not have gotten into his high school without her help. During his eighth grade year, he sat down with Megan and Keri, the evening tutoring coordinator, to discuss the high school he wanted to attend. He was attracted to Lake View for multiple reasons—they had a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program, offered art classes, and of course, they didn’t require students to wear uniforms. As part of Enrique’s application, he had to write an essay about the neighborhood in which he grew up. Megan prompted Enrique to think about different details he could include in his essay and assisted him in organizing his thoughts into an outline. When he found out he was accepted into Lake View, Enrique “just felt so happy.”

            This year, the pair’s goal is to continue working on essays and writing thesis statements, a skill that will no doubt come in handy when Enrique eventually starts applying to colleges.  Although he doesn’t really like to think too much about the future, he says he might like to become an artist, or maybe a photographer. He also likes to sing and wants to travel the world. In the meantime, though, he’s focused on getting through the next few years of high school—and he’s grateful to have Megan’s help along the way.