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.”
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!
Julissa Nuñez, 10 years old
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.”
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 Leadership Corps 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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
“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.”