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.”


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!


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


Anna & John

Anna_John 021116 004bw_web
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 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.

Volcano Explosion!

Hi, my name is Axel. I’m nine years old. I have been coming to tutoring at Family Matters for two years. I come two times a week and I work on reading with my tutors. This summer, I came to Family Matters on Wednesdays and Fridays. My tutor and I made a volcano. We made this because we read about it in a book. The book was That Crazy Eddie and the Science Project of Doom by Judy Cox.  It’s a chapter book. I read the book at tutoring and at home.
The book is about two friends, Matt and Eddie. They heard in their school about a science project competition. (A competition is like a battle or a contest.) Matt wanted to win the contest because the prize was a fifty-dollar gift card. He wanted to buy himself a skateboard. Matt asked his best friend Eddie to be his partner.  Eddie said “yeah, sure” because Eddie’s dad was a scientist. Eddie had a lot of good ideas about science projects.
Eddie decided he and Matt were going to make a volcano that would erupt.  While they were working on the project, they got in a fight.  Matt had to stay home from school one day because his stomach felt weird. When he got back to school, other kids made fun of him. Matt found out that Eddie told the other kids Matt was sick. So, Matt was mad at Eddie. They only had one day before the contest, and their project wasn’t finished. 

That day, Matt’s little sister climbed on their roof because she wanted to play with their cat, Mittens, who was up there. Matt’s mom was gone. Matt was scared. Matt ran down the street to Eddie’s house and told Eddie.  He wanted Eddie to help him. Eddie helped Matt get his sister off the roof.  Eddie’s sister said that they should be friends and enter the contest. They decided to finish their project that night.
They did the contest, and they lost. They got third place. Matt didn’t win the money to buy the skateboard. Matt felt kind of sad. He also felt kind of happy because he decided that having his friend back was more important than getting the skateboard.
I liked this book because I liked reading about the volcano. And I liked that Matt and Eddie stayed friends and worked things out and they helped Matt’s sister get down from the roof. 

After the last chapter, there is a section called “How to Make a Volcano That Really Erupts.” My tutor and I read it together and we found out what tools we needed to make a volcano. I brought some things from my house, like a cardboard box, flour, and 2 dinosaurs (for decoration). 



It took three days to make the volcano. On the first day, we got an empty Pepsi bottle and put masking tape from the mouth of the bottle all the way down. Then we put newspaper into warm water and flour to put around the tape. We had to measure the exact amount of flour and water we needed.  Then we let it dry. The next tutoring session, we painted it.  
The next tutoring session, we used baking soda, vinegar, dishwashing liquid, and red food coloring to make it erupt. We used a funnel to pour everything in. After we poured everything in, we waited. Nothing happened. We tried again and nothing happened.
We decided maybe it didn’t work because the baking soda was expired. We walked across the street to the store and got more baking soda. Then we poured everything in again. Then nothing happened again. The next time, we poured in a lot more vinegar than the directions said, until it exploded. 

I loved it when it exploded! I liked making the volcano, too. Next time, I want to put more red food coloring in it so that it would be more red. 



Tutor Reflection: Zoe and Melissa

          
Zoe, a recent graduate of Francis Parker School in Chicago, wrote the following Senior Colloquium Story about her experience as a tutor at Family Matters. Thank you Zoe for volunteering your time and for sharing your reflection with us!
Zoe and Melissa during a tutoring session
            Family Matters, the organization through which I began tutoring this fall, always smells like popcorn.  The building which was likely once a condo on Marshfield in the North of Howard neighborhood is distinguishable from the outside only by the small green sign posted beneath the second floor windows; there are still small kitchens on every floor, which I walk through once each week to sign in before beginning my sessions with Melissa.  Everywhere, children are running.  Some hold books, others munch on the popcorn that is perfuming the building, and others still untie their shoes, placing them in small cubbies in a practice that is both practical, preventing Chicago schoolyard slush from wetting the floors, and further perpetuates the homey feeling throughout the building.  Keri, one of the directors, greets kids by name, asking about how their days were, asking after their families.
            On the day of my first tutoring session with Melissa, an eighth grade girl described as “on target” yet “wanting support,” Keri greeted me with the same warmth with which she greeted her students.  She and I had met the week before for a tutor orientation, and I was already familiar with her blond ponytail and friendly glasses.  She introduced me to Melissa, who had been coming to Family Matters herself for years, handed me Melissa’s binder, and led the both of us to a small room on the third floor that was to become “our space” for the next year. 
            Once alone, I began asking Melissa a series of questions suggested as “ice breakers” in the binder.  Though she was shy, discussion of our favorite foods (“ghetto fries” and Tim Tam cookies are Melissa’s favorites, which, though I promised her I would in October, I have yet to try) and favorite classes soon loosened conversation.  We quickly did away with the binder’s suggested conversation topics, opting to casually ask questions of each other about our families, our summers, our extracurricular interests, etc.  She asked me questions about high school, both social and academic.  That day, we did none of her homework.
            Of course, our sessions following were more serious.  I kept in touch with Keri about Melissa’s progress via a GoogleDoc, and Melissa and I worked weekly on her reading assignments, on geometry and algebra, and on vocabulary.  I shared with her games I had played in my eighth grade English class to learn vocabulary, running across the room with a fly swatter to whack the word on a window that corresponded with the definition read by our teacher.  We struggled together over math problems, and I tried in vain to describe what exactly a derivative was when asked what I was doing in my math classes now.  We read through Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbirda book I hadn’t read since I was 12, and pieced together motifs that came up throughout the book.  (I also gained, while working through To Kill a Mockingbird, a greater appreciation for my English teachers and their ability to filter through spoilers; when I accidentally referenced too early Scout’s meeting Boo Radley, Melissa’s confused expression indicated that I had to quickly backtrack.)
            Alongside helping Melissa with her schoolwork, I also helped her write her application essays to Chicago high schools.  This was particularly poignant work for me, as I myself was working on writing application essays to colleges.  The both of us worked to condense our complete selves into several printed pages, discerning the most insightful ways to answer vague prompts like “Tell us about an aspect of your identity” and “What matters to you and why?” 
            Now that I have enrolled in college and Melissa has been admitted to Senn’s rigorous International Baccalaureate program, our mutual focus has turned to our impending graduations.  We have discussed, in many of our recent sessions, how we feel about leaving the schools and communities in which we have grown up.  We’ve talked about our excitement, about making new friends, about reinventing ourselves, and about having the opportunities to take classes and get involved in extracurriculars that we’ve never even heard of.  We’ve also talked about the fears we have, worries that coursework will be too hard, or worries that we won’t be able to keep in touch with old friends or won’t make lasting new ones.  Both Melissa and I have attended the same schools with the same few people since we were four years old, and both of us feel nervous about leaving the communities we have become so deeply entrenched in.  And yet, as I will remind Melissa today, May 14, at our final tutoring session, I know that the both of us will succeed over the next four years.