Family Matters’ Free Little Library

Family Matters has enjoyed a longstanding partnership with Sacred Heart Schools in Chicago, and was honored to be a recipient of the SHS Goal Award for the 2014-2015 school year. We are happy to welcome a group of 8th grade boys from Sacred Heart monthly throughout the school year. The boys volunteer time at Family Matters through their Service Learning Program, while also learning about our programs and mission.

On Justice Day, 2014, Sacred Heart Schools celebrated Family Matters, inviting Dan McNeil (then-Director of Teen Boys Programs) and Ashaki McClain (Director of Teen Girls Programs) to speak to SHS students.  Dan presented the Family Matters Teen Boys program to Hardey 8 students and showed a video made by the young men, highlighting the similar piece of SHS and Family Matters’ missions in teaching the importance of making wise choices and responsible decisions.

Sacred Heart has Buddy Benches and Peace Tables. Stemming from these, 8th grade boys were given the task of building a Peace Bench for Family Matters and finding a way to connect Family Matters, Sacred Heart and the community. For this, they constructed the little libraries, born from the Free Little Library initiative. The Teen Boys at Family Matters helped to paint the libraries and posts to symbolize each organization.

 

Little Library 110415 011

Students at Family Matters worked together to decide where to place the library, thinking through where it would be most visible and best utilized. After the post was secured, the group of 8th grade boys who visit Family Matters each month as part of their Service Learning program attached the library to the post, officially planting Family Matters’ first Little Library in our garden.

The final step was filling the library with books! Youth in our Family Connections program filled the library, while also taking some time to enjoy the stories themselves.

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     Little Library books 121615 049

Once the ground thaws, another library will be planted at Sacred Heart on Kenmore and one at Howard Area Family Center.  Sacred Heart students will leave and take books from these libraries as well.

Family Matters is incredibly grateful for our partners at Sacred Heart. Please stop by 7731 N. Marshfield to leave or take a book for yourself!

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.”
 
 
 
 

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.

I Am A Witness

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.

Raven Johnson
Northwestern University

Family Matters in Bloom

Have you stopped by Family Matters this summer? It’s easy to spot us – we’re the building with the gorgeous garden out front, thanks to long-time Family Matters volunteer Laurel Lawson and Teen Boys Program participant Elijah.

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.

Making Healthy Nachos

 

Every couple of weeks, the students at Family Matters participate in after school classes. One class that was offered was “Food to Go”.


According to Temple Hickman, one of the students from the Teen Girls Program, the purpose of “Food to Go” is to take basic foods that the students eat daily and make them healthy.

When asked why he chose to take this class, David Gray explained that after cooking one time with his father, he fell in love with cooking. 

 


The students from “Food to Go” decided to make nachos. As a group, they created a shopping list of healthy ingredients for the nachos. For example, instead of using concentrated cheese, the students used mozzarella cheese. For chips, instead of buying chips from the store, the students cut tortillas into small pieces and baked them. The students needed minimal assistance from the Family Matters staff; they cut the vegetables, cooked the meat, and cleaned the dishes by themselves. 
 


After the food was cooked, the students were able to enjoy their nachos, without having to worry about them being unhealthy.

Community Tutoring Student in the Chicago Tribune

 Today’s post is by Devin Jones,  a member of FM’s Evening Tutoring Program and a 6th grader at Hawthorne Scholastic Academy.  Devin had a class assignment to write a “letter to the editor” and submit it to the Chicago Tribune. Here’s what Devin has to say about his letter: 

 
My letter was about the topic we had to write about in reading class. The topic was about food insecurity. 
 
What I wrote came from my ideas about health problems caused by global warming when it can rain too much or it won’t rain enough so food can’t grow and crops dry out. People start starving.
 
There are categories in the Chicago Tribune and my letter went online. I was excited when my teacher sent an email to my mom telling her mine would be in the Tribune. I was the only boy out of three of us chosen. 
 
I give special thanks to my mom and dad, and Ms.Lang my teacher.
 
Read Devin’s letter in the Chicago Tribune here

Beyond Tutoring: Fixing a Tablet Computer one Saturday Afternoon

Brad Schwarzhoff shares a story about helping students through the Evening Tutoring program at Family Matters.

For the past few years, I’ve been working with my student Jaime during the evening tutoring program.   During our weekly sessions, I often share my knowledge of technology with Jaime, whether it’s adding some memory to a computer, learning the basics of programming, or most recently, fixing a tablet computer.

Jaime and Brad at tutoring

I’ve gotten to know Jaime’s family since I’ve been his tutor, including Jaime’s brother Marino, who is also a student in the evening tutoring program.  Jaime and Marino were lucky enough to obtain their own tablet computers through a program at their school. On one sad December day, Marino accidentally dropped his tablet and shattered the screen.

A month later a replacement screen was ordered and we spent a Saturday afternoon fixing the tablet.

The tablet in its sad state

 

We pulled up a youtube video on how to fix a screen on this particular tablet.

Following along with the video, we took apart the tablet, replaced the screen, and re-assembled the tablet. We ran into a couple of challenges along the way, persevered, and were triumphant in the end.

Marino removing the tablet battery

Through some hard work and perseverance, Marino and Jaime learned how their tablets are assembled, and learned how tablets work internally. As a result, they have additional pride when using their tablets.  I learned that it can be more fun to to fix a tablet when you’re teaching someone how to do it.  (A pointer for those of you who may also have a cracked tablet or phone screen – there’s a wealth of information on the internet, including videos that will show you how to do almost anything you want to do, including fix your own electronics.  Be brave and give it a try!)

A happy Marino with his good-as-new tablet.

I’ve now been tutoring at Family Matters for over 7 years.  It has been, without a doubt, the most rewarding experience that I’ve ever been a part of.  It truly is a wonderful organization, and I highly recommend getting involved.

Brad Schwarzhoff

Family Matters evening tutor

Jumping Rope

 

 
 
With the weather being severely cold these past few months, the girls in the Teen Girls Program were eager to go outside. We walked over to the near by park where many of the girls played double dutch.
 
Shakira Grayson shared that she loves everything about double dutch. She was one of the girls who jumped the most, using every opportunity to jump when someone else did not have a turn.
 
“It expresses me…makes me feel like I am me, expressing myself in a rope”, said Grayson.   
 
Because the Teen Girls Program is committed to health and wellness, jumping rope was an opportunity for physical activity.
 
Eriana McArthur loves doing tricks when she jumps. “I think it’s cool to jump because it gives you exercise”, she said.  
 
Similar to McArthur, Anataho Ganga sees jumping rope as a way to exercise her legs, but also a way to have fun. When asked why she decided to jump rope at the park, Ganga responded, “I just wanted to have fun. When I jump with my friends, it makes me feel like I can jump.”
 
Hopefully, this will be one of many afternoons where we will be able to get some fresh air and jump double dutch. 
 


 

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