Family Matters Student Authors

Our students are published authors! Volunteer Claudia Stevenson has been working with Family Matters youth during their afternoon course time. She shares the following about her experiences:

I have been profoundly touched by my interactions with the children and teens at Family Matters. These children walk in the door with a wide array of experiences, feelings, abilities, and desires. As they participate — whether dancing, cooking, writing, or doing their homework — Family Matters provides them with the principles and life skills to excel. The mentors — both staff and volunteer — teach, model, and reinforce the implementation of these principles and skills in everyday situations.

It’s been my great pleasure to participate in some of the various writing workshops, classes, and activities at Family Matters; from the “little kids” storytelling to the teens’ Poetry class, to the MyBook workshop. In reading these submissions I have laughed out loud, shed a tear or two, and shaken my head in amazement at what these young people have to say. 

Storytelling is fun. That’s why the children sign up for it. And storytelling is a very efficient way to promote the principles on which Family Matters is based.

Claudia Stevenson
Volunteer at Family Matters

It is encouraging to witness the students’ excitement about the opportunities that technology offers. Recently, a teacher had this to say about the online book publishing project in which youth at Family Matters are engaged: 

We were so proud of Daejon as he brought the book to school and said, “Look what I did!”  We took him all around the school with his book (and this is a pretty big place) and he isn’t through yet. Today he was supposed to read his book to his 1st grade class.  He needed the successes. 

The students and teachers were so inspired by Daejon’s book and his enthusiasm that they scheduled a reading for the entire administration!

What is particularly exciting to witness is his new eagerness to read and share stories with anyone who will listen. Last week, he proudly announced to a new volunteer: Do you know? I am a published author! 

Take a look at all of the published books at

Field Trip to Robert Crown

On non-holiday days off of school, Family Matters offers full-day programming to students. Field trips are a favorite on these full days, and our January 24 field trip to Robert Crown was a crowd-pleaser. This was the first ice skating experience for nearly all of the students. Guest Writer and Photographer Shavon, who is a 3rd grader in the Family Connections program, summarizes the day:
On Friday, we went on a field trip to Robert Crown Center in Evanston. First we put on our ice skates. Then we all went on the ice. At first, everybody fell down. But afterwards, everybody ice skated and had a lot of fun. Danny said,
“I was nervous when we started because I kept falling and I didn’t know how to skate. But when we left, I was sad because i was learning a lot and didn’t want to stop.”
After ice skating, we went to McDonalds to eat. Then, we went to the field house to play dodge ball. At the end of the day, everyone went home happy. 
Thanks Shavon for being our on-location reporter!



Verna’s Story

We hope you are on our mailing list and have already read Verna’s inspiring story. For those who missed it, please read on!

When Verna first walked into Family Matters one fallevening in 2002, she felt an instant sense of belonging. Her 11-year old twins, Errol and Errolyn, had heard about the Family Connections after-school program from friends at their new school, and had begged their mom to sign them up. Verna had just moved with her husband and children from Florida, and was looking for a safe place for her children to go after school. What she didn’t realize was how much more than after-school care she would find. “Family Matters became my kids’ family, and mine.”

Family Matters is a place to learn, grow, and experience.”

Verna’s children thrived in their new home at Family Matters. They participated in the Family Connections program and then joined Family Matters’ teen programs. They continued to explore areas of interest, develop their confidence, receive support with schoolwork, and cultivate friendships. Verna shares that, “Because of Family Matters, my kids blossomed into wonderful young people. They were well rounded and never in trouble.”
Errol & Errolyn, during a recent visit to Family Matters

Verna is especially grateful for the opportunities that her children had as a result of their participation in Family Matters programs. “I could never afford to take my children to ballgames or plays or movies. Here at Family Matters, the kids were exposed to so many different things. They took field trips that expanded the kids’ understandings. Then they came home and shared those experiences with us.” Through Family Matters, Errolyn traveled to San Francisco as one of two Chicago Teen Girls Council representatives participating in a National Girls Forum. “To send her away on a plane was so hard for me,” Verna remembers. She also remembers with joy the photos Errolyn shared with her family upon her return.

“Family Matters is support for parents and families.”
All parents of Family Connections students attend monthly parent meetings, where they have the opportunity to share their experiences and plan various aspects of the program. Verna says, “Coming here was a blessing for me in helping me to focus, and many times to forget all of the troubles that were going on at home.” When she came for her first parent meeting, she describes walking in and feeling able to take a deep breath. “I could see why the kids wanted to come. The environment here relaxes you.”  From assistance with immigration papers, to supplying their first home computer, to problem solving at home and school, to providing Thanksgiving dinner, Verna found a caring support network. “We didn’t have anything, and Family Matters helped us out.”

Verna with her grandchildren, Azarieae (7) and Josiah (5)
Family Matters is about Giving Back
Errol and Errolyn finished high school and went on to postsecondary education. Both return to volunteer regularly, illustrating what many say about Family Matters – that once you’re here, you never really leave. Fifteen years later, Verna continues to feel a sense of peace when she walks into Family Matters. Now she comes as a board member, an annual Walk-a-thon volunteer, and as a grandmother to a third generation of Family Connections participants. Azarieae and Josiah heard about Family Matters from their Aunt Errolyn, Uncle Errol, and their grandparents and couldn’t wait to be old enough to attend. “Whatever Family Matters asks of me, I will gladly do it because of what they’ve done for me with love. Whatever I can give, I will give.”

Thank you to all of our generous donors for allowing us to support families like Verna’s. If you’d like to join our mailing list, please contact Gretchen Nord at

Learning Matters 2013

Learning Matters 2013 Is Underway

Family Matters youth are engaged in another summer of hands-on learning through our Learning Matters annual Summer School.  This summer, youth selected the courses they were most interested in taking from our Learning Matters 2013 Class Catalog, and we are in the midst of our first session of classes, which include Cooking Around the World, Yoga & Conditioning, DIY Divas, Peace Art, Soccer, Super Snackers, and Building Challenge.

Here are a few pictures of some of our experiences this week. Enjoy!
Cooking Around the World youth participated in a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony, including roasting coffee  beans.


Ready for the coffee ceremony, which includes coffee and popcorn, to begin.
Rolling injera, traditional Ethipioan flat bread.
It tasted delicious with the homemade red lentil dish we prepared together!



Building Challenge participants were tasked with the challenge to build a working roller coaster.
Brains at work: How can we build the roller coaster so the marble can go from start to finish?


How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes

In May, Northwestern University’s Theater Department hosted a unique performance entitled How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes (with 199 people you may or may not know). The show was an experiment in dialogue, in collective decision-making, in shared responsibility and in the potential for how art could make our world a better place.

The audience’s involvement was integral to the trajectory of the performance, since they were to decide how to give away $1000 from that night’s box office to fight poverty most effectively in the Chicagoland area. In an effort to ensure that a multitude of voices were present in the audience, Northwestern invited organizations with a particular stake in the conversation to attend.  Family Matters’ Teen Programs attended the show, and were the youngest contributing members of the audience. They were deeply engaged in the process.
Using debate, audience members – including FM teens – attempted to convince and cajole other audience members to vote in one of five categories: Daily Needs:  Direct services that provide basic needs like food and shelter; System Change: Lobbying for legislation, advocating policy change, and taking action for social transformation; Education:  Promoting access and building resources toward better institutions and systems of learning; Making Opportunities:  Long-term approaches to economic and occupational stability through training, micro-loans, and personal development; or Individual Need:  Through a local organization called, individuals are able to support a specific person or family and their self-reported immediate need.


After participating in this innovative performance and lively debate, the audience decided the most effective method to end poverty was through the creation of opportunities.  Youth in the audience were joyfully surprised when the show’s facilitators revealed that Family Matters would be awarded $1000 because of the work that we do! Thank you, Northwestern University Theater Department, for offering such a unique approach to discuss solutions on a critically important and complex topic.  We are very grateful we participated and very appreciative of the monetary gift that supports our work in the north of Howard community!

Teen Boys Program partners with Ten Thousand Ripples



At the bequest of community resident Helen Carlock, and in association with the Ten Thousand Ripples project, Dan McNeil, Director of the Teen Boys Program, and the young men of Family Matters, B.O.N.D Team, met Helen at Triangle Park on May 21st for a beautification project involving a Buddha head. The Buddha head was placed in the park by Ten Thousand Ripples—a multi-platform public art project involving the installation of 100 Buddha sculptures. Serving as symbols of peace and solidarity in 10 neighborhoods around the city of Chicago, the Buddha heads strives to highlight public art and create community responses to peace and contemporary social issues.
Working together with community members, the teen boys cleared trees and weeds to beautify Triangle Park and to create a revered space for the Buddha Head. In addition to removing trees, tree roots and weeds, the team from “The Roots”—as their space is affectionately called—realigned the 300 pound Buddha Head back to its original setting—east facing on Juneway.  


Community response to the beautification project was affirmative. John Lamping, a Rogers Park resident and member of the project, offered his thanks to Helen, Dan and Family Matters Teen Boys “for your community support and great company… at Triangle Park.  Your “lumberjacks” did a great job.”

Cooking Matters! Healthy Cooking Club Gathers


As part of our FEEL Fit Initiative, Rogers Park residents Barbara Moore and Jayne Hoffman, are facilitating a Healthy Cooking Club this Spring.  4 Family Connections families and 1 Teen Girls family meets monthly at Barb’s home to prepare healthy meals together in the context of community and relationship building.  Local businesses and residents are supporting this unique venture by providing ingredients for the recipes as well as kitchen supplies and staples for families to take home for their personal kitchens. 
On March 17, the Cooking Club had their first official gathering.  They focused on healthy, make-ahead breakfast items, including homemade granola bars, apple puff pancakes, and carrot muffins.  They measured, chopped, grated, folded, and whisked ingredients together, sharing lots of smiles, laughter, and joy as they baked. They have already met again in April, and are planning to meet again in May.  




The second session was “casserole week”.  Participants made a whole grain pasta bake, quinoa and broccoli casserole, a brown rice and beans vegetarian taco bake, and a breakfast egg casserole.
Thank you, Barb, for spearheading Family Matters’ first off-site Cooking Club!

Teen Boys Participate in Black History Month Celebrations

On Sunday, February 24th the ‘Roots of Rhythm’ performed in the staged production of “The Old African.” The production was part of the 14th Annual African American History Celebration featuring African and ballet dancers, gospels signers, and professional story tellers. The drum team provided ambiance and sound effects for the story, drumming for the dancers and rhythmic support for the singers.
Performing in this production was a new direction for the young men. It demanded more orchestrated rhythmic precision and on cue sound effects central to the story telling, as well as timed rhythmic support for both African and ballet dancers.
The hour long performance played to a full house of participating audience members who part took in the dancing Celebration.
The young men also exhibited their art work and Peace themed t-shirt at the event.
Roots of Rhythm perform at Gale Academy
On Friday February 22nd The Roots of Rhythm performed for Gale Academy students, who were learning about the shared history of the drum, the basic understanding and language of the drum, and drumming performance.
If you are interested in engaging the ‘Roots of Rhythm’ team for a performance, please contact Dan McNeil at or at 773-465-6011 ext. 122. The young men have performed at outdoor community events, weddings, religious services, benefits, and private parties

Let’s Move!

On February 28, 2013 Michelle Obama celebrated the launch of the “Let’s Move” Active Schools Initiative, a national effort designed to inspire children to eat well and be active, at McCormick Place in downtown Chicago. Several 5th, 6th, and 7th graders at Family Matters had the opportunity of a lifetime to attend this event with their school. Gisselle, a 7th grader at Disney Magnet School, and a Teen Girls and Community Tutoring participant, was one of these students. She shares with us her experience:

I met Michelle Obama at McCormick place in Chicago. I went with some of my school. She talked about exercising and about when she was a kid and how she was raised. She also said we can do anything we want in our life; it’s up to us. Gabby Douglas, an Olympic medalist, was also there. Michelle Obama showed us some exercises and Gabby Douglas and everyone in the McCormick place tried them. Jordan Sparks, a singer, was there and she sang “No Air” and another song at the end.

The travel, wait time and travel back to my school were super long, and it was fun to see the athletes and Michelle Obama and Jordan Sparks.

For more information on the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” Initiative and Celebratory launch in Chicago, go to:

Community Tutoring Cooking Fun

Family Matters is a flurry of activity during CPS Spring Break.   As part of our FEEL (Food and Exercise to Eat and Live) Fit Initiative, Community Tutoring students and tutors had the opportunity to participate in a healthy cooking workshop in lieu of regular tutoring during Spring Break this year.

Facilitated by Howard Area Community Center Nutritionist Kathryn S., we learned about ingredient substitutions we can use to make desserts healthier, and prepared and ate a delicious Banana and Berry Crumble.  It was a lively, educational, and fun evening, and we would like to share some pictures and the recipe with you.  Enjoy! 
Playing a matching game to learn about ingredient substitutions…

Getting our baking instructions from Kathryn

Carefully measuring whole wheat flour…

…and plain non-fat yogurt

Yum! Giving Banana Berry Crumble a big thumbs-up!!

Banana and Berry Crumble (Serves 10)
4 large bananas
2 cups fresh mixed berries
non-stick cooking spray 
5 Tbsp whole-wheat flour, divided 
1 c. old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4  c. light brown sugar, packed
1 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
4 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter
2/3 c. plain nonfat yogurt
1 Tbsp. honey 
*We doubled the recipe to fit a 9 x 13 pan /serve 20.
1. Preheat oven to 400 F. 
2. Peel and slice bananas in half lengthwise.
3.Rinse berries and pat dry.
4. Spray baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Place banana halves flat side down in baking dish. 
5. Toss berries with 1 Tbsp whole-wheat flour.
6. In medium bowl, add 4 Tbsp flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Stir to blend. 
7. Cut cold butter into little pieces. Add to bowl.  Using your fingers, quickly blend the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is crumbly. 
8. Spread the crumbly mixture over the fruit in an even layer.  Press down slightly. 
9. Bake about 10-15 minutes, or until the crumble is firm and golden in color. 
10. While crumble bakes, stir together yogurt and honey in a small bowl to create a lighter version of whipped cream. 
11. When crumble is done, spoon 1 Tbsp of yogurt and honey topping over each serving.