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.”
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.
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 email@example.com.
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 Benevolent.net, 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!
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.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or at 773-465-6011 ext. 122. The young men have performed at outdoor community events, weddings, religious services, benefits, and private parties
Daniel McNeil, director of the Teen Boys program, recently performed at SOL Cafe’s first open mic night event, “Talkshop.”