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.”
Recent research suggests that unemployment among Black and Hispanic youth in Chicago is higher than anywhere else in America.
The academic and economic potential in inner city communities and students has been largely unrecognized and untapped.
In response, last summer Family Matters’ Boys 2 Men program (which works with young men ages 12-19), launched an employment initiative, Project RISE, in partnership with the Community Church of Wilmette. Six members of Boys 2 Men were placed in local businesses for a six-week job experience. The program encompassed leadership, financial literacy, resiliency skills training and employment readiness, and was enriched with mock interviews and resume support given by members of the church’s congregation.
This summer the program has expanded to include the Teen Girls – in all, 18 Family Matters teens participated. The youth were employed at:
Lady B Botique
Little Beans Cafe
Spex Carwash Studio 876
Urban Warrior Fitness
The experience has been transformative for the teens involved. In addition to learning new skills and gaining work experience, the jobs have instilled a sense of pride in earning money. The employers are sending a strong message to the participants: we value you, we welcome you, and we want to work with you.
“Thank you, for the opportunity to be a part of Family Matters Project RISE Internship Program this summer. It was a great learning experience for the cafe and our entire team. Savion is a wonderful young teen to work with. He was timely, friendly to all, completed all tasks asked of him, and took initiative when and where needed. Most importantly it was best getting to know him. Savion is a wonderfully cheerful, smart young fella with lots of amazing interest. We wish him the best in all of his endeavors.Today, we took a field trip to Restaurant Depot and I shared with him how I shop for the cafe. He was amazed at the gigantic warehouse. It proved to be a good team building experience for us both.” – Roseanna, Charmers Cafe
The program was a tremendous success:
100% of partners are interested in participating with the program again next summer.
100% of partners were encouraged by the progress the interns made over the summer.
100% of participants learned and developed new skills.
100% of participants believed they are better prepared for school and the world of work as a result of participating in the RISE Program.
100% of participants would like to return to the program next summer.
“Every day I learned something new. Communication with my fellow workers is so important. I learned what it means to be responsible.” -Savion, 14
One of the unintended benefits of the program is that it became a poverty reduction strategy in the community as all of the students were able to support their families with their resources.
We are incredibly grateful to the Community Church of Wilmette for its generous support of this program, and to the local businesses that have welcomed Family Matters youth this summer.
If you would like to employ Family Matters teens at your business next summer, please contact Chris at email@example.com.
In 1994, thirteen-year-old Tabitha Williams joined the Teen Girls Program at Family Matters after hearing about the program from friends. She says, “Through each meeting, I felt a kinship with the girls and it became apparent that this was the place I needed to be.”
Tabitha was paired with her mentor, Judi Schindler, who met with her regularly both inside and outside of Family Matters. Tabitha connected deeply with Judi and her husband Jack, and became part of their family. Twenty-three years later, they are still close. In January, Judi and Jack traveled to New Orleans to celebrate the opening of the Troubador Hotel, where Tabitha is now the Director of Food and Beverage. She shares, “Right now, I’m at the top of the world.”
“Family Matters became a family – to me and to all of the other girls in the program as well. It provided an environment where there was no judgment and where you could be who you were. We learned about choices and consequences, and we were listened to. Everything at Family Matters started me on the path to where I am now, and I am so grateful.”
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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!
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: