Volunteer Spotlight: Marietta McPike

Marietta McPike has been teaching piano at Family Matters for 20 years. In that time, she has worked with approximately 75 young people who participate in Youth Development programming. She began playing piano herself at the age of nine. She fondly remembers her own teacher, and how he would later become a friend. An important figure in her life, he taught her piano, harmony, and theory.

In addition to teaching piano, Marietta worked at IBM for 35 years. Still, she always found time for music. The skills that learning piano develops translate across several applications. It is a discipline where one must use the eyes, ears, brain, and muscles in order to progress. It requires the mastery of multiple senses as well as the mind. When asked how it feels, from her perspective as a teacher, when a young piano player demonstrates improvement on a song, she affirms, “The very best it when someone conquers a persistent problem… and suddenly can do it!”

She reflects, too, on how the youth have influenced her and on how they have shaped her thinking on very different perspectives as to expectations. She notes that one can be influenced by one’s surroundings, either to grow or to be stifled. Marietta remarks, “I like to challenge their ideas of what is possible and try to encourage them to reach higher, overcoming limitations.”

Learning piano is one way that youth, families, and Family Matters are contributing to building an equitable society in the North of Howard neighborhood. As Marietta says, “I think exposing the students to successful classical musicians of color, of different nationalities, of different ethnic backgrounds shows them that anyone….absolutely anyone…..can learn an instrument and be a star.  I adore showing them Winton Marsalis….Kathleen Battle…because it proves that they too can accomplish their goals.”

Family Matters is deeply grateful for all that Marietta shares with our community—time, talent, and a tenacious belief in Family Matters’ youth. There are currently five Family Matters youth piano players, and we are always seeking portable pianos for them to take home to practice, music books, and accessories to supplement their learning. Or you might consider sharing your own time and talent in another way!


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!


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.

Little Library books 121615 014
     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.”





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.


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

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!