Family Matters was founded in 1987 in the North of Howard area of Chicago’s Rogers Park community by a group of families seeking a safe, brave, and positive space for their children to go after school. What began as an education support and recreational program has developed into a neighborhood anchor organization that offers a range of year-round, community-driven programs and activities.
In addition to offering educational support and a safe place for children and youth to go after school, Family Matters works to address families’ consistently-named desires for:
Family Matters responds to residents’ critical requests for support and their self-identified desires by offering, in collaboration with our community, programs that work to close the education and employment gaps, cultivate resilient leaders, and build vital relationships. We currently offer two after-school youth development programs and a full-time independent microschool, and we facilitate a host of community engagement initiatives.
All youth programs:
Family Matters’ home is in Chicago’s Rogers Park community, a diverse enclave located on the far northeast corner of the city. Rogers Park has long been a port of entry for the city’s immigrant and refugee communities. Family Matters began as a single program born from the vision of working parents seeking a safe and brave place for their children to go after school. Established as a grassroots effort by, and for, families in 1987, Family Matters has developed into a neighborhood anchor that offers a range of year-round, community-driven programs and activities.
In 1995, Family Matters moved into our current home, a vintage residential three-flat apartment building on a tree-lined block. Participants have worked to transform the building into an extended home for youth, staff, volunteers, and families. The amenities include a library (with an ever-growing collection of critically acclaimed books, including those written by Indigenous authors, authors of color, LGBTQIA+ authors, and authors with disabilities), a computer lab, inviting kitchens, cozy sitting areas, the Gordy Music Studio (a community recording studio open to all), and a backyard oasis designed for joy-filled community gatherings and performances.
The majority of families involved in Family Matters live in Rogers Park’s North of Howard neighborhood, a community where people are disproportionately employed in low-wage, essential occupations─the average per capita income is $29,123─and where 97 percent of youth attending the neighborhood elementary school are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.
Nearly all families involved in Family Matters list their race/ethnicity as Black or African American, Latinx, Asian/Pacific Islander, or multiracial. Approximately 40 percent live in bilingual or multilingual households. One in four of the children enrolled in The Family Matters School have been, or are in the process of being, diagnosed with one or more learning disabilities. The remaining children are showing signs of yet-undiagnosed learning disabilities, emotional issues, and the effects of complex trauma.
Annually, Family Matters supports more than 130 youth in daily programming, and their families. An additional 650 individuals are engaged in classroom-based partnerships, outreach initiatives, and community collaborations, including the more than 100 individuals participating in specialized courses or workshops. Over 150 volunteers give their time and share their talents with the organization.
Seventy percent of youth have been enrolled in Family Matters for three or more years. It is common for youth to remain engaged in programming from early elementary school through high school graduation and for multiple children in a family to participate across several programs. Family Matters alums remain engaged in the organization by enrolling their children in a program, joining the Board of Directors, returning as volunteers, or becoming members of the staff team. The transformational bonds nurtured at Family Matters continue long after a person has left programming.
Alumni of Family Matters’ Youth Development programs are more likely to enroll in college. Chicago Public Schools sees an average annual college enrollment rate of 63 percent, compared to the more than 90 percent of FM Youth Development participants who go on to college, many of them being the first in their family to enroll. More than 85 percent of youth report improving their communication and self-advocacy skills while attending Family Matters. The most recent youth-led documentary film, Let’s Face It: Privacy Matters!, was showcased at Northwestern University’s annual Block Museum Film Festival.