Jennifer and Faith

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.”


The Band-Aid Activity

This fall, Family Connections is addressing the concept of Educational Equity. To introduce the youth (ages 8-12) to the concept of equity, members participated in a “Band-Aid” activity:

Each youth chose an injury card from a basket. The injuries ranged from a scratched finger to a stomach ache to a shark bite. After reading the injury aloud, each child was given a band-aid to treat the ailment. The youth then answered a series of questions, including: “Is it fair that everyone received a band-aid?” and “Did you receive the treatment that you needed?”

At first, the children said that the band-aid treatment was not fair, because the individual with the stomach ache, for example, needed medicine and not a band-aid. They discussed the concept of equality and fairness, sharing that everyone receiving the exact same thing is, in fact, “fair.”

“Equity” is defined as all individuals getting what they need, as opposed to “equality,” where everyone receives the same treatment.” The youth were invited to share other examples of people receiving “equitable” treatment, instead of “equal” treatment. As they transitioned into afternoon tutoring, they were invited to think about their individual needs regarding academic support, and encouraged to seek what they need at Family Matters, whether it be a break during homework completion or an opportunity to research a personal interest with the support of their tutors.

If you have an example of Equity vs. Equality, we’d love to hear it!


Practicing Compassion at Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving is a day of family, abundance, and gratitude. It is a day spent with those you love and those you may see only once a year. Thanksgiving is a joyous time of football, food, and celebration. Thanksgiving can also be a day where social, political, religious, and/or family differences give rise to conflict.

When tension arises, it can be valuable to remember to ask yourself the question “how can I practice compassion?” and to bring the second Principle of Family Matters’ Principles of LeadershipPeaceful Conflict Resolution – to bear.

Peaceful Conflict Resolution encourages us to turn conflict into an opportunity to understand perspectives that are different from our own in order to learn and grow from our new understanding. The process encourages us to enter into conflict with the intent to resolve it – increasing our empathy toward others and understanding their viewpoints, thereby strengthening our relationships.

The key to positive conflict resolution situations is that both sides try leaning in, listening closely to what each person is saying, and practicing compassion. Asking clarifying questions will reflect a person’s understanding of what the other person has said and give that person an opportunity to correct any misconceptions. Both parties are then able to move forward and work on an acceptable solution for the conflict.

A few things to remember:

  • Strengthening a critical relationship can be more valuable than “winning” a conflict.
  • It takes all parties involved to resolve a conflict.
  • Be sure conflicts are resolved rather than managed, otherwise they will likely flare up again.
  • Understand what “pushes your buttons” and how you can respond rather than react.
  • Practice compassion for yourself and others.

Although solving all of the world’s problems over Thanksgiving dinner is beyond reach, you may be able to bring a positive change for yourself and those around you by practicing compassion, which fosters open, respectful, and honest conversations that build authentic relationships.


Walking for Equity, Community, and Family Matters

The morning of October 7, 2017 turned out to be a beautiful one, which upheld Family Matters’ rain-free Walkathon streak! Nearly 300 youth, families, and friends walked five miles together along the lakefront for equity, community, and Family Matters. Walkers returned to Gale Academy, (a 1/2 block away from Family Matters), and braved the bee swarms to partake in the delicious picnic, enjoy an amazing bubble show, relax with a chair massage, build community and raise funds and awareness for Family Matters.

Many walkers went home with prizes from the free raffle, and all walkers who raised over $100 for the Walkathon were entered into a second raffle. Congratulations to the following winners:

Anna Ashcraft – 2 month membership to Evanston Athletic Club
Shalona Byrd – iPod Nano
Betsy Shuman-Moore – Rogers Park Restaurant gift card package

Thank you so much to all of you who worked to raise funds for the Walkathon and for Family Matters!

Team fundraising pages will stay active indefinitely. If you would like to contribute, please visit the Walkathon Campaign Page here. Thank you for your support!

See more Walkathon photos on our Facebook page! Click here – remember to like our page while you’re there.

Family Matters’ Walkathon has become a long-standing tradition in the North of Howard community, and we are so grateful for this collaboration with volunteers and neighborhood partners.

In addition to our Event and Picnic Sponsors, we’d like to thank:

Heather Miller for taking photos
Rogers Park Business Alliance for the use of their tents
Adolf and Arthia Jenkins for their tireless work at the grill
Carla Eason for providing chair massages
The 49th Ward Alderman’s Office for the use of their sound system
The 24th District Police Department for providing officers at the crosswalk

And to all of our Walkathon volunteers – this event is possible because of your dedication and generosity.

Anna Ashcraft
Kate Bradley
Paul Bradley
Bob Bobesink
Shalona Byrd
Elwina Davis
Mary Jo Deysach
Megan Fellman
Allisen Hansen
Karen Hedberg
Liz Jacobs

Francis Lynch
Kendra McClintock
Sophie Nyanue

Cynthia Patti
Mr. Reuter
Cherry Saldano
Anna Sardar
Chris Stevenson
Jevon Stewart
Ben Tudor

Desiree Washington

What element of the Walkathon did you enjoy most? Do you have suggestions for next year? We’d love to hear from you! Add your comment below or send us a message – gretchen@familymatterschicago.org.


Making Waves

by Chris Spence, Director of Youth Engagement at Family Matters

A recent survey by USA Swimming reveals that nearly 40 percent of White children have little-to-no swimming abilities; however that staggering percentage is minuscule when compared to the 70 percent of Black children who cannot swim. Sixty percent of Hispanic children face the same concern.”

The reason for this has nothing to do with physical differences and everything to do with lack of access. Swimming should be a skill offered to everyone. However, it’s a privilege afforded to those who live near a pool or accessible natural body of water, and who can afford to pay for lessons. This excludes inner city children who lack one or both of those opportunities.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports drowning as the second leading cause of injury-related death among children under the age of 15. Other studies show that Black children from ages five to 19 drown in swimming pools nearly five times more often than White children. The painful stereotype of African-Americans’ poor swimming skills is one reminder of the trouble a child can face.

Family Connections youth swimming during Spring Break

The world was also reminded in 2010, when six African-American teenagers from Louisiana drowned in Shreveport’s Red River. The teens (from two different families) were found dead after trying to save a friend from rough waters.

Sadly, parents and friends watched in horror as the teens drowned in up to 20 feet of water because they, too, couldn’t swim.

“None of us could swim,” Marilyn Robinson, a friend of the families, told the Shreveport Times, adding that she watched helplessly as the victims went under. “They were yelling, ‘Help me, help me. Somebody please help me.’ There was nothing I could do but watch them drown, one by one.”

A trip to the lake during Family Matters' summer programming

Today, nearly 60 years after the abolishment of Jim Crow laws that kept African Americans from pools and safe swimming places, many children still never get the chance to swim.

When racial integration finally became a mandate, many areas responded by closing public pools so they didn’t have to mix, creating a bigger social divide that transcended race because if you didn’t have the money to go to a country club or private pool, you either didn’t learn to swim, or you tried to learn from an untrained friend or family member in rivers, lakes and even ponds.

That’s the history, and it has undoubtedly contributed to where we are today, to this troubling acceptance that swimming — an important life skill — isn’t for everybody.

The historic separation of African Americans from pools is a problem that affects the elite world of competitive swimming. Despite Simone Manuel’s Olympic gold-medal success last summer, only three of 45 swimmers on the 2016 U.S. Olympic team were black. And out of 107 historically black colleges and universities, not one has a functioning 50-meter pool. Howard University is the only historically black college or university with a competitive swim team. With few role models and scarce opportunities to swim, too many black children see swimming as an inaccessible and uninviting sport.

Making Waves at Family Matters

In addition to safety concerns, an inability to swim bars children from being qualified for a variety of summer employment and career opportunities, ranging from lifeguards to camp counsellors.

This fall, Family Matters Boys 2 Men program, in partnership with the Evanston YMCA, plans to change that with their Making Waves Program.

The eight-week program will kick off in September, and will teach ten young men basic water safety tips and how to swim, which is a priority, especially in the wake of a recent tragic drowning of a neighborhood youth.

Family Matters is incredibly grateful to the YMCA for this opportunity, and plans to continue to expand the program to include additional youth members.


Teens at Work

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:

Charmer’s Cafe
Dollop Coffee
Lady B Botique
Little Beans Cafe
Neon CRM
Sol Cafe
Spex Carwash
Studio 876
Urban Warrior Fitness
V-Tone Fitness
Symphony (center) and Shaniya (second from right) at Sol Cafe.

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.

Maku and Antwon in the Sol Cafe kitchen.

“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 chris@familymatterschicago.org.


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!


Learning Matters 2017

The 21 youth involved in Family Matters’ summer program, Learning Matters, packed learning and summer fun into their four weeks here. Participants chose classes to participate in each week. Here are some of the highlights:

Sew What?

The youth in this class learned how to hand sew, use a sewing machine, and measure fabric for a desired outcome. By the end of this week, they made a fleece blanket and a bean bag (with fabric they tie-dyed earlier in the week) for Family Matters’ Peace Room and Library. They also made and took home their own personal pillows, head bands, and phone cases.

Thank you to volunteer Moriah Turner for sharing your talents!

Snuggling with finished sewing projects

Cardboard Creations

The idea for this class came from a former student who loves creating things out of cardboard. On the first afternoon, the children were presented with a challenge to see what they could do with the cardboard. They watched Cain’s Arcade about a little boy who was bored one summer and created a whole arcade of games out of cardboard. They were mesmerized by the video. It was suggested that they make either a game or a fort with the cardboard and they were off!

First they submitted a design and then they started gathering their materials. The only struggle was getting the group to stop working at the end of the class! The next day they were asking to work on forts during lunch and the normally full to capacity computer lab had one person in it.

Forts included features like skylights (or turrets, as the case may be), telescopes that could double as ammunition launchers, mailboxes, swinging doors, and flags. There were also several arcade games created involving tossing balls at targets and through slots. Each group offered a video tour of their creations and then had a blast destroying the forts which were too big to travel home.

It was reassuring to see the creative and inventive spirits rise to the challenge and the pure joy the participants exhibited in the process of completing their creations.

Change Agents

In this class, discussions centered around what it means to be an agent of change and change agents that youth know or have learned about. On the first day, participants “transformed” into change agents with the goal of beautifying Family Matters’ neighborhood. This proved to be an exhausting, yet exhilarating task, especially since it was the day after the July 4th holiday. Julissa thought she picked up “hundreds of fireworks!”

Youth returned to Family Matters to discuss the experience and decide on their activity for day two – writing letters to advocate for a cause. They learned about advocacy and the youth provided examples of activities that qualify. Rogelio “Junior” told the group about Malala Yousafzai and Cesar Chavez. Junior was well informed and added valuable information to enhance the class experience. The youth decided to write letters to President Donald Trump, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and the Chicago Public Schools Nutrition Services, and took their task very seriously.

Joselin asked how to spell “separate” so that she could write a letter to President Trump about his policies separating families. Julissa noted that this was the first time she had ever written a letter. Intern (and former Learning Matters student), Amy, wrote two full pages to CPS to advocate for healthier school lunches. This was truly a fulfilling class and a great taste of what we can do to work toward dismantling systemic oppression!


Anna’s Story


Anna, 12, attends the Family Connections program, where she she spends Monday through Friday afternoons receiving one-on-one literacy coaching, learning and practicing life skills, and engaging in hands-on learning projects. She also has time for things she loves – music, dance, and being with friends. “At Family Matters I like how respectful everyone is. I also like all of the activities we get to do, skills that we learn, and having access to computers so I can get my homework done. “Through Family Matters, I can be a better person and I learn new life skills. At Family Matters I feel free, joyful, and excited to see what’s in store for the day. I love Family Matters!”

“Being in the classroom all day is difficult for me. I have trouble focusing because I need to move often. The material is very hard and I don’t always understand it.” At Family Matters, Anna learns strategies to cope at school. “I learn life skills that I can use now and when I grow up. They really help me in the hardest of times. For example, when I am very frustrated I use the balloon to remind me to take a deep breath and calm down. And the hula hoop – which reminds me to ask for personal space and give it to others.”

Anna’s mother Vivian shares, “Family Matters was there for my family during a critical time when my child was in need of educational support. Not only were they able to assist her academically, but since attending the program her confidence level has skyrocketed and she has flourished emotionally and socially. There is not a day that goes by that I have not recommended the program to someone I know. The wonderful staff and the dedicated families have truly become like family. It is our home away from home.”

Anna is one of nearly 100 children who come to Family Matters each week, where they are heard, supported, and encouraged to dream big.


Alex’s Story

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.”