Meet Jenny, a parent at Guadalupano Family Center in Pilsen. Nine years ago, Jenny lost her husband to a heart attack. He was only 25 years old. As a widowed single parent with two children, Jenny worked odd jobs to take care of her family – including making tamales, ringing the bell for the Salvation Army, and working at Dunkin’ Donuts – but her biggest challenge was finding affordable, quality education and after-school care for her kids.
Jenny had heard from a coworker that the Guadalupano Family Center was wonderful and would accept 5-year-old Isabella into their Early Head Start program and 8-year-old Alen into the School Age Program. She also heard that GFC had resources for parents and thought this might help her get back on her feet. Jenny took her coworker’s advice and enrolled Isabella and Alen. There they were welcomed with open arms. Knowing that her children were well cared for, Jenny was able to focus on her own personal goals with the help of her family worker.
Over the last six years, Jenny diligently pursued her own education while her children continue to attend GFC’s school-age program. Jenny has since had the opportunity to go back to school and not only earn her associates degree but is in the process of earning her bachelor’s degree and looks forward to achieving her goal of earning her master’s degree. Her goal is to become a full-time early education teacher.
Jenny is grateful for family workers at Chicago Commons who encouraged her to not be afraid to take risks, to not doubt her abilities and reminded her that sometimes the only thing stopping her from achieving her goals is herself. “I’ve learned to not let my mind tell me I can’t do something. I want to be a role model for my kids so they [know] they can do anything.”
Aleli graduated from high school with honors and long dreamed of attending college, but soon after had three small children to care for and limited funds, and she was unable to pursue her goal. Feeling as though her options were limited, Aleli struggled with depression and low self-esteem.
Aleli and her partner enrolled their children in Chicago Commons’ Guadalupano Family Center and instantly knew that her children would receive excellent care and quality early education; she felt a world of possibilities open up as she now had the time and the support to pursue her dream of higher education. Aleli enrolled in Commons’ first cohort of the Pathways for Parents program, which provides college classes at no cost for parents who wish to become early childhood education teachers.
Aleli told us, “Early on, I didn’t think of myself as a teacher, but being at Commons and volunteering in the classrooms, I found I liked it! Working with my daughters on their homework, I realized that I had the tools and knowledge to help them. Why not help other kids too?”
Currently, Aleli is continuing to take classes while working and raising her family. It’s not an easy road. But she looks forward to graduating with her bachelor’s degree and working somewhere like Chicago Commons. She credits Chicago Commons with guiding her and giving her the tools to succeed. Aleli is proud that she is an academic role model to her children. When her daughter Victoria asked her, “Mom, can I go to college?” Aleli answered, “If you work hard, you can go.” To which Victoria replied, “If you can do it, I can too!”
Aleli’s words of advice for those struggling in a similar situation, “You have to just do it because you don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Take the risk!”
We could not be more proud of the life that Aleli is building for herself and her family and we will be with her every step of the way! Since 1894, Chicago Commons has provided the means and the support to assist program participants to succeed. As stated by Chicago Commons volunteer Jane Reoch over 100 years ago, “The motive of our whole movement is in being ‘with,’ not merely ‘for’ others.” This remains true today.
Meet the Cortes family — (L-R) Madelaine, William and Cassie. Madelaine works in Commons’ finance department and has been with us for 23 years. Before joining our staff, Madelaine’s children attended the early education and after school program at Taylor House in the early 90s. “We lived right around the corner from Taylor House,” said Madelaine. “As a single parent, I feared what would happen to my kids’ future. I wanted to make sure they succeeded, so their education was very important to me.”
And succeed they did. Cassie, now 30 received her bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in social work from University of Illinois at Chicago. She now works as a regional manager and investment specialist at Primerica Insurance. William is 28 and received his bachelor’s degree from Calumet College and a master’s from St. Joseph in business management.
“Chicago Commons shaped my kids’ life, and they were prepared to learn and succeed. As a mom, I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
For the last two years, Paul and Melissa have been part of Chicago Commons’ Senior Services program. Melissa is a college counselor at University of Chicago Lab Schools. Paul, a former stockbroker, was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s a few years ago when he was just 57. He and Melissa just recently celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary. Melissa sent us this note:
If it were not for the caring professionals at Chicago Commons’ Adult Day Service program, I would be struggling to find a way to care for Paul while I continued to work full time. Through my experiences with support group friends, I have found that many spouses who care for people with dementia are forced to quit their jobs because they do not have adequate options to care for their loved ones.
I am grateful to have found Chicago Commons at the time that I did when it was no longer feasible for Paul to remain home alone. After trying a couple of other day programs that did not fit his needs, we found Chicago Commons. What made Chicago Commons different was the time and effort they expended to acclimate Paul. When I told one of their staff members that Paul loves anything to do with his hometown of Detroit, especially Motown music, she arrived the next day with a Motown DVD!
Through Chicago Commons’ transportation services, Paul takes the bus home in the evening. When it became apparent that Paul was getting anxious on the bus ride home, the bus driver altered his route. Paul is now dropped off early in the run before he can become frustrated. Each morning we are greeted with a smile by Clover, who runs the front desk. She is always happy to see Paul, regardless of his mood. Chicago Commons has provided a vital service for me as a caregiver and for my husband Paul. They have enabled us to maintain our quality of life, and I’m forever grateful.
Brother and sister duo, Mary Lou Anton and Bill Randazzo, could reminisce for hours on their childhood growing up in what is now the River West neighborhood in the 1940s. On the third floor of an apartment building on 951 W. Erie street, which was torn down during the construction of the Kennedy expressway, Mary Lou and Bill lived with their mother, grandmother, two siblings and their father until he passed away. Their grandmother, Busia, managed the house while their mother , who was widowed at 23 with four young children worked multiple jobs to provide for her family.
At a time when segregation was at the forefront, Mary Lou and Bill considered their neighborhood to be a “miniature United Nations” with many cultures and ethnicities represented. At the center of it all was Chicago Commons, located at the corner of Grand and Morgan. Still operating as a settlement house, Commons offered many services based on the needs of their community including nursery school, after school programs, English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, and a mother’s club. They partnered closely with Washington Elementary, which was across the street, and the school that most of the kids in the neighborhood attended.
Referring to Chicago Commons as “The Commons,” Mary Lou and Bill said “it was like our second home.” All the Randazzo kids attended Commons’ nursery school and after school programs. It was an integral part of their childhood. As they got older, Mary Lou and Bill attended night events, dances and even a trip to the country club in Winnetka.
For a couple weeks in the summer, all the kids in the neighborhood including the Randazzo’s were transported to Commons’ farm camp in New Buffalo, Michigan. Camp was the highlight of their summer. They played tennis, picked berries for dessert, went on hikes and swam in a “terrific swimming hole.” Bill and Mary Lou described the camp as primitive with straw stuffed mattresses, but they loved the space, fresh air and memories they made each year.
Mary Lou reminisced that each cabin had a different name like “Birdie,” or “Star.” There were four cabins for the girls and four for the boys. “Everyone at the camp treated us so nice. Counselors were from the Northshore and never treated us like we were underprivileged—we didn’t know that we were,” said Mary Lou.
Mary Lou and Bill stopped going to the camp when they were 15 and 17 years respectively, and they moved in 1952. It was around this same time that the Kennedy expressway was coming to fruition and the Randazzo’s like many others in the neighborhood relocated. Now in their 80’s, they are both married with grown children and live in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago. Mary Lou and Bill both continue to support Chicago Commons today, and do so in order that other families can benefit from the programs just as they did over five decades ago.
Harriet Tubman once said, “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” I cannot think of a better quote to describe Chicago Commons’s transformational impact on children, seniors, and families. And surely no inspirational quote better captures the journey of the Quiroz family, one of the many success stories that we’d like to share with you.
Harold was one of the first children to enroll in Paulo Freire Family Center in Back of the Yards in the early 2000s. As a young child, Harold loved to take things apart to see how they worked. One of his favorite books was Quantum Physics for Babies! Harold’s mother, Miriam, credits the child-directed learning of our Reggio Emilia-inspired schools for both igniting and fostering his lifelong fascination with matter and energy and preparing her to support the educational goals of Harold and his siblings.
Chicago Commons set the foundation for Harold to excel academically. Today, he is a physics major at Illinois State University. His physics professor, a former NASA employee, hired Harold as a teaching assistant and sees a bright future for Harold. “He has a lot of potential and if he reaches his goal, he will be recommended to work for NASA.”
“For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved learning about the stars and planets. It amazed me as a kid knowing that there is an entire universe right above our heads waiting to be discovered and learned about. The best part about studying physics is that I finally get to find scientific answers to all the questions I had about the stars as a kid.” – Harold Quiroz
As the matriarch of a low-income, single-parent family from Back of the Yards, Miriam says, “If you have a goal, no matter where you’re from, you can achieve that goal.” Harold’s three siblings, also Chicago Commons graduates, are also pursuing their dreams having enrolled in college or enlisted in the armed services. In fact, while Harold was enrolled at Chicago Commons, Miriam earned her associates degree in early childhood education. She achieved her dream too and is now an early childhood education teacher. She has pledged to always have a copy of Quantum Physics for Babies in her classroom.