Friday, March 24, 2017


On our last day in Chicago, we started off visiting the Renaissance Collaborative, a subsidized housing program for those experiencing chronic homelessness. The mission of the organization is to create economic self-sufficiency for the community. We spoke with administrators and learned about the housing, mental health, and employment programs available to the residents. The employment programs were particularly notable, and included a wide range of opportunities for training in fields such as landscaping, janitorial work, and hospitality. For those who desire to complete their education, the center also provides resources for them to obtain GEDs, college degrees, or certifications. To actually help place residents in stable jobs, TRC offers numerous workshops on skills such as resume writing and interviewing. We also listened to the residents' stories about how TRC helped provide them with the resources to get back on their feet and received a tour of a sample apartment. The administrators also showed us around a former YMCA next door, and we took the chance to snap a group picture:

After visiting TRC and grabbing some lunch downtown, we had a meeting with the Director of Innovation and Impact at All Chicago. All Chicago serves as a hub for nonprofits and organizations to collaborate and receive funding in order to tackle homelessness in the city. The organization's main program is their Emergency Fund, which provides millions of dollars to families in need of short-term financial relief. Their two other departments include the Chicago Alliance and the Learning Center. The talk differed from our previous discussions with organization leaders because it focused mainly on the supply side of homelessness and how policies can make housing more affordable to those in need.

Near All Chicago we enjoyed a quick snack from Garrett's Popcorn, arguably the most popular popcorn store in Chicago. We then traveled to Boystown, a historically LGBTQ neighborhood. After exploring Halsted St and learning about the area, we grabbed dinner at the Chicago Diner, which serves entirely vegetarian comfort food.

At night we visited the John Hancock Center and got a quick glimpse of the city from the 96th floor. Then we walked a short distance to Sprinkles, and grabbed some cupcakes before heading back to the Maria Kaupas Center.


Today we started our day with a visit to the Jane Addams Hull House Museum. Jane Addams was a community organizer in Chicago who created Hull House, a settlement that included many people of mixed incomes, immigrants, and unmarried women. Many ideas such as Kindergarten, child labor laws, unemployment insurance, and the study of sociology have roots in the Hull House or the people who lived there. The Hull House still stands today at the entrance to the University of Illinois at Chicago as a historical landmark of this woman's tireless efforts for human rights. 

Next, we heard from speakers from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless' Speakers Bureau. They told us why they became homeless, what it was like experiencing homelessness, and how they got out of it. We also learned about the bills CCH is advocating for, the rights of homeless students, and the varying definitions of homelessness.


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Whacky (Not Really) Wednesday

Hi, it's Jackie (aka my bae) and Cleo (aka my queen), Today was our last day at I Am Able :( and it was tough to leave the organization. Cleo and I finished (not really) the last of our shredding. We were told we shredded four years worth of paperwork over the past three days. Ed (the real bae and king) told us the story of how he arrived at I Am Able. Overall, it took an hour to hear the story, but it was worth it. To summarize, he was living a life in the streets and did a lot of bad things he regrets, before coming to Able and staying there for the past 20 years. At the end of the day, Dr. Vessel and the rest of the staff gave us all little certificates for serving with the organization the past three days. We were all very touched by the gratitude of the staff and their kindness towards us. For dinner, we were fortunate enough to go out to dinner with a UMD alum named Geof Brown. He took us all to Gino's East of North Riverdale. There was good conversation and good food to be had. Not only was there the classic Chicago deep dish, but there was also traditionally made pizza. We talked about our travel experience in Europe and also the finance companies in Chicago. We also talked with his husband and he's working in a supply chain company. It was a wonderful night and way to cap of an evening!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

TR4IM Tuesday

Today we went with the I Am Able staff to their TR4IM committee meeting. There we learned their more about how their programs, grants, services are progressing.

Something that stood out to us was a presentation given by staff member Joe White. The presentation was based on the fundamentals of trauma, using the film adaptation of Ray Charles's childhood as the anecdote. In the film, a young Charles observes as his younger brother George drowns in a freak accident. We discussed the two major forms of trauma: post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complex trauma. The former, commonly known, is a psychological phenomenon that occurs after a single major negative personal experience (e.g. car accidents, divorce, sexual assault, etc.). On the contrary, complex trauma refers to chronic occurrences of negative experiences (e.g. prolonged events of abuse, neglect, bullying, racism, and other non-singular trauma). Memories of such events can be easily triggered by one's surroundings, some later in life than others. TR4IM hold the mission of mitigating these aversive effects on not only the individuals, but others involved such as family members.

After the TR4IM meeting, we headed to I Am Able's offices and resumed our work from yesterday. We finished painting of the family room. We also started to work on painting the outside stairs of the building. Furthermore, we began cleaning and painting baseboards around the rooms and hallways located around and in the offices.

A lot of progress was made today!

By the way, we checked a corner spot next door to the I Am Able office. Delicious (and affordable) food!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Monday- We are Able

Today was our first day of service at the I AM ABLE Center, located in Chicago's North Lawndale neighborhood.  We were welcomed warmly by so many different people, who each played a different role in either the counseling center or the administrative office.  The counseling center focuses on serving and healing families, and the administrative office works with other community-based organizations to create a comprehensive network of support within the North and South Lawndale neighborhoods, as well as West Chicago in general.  

The I AM ABLE Center is a pioneer in its field.  There are other mental health resources dispersed throughout the city, but the center is different for two reasons- first, they focus primarily on counseling at the family level, and second, they use a trauma-informed care model.  According to the CEO of the organization, Dr. Carolyn Vessel, trauma-informed family counseling is the best approach to addressing a multitude of problems.  If a child is acting out at school and counseling is suggested, it would make sense to have his or her parents and/or guardians present to help discuss the origins of the child's behavior and the solutions that can be sought at the family level.  Similarly, if a parent is struggling with trauma, addiction, or mental illness, his or her children should come to the counseling appointment, because the kids could express their own feelings and perspective on their parent's situation.  Trauma-informed counseling in general is receiving more attention because it's something at the local level that helps people address the psychological effects of systematic racism, poverty, crime, police brutality, and other socioeconomically derived factors that serve to traumatize a community.  If a person or a family can be served before a "meltdown" or before "someone does something stupid", it can help prevent individuals from behaviors that lead to incarceration.  If you prevent someone from hitting rock bottom in terms of mental health, you can then prevent a lot of the worst-case scenarios: jail, poverty or homelessness, or broken relationships with family and friends.  

Preventive methods, especially in children living in low-SES neighborhoods, are also receiving more attention from lawmakers.  The I AM ABLE Center already receives funding from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), but thanks to a new bill (literally announced yesterday), there will be "more than two dozen federal grants to fund programs that help identify and treat psychological stress and trauma in kids who live in violent neighborhoods".  

In the center, we spilt up into different groups and worked in different areas of the building. One group painted the "Family Room" to create a brighter and more open atmosphere. The people at the I AM ABLE Center believe that if there is something going on with the child, they should speak to both child and parent and this is the space that allows for that to happen. We are excited to go back and finish this painting job.

Another group went up to the storage area, where there are boxes and filing cabinets full of old papers- some from the 1990's. Since these papers were so old, they needed to be sorted and shredded to open up space to organize more current paperwork. By the end of the day, there were about 5 to 6 bags full of shredded paper.  

A third group remained in the administrative offices, sorting through papers and correspondence for each of the many subcommittees created within the center.  There's a committee dedicated to the creation and implementation of a curriculum that teaches elementary school children how to process their feelings in a healthy and respectful way.  There's another committee responsible for planning a multidisciplinary and widely-attended conference on trauma, held annually in July.  There are also committees for marketing, communication, and data collection (for the purposes of grant-writing) from the community.  A member of this group, Katie, worked with Curtis, an intern, to reorganize a storage room with a bunch of office equipment and miscellaneous supplies. 

We were happy to help the I AM ABLE Center do these tasks, so the staff didn't have to take the time to do them. Now, they are able to spend more of their time serving people and families within their community.  Though North Lawndale is a rough neighborhood, everyone on staff at the I AM ABLE Center made sure to emphasize that people living in bad neighborhoods aren't inherently bad.  That's an incredibly reductive way to phrase it, but someone involved in a gang can also be responsible for taking care of their terminally ill grandparent (an actual example given to us by a staff member).  People have more than one side to them- they are not defined solely by their demographics, or their neighborhood, or their struggles.  It's an important aspect of empathy to remember for all of us as we go forward in this week, as well as in life.  

When we returned to the Maria Kaupas Center, Blair, Ugochi, and Fiona cooked a wonderful meal of stir-fried tofu and vegetables.  It was a hearty and healthy end to a long and satisfying day.  Between dinner and reflection, we had an impromptu dance lesson, which will probably result in some funny Instagram posts later this week.  Tomorrow, we will attend a community meeting held by the I AM ABLE Center and other community partners, as well as finish up our painting and administrative tasks at the center.

xoxo, Kathleen and Anna


Hello! My name is Joanne Yao. I am a sophomore majoring in Biology: Neurobiology and Physiology and minoring in Spanish. Last year I attended an Alternative Breaks trip to the Bahamas and loved every second of it. I learned so much about environmental conservation through hands on volunteering in Andros. After that awesome experience, I knew I had to attend another trip. I am excited about understanding more about socioeconomic status and how I can contribute my time to helping those in need. My hobbies include cooking, baking, and sports.  

Sunday 3/19/17: The City of Culture

Today's our first full day in Chicago! We started our day around 9:30am when we headed up to Wrigley field to see the Chicago Cub's stadium. It took at least half an hour for us to find parking spots near the stadium. Everyone was super excited to be able to see the this year's World Series champion's home stadium. 

Since the stadium was surrounded by apartment buildings, there were stadium seats on the roof. Interestingly, the roof top seat started out with private owners, but the Wrigley fields purposely built a scoreboard in their way to block their view. However, now they have a partnership with those roof top seatings. 
We then decided to visit the Bean near the millennium park. Almost no one has been to Chicago, so we were all excited to take photos under it. 
Then, we decided to split up into two groups: get food and go to navy pier or visit the cultural center. The architecture and design inside the Cultural Center was phenomenal, and we were especially impressed by an exhibit dedicated to the wall of respect. The Wall of Respect was a mural on a building on W 43rd street completed by 5-6 artists in 1967 who drew African American leaders, such as Muhammad Ali. Sadly, the building with the mural was destroyed by fire in 1971. I wish to travel back in time to see the wall with my own eyes and to experience the black liberation movement during that time period. 
Because we only had two hours on our parking meter, we quickly went upstairs to browse around the rest of the cultural center. We found that there will be an African dance and drum event at 3pm, but unfortunately, we couldn't stay and watch. Then, we drove to the Lincoln Park Zoo.

We left somewhere around 4pm and headed back to the Maria Kaupas Center. Anna, James, and Ugochi went to the supermarket to buy our groceries for the week. Kathleen and Cleo cooked rice and beans and prepared for taco night! Obviously during our amazing, tasty dinner, Kathleen posed some "what if questions" that sparked so much debate. 

Anyways, can't wait for service tomorrow!