Strength From Each Other

Strength From Each Other

The large brick building reads “7030” and we know we have arrived at Rochelle and Dionte’s new apartment. A nearby grassy lot dotted with bright yellow dandelions makes the corner feel open and friendly. Trees, lush with leaves, stand tall along the street and black iron fences surround each sturdy brick home and apartment building. Brittany and Amanda, the family’s CCO case managers, are especially excited to visit everyone and see their new home.

With an enthusiastic smile Dionte meets us outside and leads us up the stairs to his family’s second-floor apartment. Rochelle meets us at the door with baby Leia in her arms. Two-year-old Dionte Junior toddles over, curious to find out who has come to visit.

Rochelle and Dionte’s apartment is bright, spacious and clean. We immediately feel the warmth of a real home and the energy and liveliness that small children bring to a space. After hugs and a quick tour, we settle down in the living room to talk.

Rochelle, an attentive and affectionate mother, cradles baby Leia in her arms and talks about her work and her dreams. As she speaks she patiently puts the pacifier back in the baby’s mouth and gently plays with Leia’s tiny curls. “I appreciate Cornerstone but we needed our own place. Being homeless was filled with ups and downs. Sometimes we felt ready to give up but then we looked at our kids and knew we couldn’t give up.”

Rochelle has just completed training to be a full-time driver for a company that transports people with physical challenges. The work helps others and also gives Rochelle the opportunity to work full-time and over-time. “It will keep us housed and on our feet.”

Her true employment ambition is to study to become an ultrasound technician. “That is the next step,” she says with a smile. She recalls each of her children’s ultrasounds with pleasure and wants to be a part of bringing that joy and excitement to other expectant families. “Sharing those moments with other families would bring me joy and I would have a skilled, well-paying job that I love.”

With a friendly and tenacious personality, Dionte is pursuing a brighter future with his family’s security at the heart of his plans. Dionte, a self-described family man, has committed to his role because as a child, he lost his own father to gun violence. “My dad died when he was nineteen. He didn’t get to see me grown up. I want to see my kids grow up.”

Dionte explains how he has had the employment door slammed in his face repeatedly due to a felony in his past. “But I kept trying. I got a job at Target because I was honest about my past offense and they hired me because they could see I was a hardworking person who didn’t lie. I work the night shift and Rochelle works the day shift; that way one of us is always with the kids.” Dionte is on a waiting list for a construction work apprenticeship and he is enrolled in acting classes at Chicago’s famous Second City Acting Program. Energized and unwilling to pin all of his hopes on one occupation, he is remaining flexible and open to new opportunities.

When asked what motivated them to make it through homelessness they both speak about their children, each other, and their family as a whole. “Homelessness can be a really depressing time but we got our strength from each other. We knew we couldn’t give up,” Rochelle explains.

It was a joy to visit one of CCO’s successful, ambitious young families. They have made it through homelessness with an even deeper commitment to creating a stable future for themselves and their family.

Rochelle had this to say about her experience with homelessness, “As dark as that tunnel may seem there is always going to be light at the end.” Dionte adds, “I want to always do better for my kids. I want to provide for them and make sure they have what they need. This is not the end. I feel we have a long way to go and I think we’re going to get there.”

They certainly will. Together.

(Names have been changed)

– By Beth Nicholls

By June, 2018!

This year so-far at CCO

  • 307 people have come to CCO for shelter
  • 27 families, and 28 single adults have been moved into permanent housing.
  • Over 35,000 meals have been served

And we’re only half way there!

Thank you for 2017!

You Made 2017 Awesome, Keep It Up!

As we are rounding out the holiday season, and in the last few hours of 2017, we want to say thank you for every way you have helped those sheltered at Cornerstone.

You may have come to Cornerstone and volunteered your time. Maybe you donated your new or used clothing or home goods. Possibly you chose to donate money out of your hard-earned income to help those who right now have none. However it was that you contributed, it is very appreciated. Your gift ensured that homeless families, homeless women and homeless men, were welcomed and received assistance at Cornerstone when in need.

Throughout the year, we post success stories on our social media and website, send out newsletters, emails, and thank-you letters. All of this to let you know of the good work being done through your support, and the impact it has for so many people. We hope you’ve found the photos and stories encouraging and motivating!

We ask now, that if you have not already made a year-end contribution, or if you can contribute more than you’ve been able to in the past, that you do so. If you have questions before you make that contribution, do contact us. Or if you are ready, click the donate button below!

Again, thank you for all you have already done in 2017!

Permanently Housed Up 29 % at CCO

Every person who moves from homelessness to housing is a cause for celebration. We rejoice with every one of our residents who are able to turn a key and enter their home, whether it is a mom or dad with children, single senior citizen, couple with children, three-generational family, or young adult. Finding home is the next step in a new phase of life.

While staying at Cornerstone the case-management staff work hard to make sure each person receives the assistance and services available. The work with the residents is tracked closely to be able to monitor what works and what areas can be improved on. One area tracked is how many people who come to Cornerstone homeless, successfully move into permanent housing.

We are glad to announce, that the number of people that have been housed this year so far is up by 29 percent! Already 24 families and their children, and 51 single men and women, all of whom stayed in one of CCO’s shelters moved from homelessness to permanent housing. That’s 9 more families and 16 more men and women than this time last year.

All of this can only be accomplished by your support, the hard work of the people finding home, and Cornerstone’s staff. Please consider donating today to help this wonderful work continue, and more people find home.

A donation of $4 per day can provide these wonderful, successful services for the homeless in Chicago. Donate Today!

Don’t Give Up: Shirley’s Story!

Shirley Graduates!“It was always the same, every day after school. I would make up a story to tell my friends why I was walking the other way. ‘I’ve got to go to my uncle’s house.’ I didn’t want them to know I was homeless. I was terribly ashamed of it. I never shared it with anybody, and they never knew.”

When Shirley’s family came to CCO for shelter she was 12 years old but she wasn’t new to the homeless experience. For years, she and her family had shuffled from one extended family member’s house to another. At each new destination, disputes erupted and she and her family were once again displaced, and forced to move on to the next couch, floor space, or basement. Shirley grew up with a front row seat to the destabilizing effects of homelessness.

”At CCO, I got to know the staff. They were softer, kinder, and gentler, than the adults I had been around. As a child, some of my best memories were of CCO volunteers and staff teaching me how to do crafts. It had a huge influence on me. Staff and volunteers taught me how to tie-dye. I appreciated it. It opened my eyes to art and artistic expression. I’m still a crafter today. It’s a part of who I am. While my family lived at the shelter, we also did a lot of outdoorsy stuff. I remember getting out of the city and camping, experiencing nature. It was one of the best times of my childhood.”

Shirley’s family eventually moved into an apartment and successfully left CCO, but struggles within her family intensified already-damaged relationships. “I ran away because I kept being told, ‘You won’t amount to anything.’ I knew that I had to do something that would get me where I needed to be. All my high school years, I worked up to 45 hours each week. I would get up and go to school, get out of school, and go to work until midnight or 2 am. Then, do it over and over again. I had a consistent work history but my education suffered. I didn’t have much hope. My big dream was to be the manager of a fast-food restaurant. I thought that was the best I could do.”

Desperate to break free, Shirley took a leap into the unknown. “I enlisted in the Air Force. At basic training I was asked, ‘Are you afraid of blood?’ I answered ‘No,’ so I was trained as a surgical technician. I didn’t realize then how that one question would shape my life! I decided I was going to work really hard in the military. The Air Force made me feel like I had a family. It was the first time in my life that I had the structure and support to achieve my goals. I’ll never forget the day one of the drill sergeants walked pasted me at basic training and said, ‘That Shirley Richards, she’s going to be a great airman.’ I felt like I could fly!

I was stationed in Washington D.C. I took pride in my work and in the Air Force. Years went by and my surgical technician experience and knowledge grew but I knew that ultimately I wanted a civilian life.

After leaving the military, I returned to Chicago and I was hired at a prestigious orthopedic hospital. I really wanted to shine. My work as a surgical technician was exciting and exhausting. I assisted with total joint replacements and worked 50 hours a week. I cared about the patients and my co-workers. Through my work I learned more about medical research which led to a yearning to go back to school and get a degree. So I did. I continued to work full-time and I enrolled in on-line courses.

In 2012 I got my degree in Healthcare Administration. I had been told by some of the people closest to me that I would never amount to anything, yet there I stood with my diploma in hand and I couldn’t stop crying. It was a dream come true. I had finally shown the world and myself that I could accomplish something. I never stopped trying. Today, I am a partner in a medical technologies company and I have authored a published medical research paper.

I look back at myself as a little girl trying to survive family conflict and homelessness, as a teen closing McDonald’s late at night, as a new recruit entering basic training, as a young surgical tech stepping into the OR, and as an adult student studying for an exam. I truly don’t believe I would have made it to the place I am at today without hope.

When it comes to being homeless, it’s easy to give up and fall into sorrow. Don’t give up. If you’re homeless right now, find organizations like Cornerstone Community Outreach. They will help with food, clothes, shelter, training, and housing referrals; these steps will get you where you need to go. It is not easy and I’m not trying to minimize the situation, but there is help, there is hope!”

  • Shirley Richards, as told to Beth Nicholls

Surgery, Recovery, and the Long Road Home

Surgery, Recovery, and the Long Road Home

“When I arrived at Cornerstone Community Outreach (CCO) I was recovering from hip replacement surgery on both hips and I was legally blind in my left eye due to a cataract. Health problems, extensive surgeries, and long recovery times caused me to lose my job and become homeless.

I had my left cataract removed while I was at CCO and I recovered there, too. The doctor told me that if I had waited any longer I may not have gotten my vision back. My vision was so good after the surgery I felt like I could see through walls! I was finally on the road to health and healing.

My CCO case managers, Andre and Jeremy, were there every time I needed their help with important appointments, transportation, laundry cards, medical referrals, and housing lists. I put my name on every piece of paper and data-base I could get ahold of. I knew finding housing was going to be a long road, and it was, but God really saw me through. I believe He never leaves us or forsakes us.

That long road of homelessness ended the day I moved into Friendly Towers, an independent affordable living program for senior citizens. It is a safe, quiet building near Lake Michigan. It’s my home, I couldn’t think of a better place to live.

After being in my apartment for two years, I was asked to be a member of the Cornerstone Community Outreach Board of Directors. I felt truly honored. I appreciate the opportunity to give back to CCO through serving as a board member. I believe my homeless experience gives me a deeper understanding of what CCO residents are going through.

People call me a success story but I’m a work in progress. Even in the times I didn’t ask for help, God was there helping me through.”

Dawson Key, as told to Beth Nicholls

Denise’s Story

Denise

“In my storage unit, I was too cold to rest. I wanted a place to lay my head down and just sleep. I’d wrap up in ten blankets, just trying to get warm.”

Denise seems to have an endless abundance of joy. She is a very petite woman in her late 50’s with bright eyes and a wide, welcoming smile that goes well with her upbeat personality. Denise’s past was filled with a solid and consistent work history. For 30 years she was employed with Illinois Bell. She began in 1979 working part-time in the mailroom and was promoted 12 times, working her way up to full-time Engineering Clerk. After taking early retirement from Illinois Bell and giving the funds to her son to pay for his college education, Denise found work as a secretary with a moving company. Eight years later that business relocated to Florida. Denise found herself unemployed and alone. Too young for social security benefits but old enough to experience age discrimination when looking for work, she didn’t know where to turn for help.

Finding a job proved difficult and she eventually lost her apartment. Denise had an outdoor storage space that measured about 10 feet by 10 feet located in an outdoor lot on the south side of Chicago. The space held all the items from the apartment she had lost and with nowhere else to turn, she moved into it. Without any heat at all and only a few flashlights for light, Denise said she prayed, read her Bible, and cried a river in that storage unit. Keeping clean was a real challenge and when she tried to wash up in local public bathrooms she endured looks and comments from people who seemed to fear or despise her. Her former life was utterly lost.

For three years and throughout notoriously harsh Chicago winters, Denise stayed in her storage unit. To escape the cold, she would often ride the Chicago Public Transit system. “I was so tired of riding the buses. So tired… but when I rode the buses no one ever robbed me. An angel must have been sitting beside me.” Throughout these years Denise kept her difficult circumstances hidden from her son who lived out of state.

This sweet, hard-working woman had been forced so far out on the margins that she couldn’t find her way back. This past January, in the deadly cold, Denise arrived at Cornerstone. Three years of surviving alone would lead us to believe that Denise would find living with the 74 other women sheltered at Naomi House nearly impossible. Not so! Denise soon began to encourage homeless women younger than her, giving words of wisdom, and helping to defuse tense situations.

During her time at the shelter, Denise felt that God told her, “I’m giving you the rope but it’s up to you to grab ahold and pull yourself up.” And she did just that. During her stay at CCO Denise got security guard training, earned her PERC (Permanent Employment Registration Card) card, and got full-time work as a security guard. Of Naomi House staff Denise says, “They really supported me. The case managers got to know me and took time with me. I felt that they respected me.”

For the last 8 months Denise has been working full-time as a security officer for a domestic violence shelter that serves women with children. She enjoys her work immensely. The day Denise moved into her apartment she shouted, “Lord, You have been too good to me!” and then sat down and cried tears of gratitude. We rejoice with Denise!
Denise’s story reflects a trend of age-related employment discrimination. Regardless of her impeccable work history and experience Denise struggled to find a job. The turning point in Denise’s story is when she arrived at CCO and began to climb out of the day-to-day survival situation she had sunk into. We have been blessed by her stay and applaud the employer that saw what we see in Denise – a lovely, enthusiastic, hard-working woman who simply needed a job.

– Denise Hardy, as told to Beth Nicholls

If you are a donor then you helped to provide safe shelter, nutritious meals, and intensive case management services to Denise and other CCO residents like her. Please consider giving again financially today. If you have not made a donation to CCO consider giving a gift that will help someone move from homelessness to permanent housing. Thank you!

Denise

Tommy’s Story…

Maked and using for LenSlider 462d096575 banner. Dont delete from media library.

Tommy is an extremely unassuming and polite man! He is drug-free, alcohol-free and felony-free. He doesn’t want to bother anyone. He’s happy to quietly sit and I’ve never heard him complain! (I’m complaining for him) He just lives “day-by-day”, accepting his “homeless fate”. When he wandered into Cornerstone, he didn’t come yelling or demanding answers, he was just expecting CCO to be part of his journey, he was expecting CCO to be just another place to lay his weary bones! But, we had other plans, so we drew this information out of him…..

Click here to read Tommy’s story of hope in the midst of U.S. Veteran homelessness.

We’ll Leave The Light On…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We’ll Leave the Light on for You

by Sandy Ramsey, CCO Executive Director

“Sometimes I work late at my desk at the shelter. I can see the security monitor that shows who comes in and out of the door in our shelter foyer. You can see the flow of the foyer lights and through the glass door, the dark of night. It makes the foyer look inviting, welcoming, secure.

I think about the people coming in and going out. An older woman with a purse and several bags rests on the step before opening the door for the walk up a flight of stairs to her bed. She has come from her job, dressed up with make-up and earrings. No one would believe she’s homeless. Health and family problems have taken their toll and now she’s temporarily with us.

A man comes in late from his job. He looks tired. No one at work knows he’s homeless. Probably not a subject he discusses around the water cooler. Instead of coming home to his own house, family, and dog, he comes home to a large noisy shelter – not exactly something that builds a man’s self-esteem. But we’re grateful he has a bed with us.

Some people make faces into the camera while they wait to be buzzed in. Did they have a good day? Do they have a sense of humor despite their situation? Or a strong faith in God to get them through their homelessness?

Noisy children tumble out of the foyer door onto the street, followed by a weary parent, taking one last trip to the store before the evening curfew. Thinking of my own children, I wonder how I would fare if I was homeless with them. How would I explain to them, how would I maintain my own sense of family among so many others under one roof? What do the children think? Are they upset about losing the housing they have? What do they face when they go to school? Serious questions, but for now they are happy and I am thankful we can provide a place for them to be with their parents.

Another woman comes in for the night. Her whole life has been plagued by abuse and poverty. Her difficult childhood led to a troubled adult life, riddled with substance abuse and bad choices. Being chronically homeless and always needy, you’d have to look a little deeper to catch her funny personality and deeper strengths. She has been through our program several times and each times comes a little bit closer to making a turn for the better. Will this be the time she goes forward without looking back?

Another man goes out to begin the evening shift at his job. Someone else leans out the door and calls out last minute good-nights to a friend. Eventually the traffic in the foyer slows down as another day in the lives of homeless people in a homeless shelter comes to a close. Tomorrow there will be another chance, more choices, more hope. We will be there and we’ll leave the light on for you.

“I Don’t Have To Run Anymore” – Misty’s Story

Misty Post Picture

My mother was a former nun. She left the convent to take care of my grandmother. All my life she has been a Christian woman, a great listener. She’s a very non-judgmental person. Every time I got in trouble she was there for me. To this day, she’s my best friend. My father worked two jobs. He provided for us and worked hard but he was an alcoholic. We didn’t see him much. My parents divorced when I was 5. As I got older, I wanted love and I went looking for it.
When I reached my teens I started to drink and smoke marijuana. I was looking for affection and attention. At fifteen I became pregnant and I dropped out of high school. After I had my baby, Carlos, I got work at a local grocery store and by 16 I had my own apartment. Rent was $300 a month back then. My aunt helped with babysitting.
I was 19 when I found out I was HIV positive and I thought the world was ending. By that time I was a single mom with three small children. Thankfully, all my children tested negative for HIV. Because I tested positive, I really thought I was dying. I was in a relationship that was physically abusive. I had to get myself and the children out of the house and into a safe situation. I also felt that the responsible thing to do was to make sure my kids were okay and with people who would take care of them. I did what I thought was best at the time and sent my kids to live with my aunt because I believed I was going to die. Depression from my diagnosis sent me into an addiction I had never experienced before.
I wasn’t taking HIV meds because it made me so sick. In 2004, I got married to a man who truly loved me. I knew we could make a life together. Soon after our marriage, I found out I was pregnant with our daughter, Alexis. I was very worried the baby would get the virus but the doctor explained to me that the HIV medication would increase the chance that my baby would test negative for HIV. I began taking the medicine and stopped using drugs. Everything was beautiful. I was married, becoming healthy and pregnant with my baby girl.
Then in 2005, my oldest son, Carlos, was diagnosed with leukemia. That year, my husband had a sudden heart attack the day after Thanksgiving and died. Two weeks later, Carlos died. I went into a complete depression for two years and I went back to drugs. Losing my son and husband was so painful I couldn’t stand it. Alexis was staying with my aunt and my other child. Within a year I got caught with drugs and ended up on probation. It was around this time that my family did an intervention. They knew I was grieving and they told me I needed help. They were right. I checked myself into Haymarket House Treatment Center for 9 months. In treatment I finally got educated about my HIV. Alexis, who was three years old at the time, came to stay with me at Haymarket House after my first 60 days. We stayed in the Mother and Child Program. We loved it! She enjoyed the daycare program and other children. I was getting the help I needed. We renewed our bond and I got help through grief and addictions counseling. I graduated from the program! I continued to go to counseling for years after my graduation. It was very important.
After Haymarket House, I found an apartment but I was using my entire check for rent. It was impossible to afford market rate housing and I found myself homeless. I needed to go somewhere to apply for subsidized housing and save money. I got a referral to CCO. Alexis had a backpack and I had a bag of clothes when we arrived. That’s all we brought with us. When we walked down Clifton Avenue I didn’t know where to go. Kathy, a CCO security guard, brought me into Hannah House. Staff had made up our beds and gave us everything we needed. They made us feel really welcome. During our stay Alexis enjoyed the after-school program and got help from the tutors there. I appreciated the computer lab and got assistance from my case manager, Courtney. She really helped with my paperwork and housing sign-ups. I wanted stable, permanent housing where Alexis and I could make a home of our own.
An organization that works with families affected by HIV/ AIDS got in touch with me. They told me that I could be a part of one of their permanent housing programs. I moved in October of 2013. At the time I didn’t have a lot of the things we needed for a new apartment. I saved my money while I was at CCO but I couldn’t afford furniture. CCO gave me two dressers, a big food pack, dishes, pans and household items and brought it all to my apartment. Standing in my new place I remember thinking, “I don’t have to run anymore. I’ve always run to something I thought was better. I’m content in my home now. I can settle down and unpack.” Our building has an after-school program for Alexis, summer camp projects, security, computer lab, and on-site case managers. It is truly a home.
After I moved from CCO into my apartment I began to take courses to become an HIV counselor. This has been a dream of mine for a long time. I remember finding out I was HIV positive when I was 19 years old. I thought I was going to die and that caused all kinds of problems in my life. I want to help others who find out they are positive. I am happy to say that I completed the training and I am a certified HIV counselor. I am registered for an upcoming training to be an HIV tester. I continue to take classes and I look forward to the day when I can be a part of a shelter or clinic that serves people with HIV.

Cornerstone helped us when we were homeless. They helped us get through homelessness and into housing. I feel like Cornerstone is my family.

“That’s my life so far… stay tuned for updates!”

Our thoughts and prayers are with Misty at this tragic time.