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

The Blessing of Sharing Food

CCOinfo graphic foodEvery Wednesday over 150 people gather in the CCO dining room to “shop” for nutritious food. Canned vegetables, meat, pasta, grains, nuts, boxed food, and more, a wide variety of groceries are offered each week and over 25% consist of nutritious, fresh fruits and vegetables. The majority of CCO food pantry patrons are senior citizens. The bags of groceries they take home provides the financial relief needed to pay rent, obtain important prescription medications, or other necessities, on a fixed income.

Chris Ramsey, CCO Pantry Supervisor, explained why CCO has offered groceries to neighbors for over 25 years. “We do it because we see the need. There are a lot of low-income and needy, elderly people in the Uptown area. There is a lot of food in America and hungry people who need it. The Greater Chicago Food Depository supplies us with a lot of good food and we are blessed to share it.”

In addition to having the pantry provide nutritious food, it is almost entirely run by volunteers. Mike Hertenstein, long time CCO supporter and recent pantry volunteer, had these thoughts about volunteering at the Food Pantry.

“Helping to hand out food on Wednesdays, I have been privileged to see the backstage community of volunteers at CCO. It is a richer and diverse, genuinely-organic, culture that makes everything possible there. People seem to really like each other, genuinely want to help, and have a sense that what they are doing is mutually beneficial. There is more going on than simply handing out food in these little encounters. There is a kind of a push back against all the impersonal treatment and brokenness found in many of these situations. People are extending humanity to each other. They wordlessly come together and do this thing together week after week. It’s kind of astonishing.”

Be a part of the CCO Food Pantry today by making a financial donation that will help fight hunger in Chicago! Thank you.

 

Is CCO on Your Christmas List?

Coat Angels 2016

A lovely thing about Christmas is that it’s compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together.
– Garrison Keillor

Over 130 children and youth are sheltered with their parents at CCO, during the holidays and all throughout the year. Our donors, volunteers, and supporters have always been a valuable part of making the season bright for each and every child.

The giving doesn’t stop with the families. The residents of our single women and single men’s shelters are no less important. Each program celebrates with a festive party that includes decorations, a delicious holiday meal and gifts. Everyone is valued and no one is left out.

Help us make the Holiday Season shine at CCO! Consider donating new toys, teen presents, or items for our single adults. Don’t like shopping? You can help by making a financial gift that will allow our Christmas volunteers to provide presents for families who arrive at CCO a day or two before Christmas. contact Eve at eve@ccolife.org if you would like to help us this Holiday Season.

 

The Coat Angels Warm Our Hearts!

(See the bottom of the page for the remainder of the photo gallery.)

The Coat Angels motto is, “For every coat we buy, a child will be warm this winter.” It’s a simple and true statement. The goal of the Coat Angels is not only to make children warm but to make them feel special. They have certainly achieved their goal and we are grateful!

With the cold weather nearly here, the Coat Angels have visited CCO once again! The Angels came through with brand new coats, jackets, gloves, scarves, and hats for the families sheltered at CCO. The children were able to choose from a variety of sizes and colors. The Coat Angels have provided essential winter wear and in doing so they have brought joy and encouragement to our families experiencing homelessness. Thank you for warming our hearts, Coat Angels!

We want to say a special thank you to Devin Escue, who took pictures of the children with their new winter gear. Devin has actively supported CCO throughout his teenage years. He has taken photographs for our Fall Frenzy, provided playground equipment through his Eagle Scout project, served meals at our Annual Veteran’s Recognition Dinner, and has baked many of the birthday cakes that are given to the children sheltered at CCO. What a guy! Thanks, Devin!

Chicago Bears Visit CCO!

Staff, volunteers, and shelter guests were privileged to welcome the Chicago Bears to CCO. The seven Bears who volunteered their time and energy, brought smiles, excitement, and joy to the families and individuals at those sheltered with us. We would like to say a huge thank you to Sam Acho, John Timu, De’Vante Bausby, Jimmy Staten, Mike Adams, Adrian Amos, and Dion Bush, who served a delicious dinner, signed autographs, and gave a word of encouragement. Thanks so much to the Chicago Bears! You’re welcome to come back anytime!

Special thanks to Sean T. McGill, who donated his time and outstanding photography skills so that all of us could enjoy such a memorable evening through his photos. View his other professional photography projects by clicking here. Thank you!

Cyber Monday & AmazonSmile!

AmazonSmileLogoIt is Cyber Monday and the shopping season is underway. If you will be purchasing gifts through Amazon consider signing into AmazonSmile with Cornerstone Community Outreach as your chosen charity. Donating to CCO through AmazonSmile is easy. Follow the link below to sign-in and Amazon will donate a portion of your total purchase to CCO at no cost to you.

Millions of Amazon items are eligible and 0.5% of your total cost goes to CCO, and there is no limit to how much Amazon will give. Click here to go to AmazonSmile and learn more or to sign-up.

Happy Holiday Shopping!

Giving Tuesday!

Giving Tuesday Graphic

Generosity Gets Its Day!

It’s Giving Tuesday! Join us for a day of generosity and giving. Giving Tuesday follows Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday. It is a global event that was created as an opportunity to give generously following a weekend of shopping and consumerism. Consider giving to CCO this Giving Tuesday!

Their are a lot of ways to give…

Your financial gift will provide warm meals, a safe shelter space, and compassionate care, to the homeless families and individuals we shelter. This year we hope to raise $18,000 in on-line donations between Giving Tuesday and December 31. Consider donating today!

Your volunteer hours will go a long way in serving our shelter guests. Consider being a part of Team CCO, our charitable fitness team in 2017. Or maybe you’d like to do what you love and donate a portion of your earnings to CCO. Christmas is just around the corner. If you are interested in donating new gift items for the families and singles sheltered at CCO please contact Eve at eve@ccolife.org.

Here’s a few more

Share this post with friends and family. It’s about Giving Tuesday and explains ways to get involved at CCO.

– Take an #unselfie and share it on your Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram account. Here’s an example of one. An #unselfie is a simple way to show that you support the good things that are happening at CCO. It’s fun, free, and makes others aware of a charity your stand behind.

– Read and share one of our CCO Success Stories and encourage friends and family to support CCO through prayer, a financial gift, gently-used items, or volunteer hours.

– Share one of our Facebook or CCOlife posts and encourage others to do the same. Click here to read a post that is about hunger and the CCO food pantry or search for another one that interests you.

– Encourage others to join our charitable fitness group, Team CCO.

Share this post that talks about the huge variety of people we shelter and care for at CCO.
These are just a few ways you can show your support for CCO.
Thank you for all the ways you’ve stood behind us over the years.

Generosity Gets Its Day!

Happy Thanksgiving!

CCO Thanksgiving graphicHappy Thanksgiving from the staff, volunteers, and shelter guests at CCO! We are thankful for your support, involvement, time, energy, and efforts on behalf of the work we do. CCO families and individuals will be enjoying a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. You’re involvement helps provide safe shelter, nutritious meals, and essential supportive services to those sheltered at CCO. Please consider donating today. Thank you!

HeartFelt Craft Sale

HeartFeltGet your holiday shopping done, have fun, and support a great cause! Nestled in the heart of Wilson Abbey’s auditorium, local crafters will sell their wares! Live music will provide the entertainment and Everybody’s Coffee will be right there to warm you up with reasonably priced, tasty food and drink. 15% of all profit goes to support the mission of CCO!

Wilson Abbey is located at 935 W. Wilson Avenue in Chicago. The sale will be open from 1-4pm on Sunday, November 20. We hope to see you there!

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