Letter from the Executive Director

Executive Director Sandra Ramsey

Dear Friends:

Another year has flown by and the staff at Cornerstone have had a front row seat to so many victories and successes! We get to witness the relief on people’s faces when they finally secure keys to their home once again, or for some, for the first time ever. We experience firsthand the joy of someone getting a job because they know that is a major step in securing their housing. Being able to secure birth certificates and IDs helps each person feel like they exist and are important in this world.

We witness the strength and tenacity of our residents time and time again and wonder how we would do if we were experiencing homelessness ourselves. We look forward to this year of 2017 with even higher hopes and greater anticipation of the many families and individuals we will meet, hearing their stories, and helping them move forward with their goals.

Our mission at CCO is to help people recover from the hardships of homelessness with dignity while helping them restore their God-given worth and self-esteem.

Sincerely,

Sandra Ramsey

Recovering from the Hardships of Homelessness

Sandy Ramsey

“We assist people and work with them as they recover from the hardships of homelessness while helping them restore their God given-worth and self-esteem.”
-Sandra 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.”

Click here to read the remainder of Sandy’s CCO vignette, We’ll Leave the Light on for you.

Please consider donating to CCO today!

It’s A Wonder-Filled Life: A Letter from Our Executive Director

The “No Room at the Inn” sign does not hang here.

This CCO narrative by Sandra Ramsey first appeared in the December 2011 Newsletter.

Our holiday season opens with a homeless man appearing in our lobby whose appearance greatly resembles that of Santa Claus. He disappears before we can figure out how to help him. Is even Santa Claus falling on hard times?

The weather outside is frightful. It is erratic and severe, causing Cornerstone Community Outreach (CCO) to go into emergency response mode. This means that even though our bed spaces are full, we will continue to take anyone in from the cold and find a place inside for them. The “No Room at the Inn” sign does not hang here.

Back and forth on Clifton, staff and residents alike make their way between our two buildings. No one really dashes through the snow. It’s more like plod, slosh, and stumble as the wind whips us along.

The first holiday dinner is served by one of CCO’s faithful volunteer groups. Turkey and all the trimmings are eaten, and gifts passed out. There is a Christmas concert in our dining room … beautiful music to soothe and encourage. Although visions of sugar plums probably don’t dance in the heads of the homeless, our residents begin to see that they, too, can celebrate this holiday season.

Over the past couple of nights a total of three men come out of nowhere into our warming center … are these the wise men following a star to find shelter?

Because of the weather, our aging drain pipes decide to give out in our dining room, where we serve food to hundreds of people every day. Flood water threatens our kitchen and quick plans are made with our long-suffering plumbers. Jackhammering of the dining room floor begins merely days before Christmas. The giant fake Christmas tree, middle lights out, garland askew, stands watch over the men as they work.

Meanwhile our team of elves is sorting and tagging, wrapping and bagging hundreds of toys and gifts. Will there be enough for everyone? Will the bad economy take its toll? Will our many faithful contributors and volunteers understandably hold back this year? Not here, not with our friends.

I take a few minutes to talk to a man and woman who have been sleeping on the loading dock behind the Aragon Theater. For some people there is never room at the inn. I tell them to send word to the others living on the dock to come in from the cold. We will make a space for them.

Another Christmas concert is played right on top of the plywood that covers the drain pipes in the dining room. This one features a wide range of musical acts. Our residents are treated to everything from step-dancing and blues to traditional Christmas carols. And where else could you see a Goth band perform “The Werewolf’s Christmas”? Some dance, some clap, and all eat Christmas cookies. It is a time of relaxing and rejoicing while yet another snowstorm swirls about outside.

A Christmas wreath arrives from a local agency. Two hours earlier they held a memorial service to honor the homeless who died in the last year. We display the wreath for a few days, contemplating the sadness that it represents. Then it ends up in the home of one of our former homeless friends, where it reclaims its original purpose of promoting holiday cheer.

A couple comes bearing beautiful handmade Raggedy Ann dolls for gifts. A woman donates money in gratitude for finally finding her lost sister in our single women’s program. Toys for Tots pulls up with bags bulging full of toys. Our team of elves bustles around handing gifts out to everyone. Exclamations of delight and amazement ring in our ears.

Meanwhile, back outside, we all continue to stumble over the snow which has now hardened into deep, icy ruts. A white Christmas is not all it’s cracked up to be. It becomes even more difficult for all to navigate back and forth between our buildings. We are on a side street and will be the last to get plowed. Not to worry, I get lessons from my less-fortunate brothers and sisters, who take this weather in stride and continue to cheerfully haul supplies back and forth, taking out the garbage, holding doors and helping little kids and elderly wade through the snow and ice. Images of Whoville come to my mind. They live the struggle of life every day and I am thankful that even on this tucked-away, snow-choked street, the holiday season has arrived for the homeless.

Another festive feast and then another. At the height of the severest weather a group comes through the frigid air and swirling snow to prepare and serve their traditional meal of Italian beef. I am profoundly humbled and thankful that these volunteers, who could easily call off their visit, choose to plow through and arrive with the determination of the Comcast man. And everyone enjoys another wonderful holiday meal. At the end of this night, when all is bitterly cold, what appears in my sight is not eight tiny reindeer but eight little children with Mom and Dad, being dropped off by the Chicago Department of Human Services van. Somehow their plans to be in Texas for Christmas are thwarted and they will spend Christmas with us. Not missing a beat, the elves make up bags of presents for them, drawing again from the generous donations of so many people.

Johnny, a former client in a wheelchair, is on the phone to us. He, too, slept on the loading dock before coming to CCO. Deteriorating health sent him to the hospital, but he recovered enough to be able to stay in a nursing home. Not to be overlooked at Christmas, Johnny is now calling us to please deliver “snacks” to him. Again from our plentiful donations, my husband loads up snacks and extra clothing for Johnny and a couple of other folks we know in the home. Next, some volunteers let us know that a shelter on the other side of the city is short on food. Back in the van, my husband drops off surplus food to them, because we can.

Another family arrives on our doorstep from the Department of Human Services. We take them in and help them get settled. Their teenage son suffers from autism, and the changes going on around him are very difficult for him to handle. We get word that they have a dog that helps the boy to settle. Can we house the homeless dog too? Without losing a beat the answer is, “Yes, we can.”

T’was the night before Christmas and last minute details are being worked out. Many are still stirring and someone points out an elderly man sitting alone in our lobby. Putting my innkeeper hat on again, I walk over to him and as he sits and we talk. To say that he reminds me of the peaceful Babe in the manger is really a stretch of the Christmas analogy. But completely helpless like a child is this man in utter desperation, hanging onto the walker in front of him. How long has he been here? How did he get here? Who has sent him and what can we do for him? Hardly able to talk due to pain, he states that he lives on the streets. He just wants to go to Cook County Hospital where he can get his ankle fixed and find a chair to sleep in. He fell an hour earlier out in the snow and broke his ankle. A bone was protruding and he is bleeding. Other street people referred him to CCO, and one person off the street themself, actually donated their walker to him since he is obviously worse off than they were. I can only hope I would be that unselfish. We call the ambulance and send him off, knowing that his Christmas has just been upgraded from the streets to the hospital.

All in the same holiday season the weather changes abruptly. The snow melts and it begins to rain. Up on the rooftop, drip, drip, drip. Again, no reindeer here, but a team of us join together to sweep several inches of water down a drain to slow the leaking. Miracle roofers appear and seal up enough holes to take us through the holidays.

Extra food, extra volunteers, water from beneath, water from above, drilling dust and swirling snow. The star continues to guide needy people to our doorstep, our neighbor requests prayer for his store clerk, the garbage compactor sticks, tables shift to accommodate more festive dinners and treats, bags of donated coats come in, and people shop through them. Life happens here in this harbor from the elements. Loneliness stops at these doors. The holiday celebrations of the poor and needy…good conversations, good advice, good food, good support… Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is right.

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To each and every one of our many donors and supporters, the above recap of our holiday season is a small effort to try to convey to you a snapshot of what your time, effort, and finances accomplish. You bring the holiday season to our doorstep and without you, all of these stories would have had a different ending. While you were concentrating on providing gifts and food, you also were sheltering the autistic boy’s family and their dog, you provided Christmas at the last minute for the family of ten, and finally, on Christmas Eve, you helped send the man with the broken ankle to the hospital. Wonder and joy are being brought into the lives of the multitude who are crossing our threshold this holiday season. Without you, this work could not be done. I hope that you are beginning to see where your time and effort goes. Thank you so much and please visit us again when you can. Happy Holidays!

Letter from CCO’s Executive Director

Executive Director Sandra Ramsey

Dear Friends:
The staff, volunteers, and shelter guests at CCO would like to wish you a Happy Holiday! Without you we would not be able to offer safe shelter, nutritious meals, and many other necessary and practical services for the homeless families and singles that come through our doors.

At CCO work begins long before December to make a joyous holiday for all. You make it possible for those sheltered with us to feel cared for and remembered. Chrissy, one little girl, has asked for a play kitchen set. She will be overjoyed when she sees the pink kitchen with stove, refrigerator, and cupboard that have already arrived for her. Chrissy and nearly 150 children are sheltered at CCO with their families and we strive to make the season bright for each one of them, especially while they are homeless. Many of you have given goods or a financial gift that will help make the holiday special for our families. They can expect holiday treats, special meals, gifts, and outstanding events.

Mike, one our former clients who had been homeless for six years, is looking forward to the holidays in his new apartment. We often see him on the street in our neighborhood. We know he is now coming from or going to his new apartment. Denise, a former CCO resident, who was featured in our last newsletter, continues to work and is looking forward to putting up holiday decorations in her apartment after spending three Christmases homeless in her outdoor storage unit. On any given day, over 145 single men and women are sheltered at CCO. We don’t want anyone to be forgotten or overlooked at the holidays. Our single shelter guests will be enjoying a fabulous Christmas party with festive food, special treats, holiday music, and gifts.

In addition to our two family and two single shelter programs, we respond to the cold weather by having an Outreach Program that bring those on the streets inside. It is truly an emergency search and rescue operation on the coldest nights. The men who are part of our Outreach Program can look forward to all the goodies and additional blessings that Christmas at CCO brings.

All of these special events take place in the midst of our day-to-day efforts to help our families and singles reach permanent housing. All the referrals, advocacy, and individualized help that takes place between homelessness and housing are still happening each day.

We can easily think, “What can I do?” The needs around us can seem overwhelming. On a practical level, you can do what you have been doing all year. You can give $1, $10, $100, or $1,000. Your donation, no matter how small or large, will help our shelter guests experience a brighter holiday season and bring them closer to the housing that would be at the top of each of their Christmas lists.

Sincerely,

Sandra J. Ramsey CCO Executive Director

 

We’ll Leave The Light On…

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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.

Epworth Shelter History, Part One…

Epworth Shelter, mats in the gym“In the dead of winter, 65 homeless men were left to wonder if they would continue to have their beds.”
Cornerstone Community Outreach Executive Director, Sandra Jean Ramsey, has written extensively about the history and day-to-day activities of our various shelters and shelter residents. Take a minute to read her thoughts on the opening of CCO’s Epworth Shelter for single men.

Follow this link to read, “Epworth Chronicles: Part 1”

http://www.wilsonstation.com/?p=5647