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

Wrap-Around Services

Each person who comes through the doors of CCO has a unique history. The homeless father with children, parents with teens, pregnant women, people of all orientations, the elderly and aging, the physically challenged, are accepted at CCO. Case managers work alongside single adults and families to create individualized goals and assist with job training and referrals, education, transportation, benefits assistance, mental and physical health referrals and more. These wrap-around services are the stepping-stones to permanent housing and a stable future.

48 Employed!

2016_Annual_Report_Back_Header

Employed_2016_Annual_Report

48 Employed!

Improving Through Employment

“Never ever give up. No matter how bad things are. I came to Chicago and I didn’t know anybody. I found shelter at Cornerstone and never gave up. If you’re homeless right now, don’t give up!”
– Katie, obtained employment and housing while sheltered at CCO

In 2016, 48 CCO shelter guests found employment! The effort and determination needed to secure a job while homeless cannot be overstated. We are proud of each and every person who obtained employment. CCO was privileged to help with training, transportation, and uniform costs for many who were in the process of job training or who found work.

Some outstanding shelter guests were given employment at CCO. Of CCO’s 50 employees, 30 have experienced homelessness and have moved from homelessness to housing through one of CCO’s shelter programs. We are proud to say 60% of CCO’s employees have ‘lived experience’ and can bring these insights, compassion, and understanding to their work. They fill critical roles such as case managers, security guards, maintenance staff, chefs, janitorial workers, programs assistants, and evening staff.


We celebrate each of our shelter guests who obtained employment in 2016. Thank you for joining us in celebration. In 2017, we hope you continue to be a part of the fabulous things happening in the lives of those experiencing homelessness. Please consider donating today.

Homeless to Housed : Elizabeth’s Story

 

I found a sweatshirt that says, “Cornerstone University.”  I said, “I’m going to graduate from this school with honors!”

I found a sweatshirt that says, “Cornerstone University.” I said, “I’m going to graduate from this school with honors!”

Homelessness does not discriminate between genders, ages, ethnicities, levels of education, or other demographics. At CCO, it has been our privilege to shelter newborns with their families, elderly persons, people with developmental disabilities, those with master’s degrees, adults who have worked full-time their entire lives and some with no work history at all. Anyone can become homeless.
Elizabeth’s story challenges the norms of who we believe can become homeless in America. It breaks down the fences that divide the “haves” and the “have nots”.
“My father was a very hardworking man. He owned a construction company and he instilled a strong work ethic in me. Growing up I can’t remember a time when we didn’t have what we needed.
After getting my master’s degree in finance, I worked full-time as a financial advisor in the Loop. My husband, Doug, was a stock analyst who worked at the Chicago Board of Trade. I have memories of being downtown at work and homeless people would ask me for change. I wasn’t thinking about the person in front of me. I was thinking about what I was going to have for lunch, who was going to pick-up the dry cleaning, and when I had to be at my next meeting.
I had always lived in the Chicago suburbs. My husband and I had a beautiful home with our sweet daughter. We often had barbeques with neighbors. That’s the sort of life we lived.
After 15 years of building our lives together and of living the American Dream, my husband Doug suddenly and tragically lost his life. We had had a good marriage. We had higher education and great jobs. I couldn’t have stopped what happened to Doug, but for some reason I blamed myself. The loss was unbelievable and shocking. I felt a part of me died with him.
At the funeral someone gave me a drink and I remember feeling numb. That’s what I wanted to feel. Heavy with grief, I just wanted to feel nothing at all.
I quickly became a functioning alcoholic. These were very dark times. I remember going to an AA meeting. A woman was talking about her husband. She said that he was dying and she was so depressed she couldn’t stop drinking. Her story spoke to me and that’s when I realized I needed help. She’s my sponsor to this day and we are very close. I also got intensive residential treatment. It was unbelievably hard physically and emotionally, but I stuck with it. The 12 steps are an important part of my life. People say it’s about making amends and forgiving others, but I think it’s mostly about forgiving yourself.
In 2008, the recession hit and my company lost 30% of our clients. In 2009, the company closed. I was unemployed and the money was running out. I sold my house and moved to Chicago. I wanted to make sure that my daughter had money for her education. That was very important to me. My unemployment eventually ran out and I began to sell everything I had in storage: furniture, household items, everything.
I was frantically looking for work all over the city. Employers kept saying, “You’re overqualified. We can’t pay you what you’re worth.” I just wanted to work. I believe part of the problem was my age. I just kept being rejected and turned away. And I didn’t have anything left to sell and I became homeless.
I found shelter at CCO’s Naomi House program for single women. The staff made me feel welcome and showed me around, but those first few days and nights were tough. I couldn’t believe I was in a shelter. I felt like the biggest failure. I had gone from full-time employment with a home in the suburbs to homelessness. I had never been homeless before. I was scared and I just wanted to hide but I couldn’t. I started to send out 50 resumes a day. I used every computer I could get my hands on.
I was working hard to keep my hopes up and attending AA meetings. CCO has a Free Store where residents and neighbors can “shop” for necessary clothes and household items. One day I was searching the Free Store for cold weather clothes and I found a sweatshirt that says, “Cornerstone University.” I ran downstairs to the Naomi House office and showed it to staff and said, “I’m going to graduate from this school with honors!” Everyone believed me and we had a good laugh!
Soon after that, Sandy Ramsey, CCO’s Executive Director, called me into her office. I couldn’t figure out what I was getting in trouble for. Instead of getting in trouble she offered me an employment position at CCO. I was so surprised!
Now, I am working in the Naomi House program that I had lived in myself. I work as an evening and night staff person. Women living in Naomi House have a lot of needs. When I’m at work, I feel like I’m a psychiatrist, a lawyer, a referee, an officer, a financial advisor, you name it!
I really feel like CCO saved my life. Not just because I got shelter when I was homeless, but because I was given hope, purpose, and employment, too.”
-Elizabeth Hartline, as told to Beth Nicholls