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 be 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.
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Do you want a fitness plan that benefits yourself AND others? Are you interested in making a difference in the lives of homeless families and individuals while improving your overall health? Then, Team CCO is for you! Learn more about Team CCO by clicking here.
Check out the Team CCO booth at the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K Expo! If you’re headed to the Expo don’t forget to stop by our booth and learn more about how Team CCO is helping to alleviate hunger and homelessness in Chicago!
The Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8k is this Sunday. It’s not too late to make a financial donation. Visit CrowdRise to choose a Team CCO runner and make a donation that will help alleviate homelessness and hunger in Chicago. Thank you!
CCO would like to say a special thank you to one our wonderful donors who has made beautiful baby blankets for the infants who stay at CCO with their families. Every blanket comes with a card. It is such as sweet and personal gift.
Families come to CCO with newborns often. Culturally, we don’t usually associate homelessness with infants but many our of shelter guests have babies while staying with us or come to CCO with newborns, toddlers, and children of all ages. Families who are homeless have special challenges and we are glad to meet those challenges with them.
Join us in providing safe shelter, nutritious meals, and compassionate case management services to homeless families. Consider making a donation today!
In the 1960’s John F. Kennedy brought the issue of hunger and poverty to the forefront of American politics. He did so by reestablishing the Food Stamp Program that had begun several decades before. This government subsidized program has gone through several changes since its inception. In 2008, the Food Stamp Program became known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This program has assisted hungry families and individuals throughout America to purchase nutritious foods from participating stores. Food assistance is offered to people at or below the poverty line.
In recent years these vital programs have been significantly reduced. In 2013, the federal government reduced the SNAP program by 5%. This may seem like a small reduction, but studies conducted by Feed America and the Greater Chicago Food Depository (GCFD) reflect a significant number of families and individuals who visit food pantries in order to pay for necessities, such as, medication, transportation, school, and utilities. We have found this to be true among our pantry attendees at CCO.
Food assistance for many people is a homeless prevention program. Meaning that a growing number of folks need consistent on-going food assistance in order to pay rent or cover the very basics of life. CCO’s food pantry program is one of our longest running services. We are grateful to be a positive help to our neighbors in need. Our weekly pantry is filled with nutritious foods, including fresh produce, from the Greater Chicago Food Depository. The pantry is entirely staffed by faithful, hard working volunteers, some of attended the pantry in past years.
The food items and work force are provided without charge but we do have utility and security expenses. Consider donating today! Be a part of the good things that are happening every day at CCO!
Are you looking for a unique, self-paced tour of downtown Chicago? Is green your favorite color? Are you looking for a fitness challenge that benefits others? Then the Bank of American Shamrock Shuffle might be for you! Click here to register and join Team CCO.
The Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8k (4.97 mile) is one of CCO’s charitable fitness options. The run takes place in downtown Chicago and has a fun vibe.
Recently, CCO received this sweet letter from a young supporter:
“Dear Cornerstone, I am giving you $11.00 so you can feed the poor people and give them drinks. You guys could buy some nice hot soup so the poor people will have nice delicious hot soup.”
Wow! We are never too young (or too old) to care for others! If you are interested in donating to CCO click the donate button on the right. Your support helps homeless families and individuals receive safe shelter, nutritious meals, and intensive case management services.
“They’re here! They’re here!” was the loud proclamation of three school-age children who live at Leland House. The children at Leland House are now able to do their homework on the newly installed computers. They were so excited they could hardly contain themselves. “Wow! Two new Apple computers and a printer!”, was another students reply when he saw the new computers & printer. Leland House provides permanent, supportive housing to 20 school-age children and their parents. The children can now come home and access these computers after school. Every Tuesday we have 3 Moody Bible Institute student volunteers who come and help tutor the children. Up until this time, they had been trying to use our very old computers that were barely functioning and sometimes didn’t work at all.
Thanks to the generosity of The Barnabas Project this miracle of new computers has now blessed our after school room. The staff, volunteers and especially the families with school-age children are very grateful to receive these generous gifts. The computer lab will benefit and enhance the Leland House program and all its residents.
Leland House is CCO’s permanent, supportive housing program. Leland House provides 18 families with safe apartments and intensive, on-site case management services. Staff have been praying, hoping, and wishing for new computers. Now the children are better equipped to achieve their education goals. Moms and dads at the Leland House program also use the computers to search for job and housing opportunities. They can now register online, search for job training and employment opportunities, create and post resumes, and search the web for other opportunities.
Thank you Barnabas Project for your compassion and kindness you have shown to the families at Leland House!
Chicago is experiencing record-breaking cold weather conditions. In the early mornings and evenings outreach staff continue to visit the viaducts, loading docks, and underpasses in our area to get our homeless friends living on the streets inside and out of danger. As always, CCO has remained open and outreach workers will be working throughout the sub-zero temperatures.
CCO believes that affordable housing is a human right. Until housing is secured people should be offered safe, warm shelter, nutritious meals and services that can stabilize their lives and promote a brighter future.