We’ve got Onions!

20130112-095412.jpg

We’ve been blessed with more than our usual share of onions. Some are being used in meals for our CCO residents and many will be distributed throughout Chicago via our food bag program.
Food insecurity is a growing problem. And We are grateful for the opportunity to distributes hundreds of food bags each week.

Residents Requests…

Blankets for CCO

Our shelter residents have on-going, daily needs. Basic items that are most needed at this time are:

-sheets, flat and fitted, twin size

-pillows/ blankets

-towels

-new/ unused toiletries

-toothbrushes/ hairbrushes

-laundry soap/ dish washing soap

-garbage bags

If you are interested in making a donation of goods come to 4628 N. Clifton Avenue at anytime. Please see the person attending the front desk. Thank you!

A King In His Castle!

Eliud

 

Today we are congratulating Eliud! A former CCO resident, Eliud has been successfully (and happily) housed for over 4 months. He told us he feels like a king in his very own castle! Clearly, he’s overjoyed with his studio apartment and we are happy to have him stop by for a visit.

Your donation makes a world of difference for people who need temporary shelter to get back to on their feet. You can donate by clicking on the Donate Now button below.
DonateNow

Beacon The Bear & Bears In Blue

Beacon the Bear and the Bears in Blue Foundation teamed up to encourage and bless the children of CCO! The aim of these great not-for-profit organizations is to supply free teddy bears to small children in crisis situations. The organization didn’t stop there! They gave out gifts to the children, clothing items, treats, played basketball and two lucky families won tickets to a Chicago Bears football game! Thanks for a great event!

A Place to Begin

nathan500“I always wanted my boys. Nathan, Jr., and Isaiah needing me caused me to change my life.” Nathan spoke openly to me about his ordeal to gain custody of his two sons, his efforts to bring them to a safe place, and how that path led them to Cornerstone Community Outreach (CCO).

Not so long ago Nathan was living in a small apartment with a roommate. He received a call from a family member telling him he needed to come and get his boys. They had been living with their mother and their situation with her had rapidly deteriorated. He was told if he didn’t come immediately and take them they would go into protective custody. He felt that this was an opportunity to be a full-time father to his children. He went to get them.

“When I got to the apartment my kids were wild, they looked wild. I knew if I was going to take care of them that my life would change. I was happy, nervous, and scared. I knew I wanted them.”

“They were as excited as I was. Hearing them call me Dad really made me step up to the plate. That was my title, “Dad.” Everyone wants a title, it makes you who you are. I wanted to be their dad and that’s who I am. It’s not glamorous. You have to make sacrifices with a title like that. You have to earn it.”

“I didn’t meet my own father until I was 16. I was star-struck but he wasn’t really a dad. He was someone I wanted to see but not someone I wanted to be.”

Nathan and his sons stayed with his roommate for a while and then they found themselves homeless. He needed a place to get on his feet, not only for himself but for his sons, as well. Fathers find it particularly difficult to get shelter for themselves and their children. Most shelters are designed for single adults or women with children. But there’s a growing need for dads to find a place to be the fathers they want to be.

“I had never been homeless before. I went to the Department of Human Services office and told them that I wanted to raise my boys and we needed shelter. They said, “Have you ever been to Cornerstone?” I was skeptical at first. My boys had lived in some rough places with their mother but they had never been in a shelter. I was surprised, it’s a nice environment. Of course it has its challenges, living so closely with other families. CCO is close to the lake and sometimes we go for a walk on the beach at Lake Michigan. We can be together and watch the dogs run and play. We can just enjoy being a family.”

Since moving into the shelter, Nathan has gotten full-time employment at Argo Tea, an upscale urban café. One of Nathan’s tasks at work is to unload large amounts of tea. He explained that if the packages aren’t shipped to them on a pallet the containers could shift and get damaged. While doing this job Nathan had a realization that just as the tea needs a pallet, “in life you have to have a base. You have to have a starting point, a place to begin.”

We are glad Nathan turned to Cornerstone as “a place to begin.” He continues to focus on being a father while working full-time as he searches for permanent housing. We look forward to seeing him further stabilize his family while continuing to pursue his goals.

Over the last few years we have seen an increase in fathers with children seeking shelter. We applaud the men who choose to raise their children even under the most difficult circumstances. CCO considers it a privilege to continue serving and welcoming this underserved population.

-Nathan as told to Beth Nicholls

Annie

Annie “They (CCO staff) stayed with me during the dark days. We stuck together. I was a stranger and they took me in and took care of me.”

About one year ago, Annie came to CCO’s Naomi House shelter for single women. She celebrated her 55th birthday with staff and other residents while staying with us. Annie’s honesty speaks for itself, with statements like, “I’ve had five years of clean time but (my recovery) it’s still one day at a time.”

Before coming to CCO, Annie was employed, but when she was diagnosed with a degenerating eye disease, she lost her job, her income and the stability it provided.

With her vision fading, Annie arrived at Naomi House. The discouragement was palpable, but she pressed on with her recovery and worked with staff to connect with the clinics that could save her eye sight. She said, “God puts you in places for a reason. There was a reason God sent me here. I’m grateful.”

While living at Naomi House, Annie enrolled in GED classes at a local community college. She is excited about meeting this new goal in her life. Even at 55, she is not stepping aside and watching life roll by. Now, with her classes completed, Annie has scheduled to take her GED test. We are impressed with the effort she exhibits and we look forward to seeing the outcome!

A few months ago Annie said, “I’m grateful for this place but I’m ready to go home!” We are happy to report that Annie is now permanently housed and continues on her recovery path.

Arike

arike image - Copy

“Now, when I look back,
I know without the grace of God
I would not have survived.”

We all have a story. Everyone who comes through the doors of CCO has a story. Some stories are exceptional and I believe Arike’s is. It is exceptional because of the courageous changes she was able to make and the beliefs she has chosen to cling to.

The day I met Arike I was struck by her smile and explosive laughter. Sometimes, in the middle of our conversations I would find myself suddenly hugged. She was, and remains, a genuinely warm person. She had come to CCO with Vanessa, her alert and energetic baby girl.
As our conversations lengthened and I began to get to know Arike better I was struck by her openness and honesty. Over her stay at CCO, Arike and I worked together to secure housing, childcare and many of the foundations for life. Over this time, an astonishing story began to unfold.

“Coming to the shelter was difficult, but I knew I was safe. My trust in people had been broken so I felt jumpy and vigilant for myself and my daughter, but as I got to know the staff they became a real blessing. I started to accept the love that was shown to me.”

Long before reaching our doors Arike’s life had taken some difficult and violent turns. I would not have imagined that the kind woman sitting with me in the CCO office showing me the scars on her back and sides had experienced so much brutality.

As a young woman newly from Nigeria, Arike did housekeeping for a local hotel in Texas. She was in a relationship with a man who had, over time, become possessive and abusive. In the midst of the violence she would often call the police, who would arrest and then immediately release her abuser. As much as she wanted to, she couldn’t seem to get away from him. Arike left him after an incident that ended with broken ribs. Even with her injuries she felt she had to continue working to pay the bills, and it was at work that an unbelievable event took place.

“I had just finished cleaning a room and chatting briefly with the customer in it when I went to check room 124, just across the hall. I heard the door slam and I looked up. The abusive man I thought I had just escaped began repeatedly stabbing me. I only remember saying, ‘Oh, Jesus.’ And then everything went black. The customer in the room across the hall contacted my manager. If he hadn’t done that I may not have survived. I had been stabbed 17 times in the neck, back and chest. I was unconscious for a long period in the hospital and I was told later the doctors thought I would die.”

Miraculously, Arike did survive. With her perpetrator in prison for 15 years she chose to build a life again. Much later she began a cautious relationship with a man who would read the Bible and go to church with her. She believed he loved her, and married him. Soon after the wedding Arike began to notice money missing. At first she thought she had been misplacing it, but the problem persisted. She found out that her husband was addicted to cocaine and that all of her hard-earned money was going towards his addiction.

“His sister told me he was a cocaine addict. I had never heard of cocaine. She had to explain to me what it was. When I confronted him he began to physically abuse me.” The situation quickly worsened. Pregnant and beaten, Arike found herself once again in the hospital.

Stress and high blood pressure brought on early labor, and Arike gave birth to a tiny baby girl. Vanessa was less than three pounds. Cradling her newborn in the intensive care unit Arike began to wonder, “Why have I had such awful relationships? Does God hate me just like those other men did?” She began to face the anger rising up in her over all the pain she had experienced.

A therapist at the hospital offered Arike intensive counseling for her domestic- violence problems. “I had never heard of counseling. I had never heard the words ‘domestic violence’ but I had lived it.”

“The events of my life began to materialize before me. I knew the truth went all the way back to Nigeria. I remember being 6 years old and carrying sugar cane on my head from the fields. If I couldn’t sell enough of it I would be beaten. Work and abuse, it had been my life for so long. I had to look hard at this pain in order to begin to free myself from its grip, not only for myself but also for my daughter.”

“Before counseling I thought I was the only one suffering. Then I met other women, Asian, Hispanic, African American and white. Parts of our lives were so similar. I was not alone.”

“I realize that God did not create me for the purpose of suffering, but through it He was there. He was right there with me. I will understand it better one day when we are face-to-face. I trust Him. There was never a time when He hated me. I believe that now. I believe nothing can stop His great love. My favorite verse is, ‘Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning: great is His faithfulness.’”

With a new understanding and courage, Arike and Vanessa boarded a bus for Chicago. And we are glad CCO became an important stepping stone in securing her safe future.
A relationship that began years ago with CCO and its staff has continued and we are happy to have Arike and Vanessa as part of our extended family. Today, Vanessa is attending college and Arike is housed and continues to be a blessing to everyone around her.

-Arike Burke, as told to Beth Nicholls