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

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!

Help Make CCO’s Back-to-School Bash Great!

Back To School

Are you interested in donating to really great cause? This Thursday we will be hosting CCO’s Back-to-School Bash! Consider making a donation today that will help cover the cost of backpacks, shoes, party and school supplies.

Over 150 children are sheltered at CCO with their families. Education is a stabilizing force for families experiencing homelessness. At CCO, we work with parents to make the transition to school as smooth as possible.Our yearly back-to-school event gives all our school age kids a chance to choose a backpack and supplies, participate in games, enjoy treats and listen to motivational speakers.

Over 10,000 Pounds of Food!

Thank you to everyone who walked for CCO at this years Greater Chicago Food Depository (GCFD) Hunger Walk. Those who joined us for the Hunger Walk helped to create over 10,000 pounds of food from the GCFD for CCO shelter guests and food pantry patrons.

Each day over 350 men, women, and children are sheltered at CCO. The CCO dining room offers nutritious meals to all our shelter guests. Each week over 150 households visit the CCO Food Pantry to choose from healthy grocery items.

If you weren’t able to join us for the Hunger Walk you can still make a donation that will make a difference for those we shelter. Safe shelter, nutritious meals, and intensive case management services, are a critical part of the services CCO offers to the families and individuals sheltered with us. Consider donating today!

 

Fight Hunger with CCO!

Hunger Walk  2014Join us for the Greater Chicago Food Depository Hunger Walk 5k! Each year walkers at the Hunger Walk provides CCO with a food account with the Food Depository that is used to create nutritious meals for those we shelter and groceries for our food pantry patrons.

This years 5k Hunger Walk will take place on June 25 at Jackson Park in Chicago. Each walker counts! Click here to register and don’t forget to use our agency code A00393 so you’re steps count for CCO and to ensure a free registration.

We hope to see you there!

Congratulations!

Successfully Housed Family!

Congratulations! It is always a joy to see one of the families sheltered at CCO moving from homelessness to housing! Our most recently housed family is pictured here proudly displaying the keys to their new apartment.

In 2015, 42% of CCO’s total shelter population is made up of children age 17 and under. 37% of these are minors age 12 and under. Providing safe shelter and working with the families that come to CCO is a critical part of our mission.

The National Coalition for the Homeless states that the average age of a homeless person in the U.S. is 9 years old. This number challenges a lot of the typical stereotypes that people associate with homelessness in America. Children who are homeless have special needs. Stability through on-going education, proper nutrition, and development through play space, can help lessen the burden of homelessness.

At CCO, we welcome homeless families of all kinds, mothers with children, fathers with children, couples with children, and three-generational families. Case managers compassionately work to assist families with school transfers or transportation, assessments and referrals for children struggling in an emotional or academic area, and assistance with specific challenges that may arise. We are privileged to take part in the successes of our shelter families. Consider making a donation today and be a part of helping to stabilize and strengthen the families sheltered at CCO! Thank you!

End-of-Year Giving

Lydell

As 2015 draws to a close and 2016 emerges on the horizon, let’s carry the spirit of giving into everyday of our lives. Consider making an end-of-year donation that would allow CCO to continue welcoming and sheltering over 350 individuals in our family and single programs. It’s our privilege to take in homeless fathers with children, three-generational families, single senior citizens, pregnant moms, families with teens, and other families and singles who often find it difficult to get into shelters. We believe everyone has a right to safe shelter.
Click here to donate today. Your gift is 100% tax-deductible. Thank you!
Read Lydell’s story (pictured above) and learn how one outstanding father who went from homelessness to housing at CCO!

Fred, Clara, and a Family of Six

Providing Shelter

Every week CCO shelter guests face new and unique challenges. We realize each person is different, and we try to assist each person with that in mind.

Fred just turned 84, he is a Korean War veteran who came to us without an ID or income, and he now has both, which has created a new chance to meet his next goal: permanent housing. Ray just returned from a stint in prison, so we’ll be attempting to help him get his documents, make his appointment, stay sober, get an income and eventually successfully move into housing. Kenneth is a Vietnam veteran, who was just evicted, but because of an ongoing mental illness, we are helping him by being his advocate, and supplying him with transportation and taking him to his appointments, making sure he’ll get into subsidized housing as soon as possible.

Even though there are many tear-jerking stories rising out of CCO, we cannot forget the countless stories of hope. Dawson came to us from prison and without an income, and after a year of faithfully keeping his appointments, he left us with an income and permanent housing. Tommy, a Vietnam veteran, came to us after being homeless for 30 long years; he now receives benefits and has moved into permanent supportive housing. Due to some health issues, Clara struggled to stay employed and therefore ended up homeless, she came to us, found another job and eventually moved into her own apartment a couple weeks ago.

The stories never end at CCO, on Friday a newly homeless 18 year old male entered our doors, followed by a couple with 4 young children, only to be followed by a fragile 70 year old lady, assisted by a walker. Each and every one of them is unique and needs to be assisted in different ways; whether it’s getting a job, receiving a pension, attending daycare or starting training. In a world that, at times, seems void of hope, our goal is to offer them fresh hope, an ability to move forward and let each person know how important they truly are.

Providing safe shelter, nutritious meals, and compassionate case management services is important in the lives of the families and individuals we serve. Please consider donating today!

  • Jeremy Nicholls

The 2015 Fall Frenzy!

A good time was had by all at the 2015 CCO Fall Frenzy! Each children sheltered at CCO chose from a selection of new or gently-used donated costumes. The Fall Frenzy featured treats, games, art projects, face painting, and more. Our dedicated volunteers worked to make the event fun and special. Take a minute to look at the princesses, pirates, tigers, and other awesome characters in our photo album below. Enjoy!

We want to say a special thank you to Francis W. Parker School and the Lincoln Park Zoo who provided new costumes and sweet treats for the children sheltered at CCO! The Carolyn Taylor, Cambaris family, and many other donors contributed candy and costumes, as well. Northwestern University Public Interest Program worked hard to set up, clean up and provide a lot of party fun for the children. Without the assistance of each of our donors and volunteers the special parties for our shelter guests would not be possible. Thank you!

Do you wish you had been able to contribute to the Fall Frenzy? We hold events for our shelter guests all the time! If you are interested in donating items that can be used for our Veterans Recognition Dinner or Christmas gift give-away contact us at info@ccolife.org. Do you want to volunteer? If so, click here. Thank you!

*Thanks to Devin Escue and Colleen Davick for taking all of the Fall Frenzy pictures  featured below.

 

Happy Birthday to You!

Birthday Cake

Birthdays are a special time at CCO. Every child who has a birthday while being sheltered with us receives new toys, a cake (of their choosing), and a lot of sweet congratulations! Be a part of making important birthday parties happen by donating new, unopened cake mixes (all kinds), canned icing, birthday candles, and cake decoration. To organize a drop-off time please email Eve at eve@ccolife.org.

Thanks to all our wonderful donors who have dropped off birthday items so far this year!