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

Happy Mother’s Day!

Happy Mother's Day 2014Every day at CCO, we are privileged to see mothers persevering against the odds, diligently working to secure housing and moving closer to a better life for their families.

On this special holiday, please consider making a financial donation that will help moms and their families get one step closer to a stable home. Join us as we provide safe shelter, nutritious meals and critical case management services to over 65 mothers living on our programs. Thank you!



SamanthaWIC, provides healthy-food vouchers, nutrition education and breastfeeding support to roughly 9 million poor American women and their children. Many of our homeless families receive nutritious food and baby formula from this valuable program. The WIC program will no longer be providing this essential service by the end of the week due to the shutdown of the Federal Government. CCO will try to bridge huge gap that the loss of this program will create.

Consider donating today. Click on the ‘Donate’ button on the right. Thank you!

Everybody Loves Stewart!

The Brown Family

Stewart with his mother, Denise and one of his three sisters.

“I was on the street, drug addicted, and up to no good,” Denise remembers. “And my son, Stewart, hunted for me until he found me. He got tears in his eyes. And he said, ‘Mama, you have to come home. We need you.'”

Denise shakes her head. “I told him I couldn’t come home. “I’m no good to you, Stewart. I’m no good to anyone.”

Stewart simply looked at her with tears running down his cheeks. “Mama,” he said. “We love you. We need you. All of us need you. You have to come home, Mama. You have to. We can work it out.” Something in his voice broke through the despair she felt about her life. And she went with him.

Since that day, Denise has moved away from drugs and the street, and has become a consistent, mature, and loving mother. In late February of 2003, Denise and her three children moved into the Sylvia Center, then a year later moved to our Leland House Permanent Housing Program.

Stewart has a specialness to him that only took us a few minutes to discover. He is developmentally challenged, yet has an amazing emotional maturity. He is also someone who lights up a room just by entering it.

People who haven’t met Stewart can’t stop smiling when they finally do; the phrase “Everybody love Stewart” is the only way to describe the effect he has on both staff and shelter guests.

One staffer recalls, “Stewart came over to me one June morning with something in his hands. He held out a gold and a bronze medal he had won running at the Special Olympics in Bloomington, Illinois.”

Though Stewart has an enlarged heart, preventing him from playing football, it doesn’t stop him from giving his best when he runs.

And that same energy shows up elsewhere. Stewart is bright, friendly, and outgoing. He wants first of all to know, “How are you feeling?” When he is not asking that, he’s got a sharp eye out for anyone lifting any heavy object. His first question as soon as he spots them, “Can I help?”

Stewart now has a part-time job. But in his off hours his favorite thing is to hangout with Chris Ramsey, Site Manager of CCO.

Chris and Stewart both love baseball, and when the Cubs began giving CCO the leftover vendor meals from Wrigley Field, it became their mutual mission to leap into the old ’94 Dodge Ram van and “go get those Cubbie dogs!” As they pull up to the shelter Stewart hangs out the window, “Hey, man, you want some hotdogs?” Stewart calls from the van. “These are from the Cubs game!”

Stewart’s mother, Denise, sums him up best. “I have medicine I take everyday. And sometimes I forget. But Stewart is always there, asking me how I’m doing, asking me if I remember today to take it.” He seems, she ponders, to think always of her needs.

Maybe that why we all love Stewart… because he’s so good at loving others.

– written by Chris and Sandy Ramsey, December 2004

Mama’s Voice

Poem Photograph
Mama’s voice like a thick red ribbon
s t r e t c h e s across the room
and i pretend not to hear
choking on my laughter
my naked feet beat out bare percussion
on the tile
surrounded by the faint applause of beads
jumping and falling
arranged as balanced as a christmas tree
racing and running to nowhere
pursued by nothing but the dull tickle of
and once again i hear the call
like the full sure ring of a church bell
cautiously i approach
as humble as an unsuccessful beggar
with most of the hilarity locked deep in my closet
mama she’s movin’ like a woman with too much
heavy change in her pockets
pickin’ up the baby
wrapped up tight
so he won’t get away
-Beth Wagler-Nicholls