Sandra’s Path to Peace

“The path to peace is a lifelong journey. Sometimes you’re on a paved road. 

Sometimes you’re walking on a gravel or dirt road.

 It’s still your journey. It’s not just for a bit of time. It’s for a lifetime.”

Sandra

“My daughter Isabella was only 11 years old when we had the most surreal conversation of her young life. It was a Saturday morning in June of 2021. Secretly, we discussed the abuse we faced daily. We were no longer going to be told we were worthless and substandard. We decided it was time to leave my husband and California behind. Together, we looked at a map of the United States and chose Chicago.

From that moment forward, we quietly and methodically carried out our escape plan. Isabella and I came back from the laundromat with fresh, clean clothes. We folded and placed them carefully into Isabella’s dresser we had emptied earlier. To anyone looking on, it appeared that we were doing regular household chores. Internally, we were fighting a storm of fear mixed with absolute determination as we prepared to go. It was all done in stealth mode, very fast, very ‘hush-hush.’ When my husband left Monday morning, we took the clothes, identification, and precious photos out of Isabella’s dresser and put them into our suitcase. Lisa, Isabella’s beloved teddy bear, came along with us. We were moving halfway across the country, leaving the certainty of pain in California. The uncertainty of the unknown lay ahead. Inwardly, we felt a gentle gust of hope roll over us as the bus carried us away.


I was only seven years old when my mother died. She passed away two days after my youngest sister was born. It was as if a bolt of lightning had struck our family. In a flash, everything changed. I had grown up with abuse from my stepdad. When my mom died, my two older siblings and I were shuffled back and forth between our three aunties’ houses. My three younger siblings, which included my baby sister, were put with their biological grandmother, my stepdad’s mom. She was a violent woman and thought my younger siblings should never see us. We only lived five houses away from each other in a small Mississippi town, but we were a world apart. Sometimes my little brother would sneak over to see us. She would come flying down the road beating him and dragging him all the way home. He just wanted to see us. These memories of fractured relationships have stayed with me. They influenced the decisions that have formed my future. 

Scarcity also played a role in my life. My upbringing was impoverished. Everyone I knew was struggling to get by. I’m not ashamed of my background. I believe it’s what made me want to go into social work. I felt driven to be part of the solution and help others. I worked hard in school and went on to college. I graduated from Mississippi Valley State University with a degree in Social Work. Through college, I learned to set goals and achieve them. My friendships became like family. I began to grow a strong support network and understand its importance. As I worked toward my degree, I could feel the variability and chaos of home replaced by a set routine with some sense of order. I understood that my life experiences could help and benefit others. Little did I know that in the future, the splintered pain of the past would grow into a vast support network for myself, Isabella, and other families with similar experiences.


The Greyhound arrived at the Chicago Station. Isabella and I were free from our life in California. Tired and apprehensive, I held onto the hope that in Chicago, we would find a home where we wouldn’t endure endless criticism and torment. I found a rooming house-type situation on the Southside of Chicago. It was just a bed. No meals. No help. We had to walk several miles to a dollar store to buy food. We had arrived in a food desert. It was tough. I knew we needed to get out of there and find a place that offered us some assistance and practical support. From my phone, I Googled “Homeless Shelter for Families.” Cornerstone popped up, so we got on a train and headed to the north side. Hannah Shelter had space for us! The kitchen had put a few plates of food aside. That night we dined on spaghetti, coleslaw, and chicken. We came hungry, the food was good, and we were glad to have it.

I was 35 when we arrived at Hannah Shelter. Most parents living there were in their early 20s and had younger children. The younger moms came to me for advice. I worked in social services in Los Angeles. I was glad to offer help, encouragement, and resources that could get us on our feet. We were in it together. It felt good to use my education and work experience to help others. 

While living at Cornerstone, I was allowed to train as a Life Coach. The training empowered me to start my own life coaching business, Path2Peace. Subsequently, Chicago Hopes asked me to facilitate parent support groups for the moms at Hannah Shelter. Chicago Hopes (CH) is a non-profit that provides academic support, mentorship, and services to parents and children experiencing homelessness. CH offers these essential services inside Hannah Shelter, so it is accessible for shelter guests. One day, I was meeting with the Family Engagement staff person,  I told her, “Your job is so cool. I would love to have your job.” Then she left! Chicago Hopes offered me the job. That’s how I became the Family Engagement Administrator! They only interviewed me as a formality. The job was always mine. I continue to do parent workshops, but I love my new position. It was another opportunity to uplift young moms recovering from homelessness, poverty, and abuse.

Isabella and I spent this Thanksgiving with my baby sister and my other siblings. My baby sister and I have been talking a lot. We hadn’t had a relationship until last year. Now, we’re making up for lost time! We weren’t able to be sisters before but we’re grown now. We don’t need someone to tell us whether we can talk to each other. Nobody is going to whoop us for behaving like sisters. And that’s what we are. 

Like our first meal at Cornerstone, our first meal in our new home was spaghetti. I felt gratitude and immense pride as we set up our new place. I knew it would be a home filled with love and safety, a true home. After a year in our basement apartment, we were able to move up to another unit in the same building. We cleaned out the old space and gave thanks. It cared for us that year that we lived there. That year of new beginnings and new relationships on our path to ever-growing peace and connection. 

I recalled the field trip we took to the zoo just a few days before moving from the shelter into our apartment. I felt free at the zoo with the moms and kids from Hannah Shelter. It was a warm summer day, and the sky poured. We all began screaming, laughing, and running in the rain. It seemed like everyone felt a surge of joy and peace at that moment. No matter what we had all been through, we were together. We supported each other through the hard times and the good times, too. I felt like the deluge ended all the pain and mistreatment. It was the end of homelessness and the end of being abused for Isabella and me. It was a perfect way to end it all.”


“She was bent but not broken.

She fainted but did not fail

and rose to the challenge to overcome each obstacle thrown her way.” 

– Shirena Houston, Hannah Shelter Program Manager, when asked to comment about Sandra


“I want to thank my Program Director and Case Manager,

Shirena Houston,

and the Cornerstone Community Outreach staff

for your love and support during one of the lowest moments of my life.”

– Sandra


This true story was written from conversations between Sandra and Beth Nicholls. 

Names have been changed. 

CCO Christmas Donations

Thank you for your interest in partnering with CCO to make a joyful Christmas experience for our families and single residents. You can choose to give financially, purchase gifts through our official Amazon Wish List, or make an appointment to drop off new gifts at our Donation Center.

Give a Financial Donation for Christmas

 

Give a Gift for Christmas

 

If you would like to give a Christmas gifts to Families and Single residents at CCO, go to our Amazon Wish List and see gift ideas from individuals, children, and parents. If you would like to purchase gifts from other retailers, contact our donation center, by email at donate@ccolife.org, about gift ideas and schedule a time when you can drop off your newly purchased gifts.

Please send new un-wrapped gifts to:
Cornerstone Community Outreach – Christmas Elves
4615 N Clifton Ave
Chicago, IL 60640

Winter Gear from Turtlefur

In August, CCO received a box of hats and neck-warmers from Turtlefur as a part of their Project Warmth. All the staff in the office was so excited not only to receive quality winter hats and neck warmers for people experiencing homelessness, but to receive them early before the cold season starts.

It’s hard to think about the cold winter months when beaches days and backyard BB-Qs are still happening. The reality is that many people don’t start thinking about providing winter gear to people experiencing homelessness until the weather has already changed. It is possible to get snow in late October in Chicago and with many coat and winter gear drives starting in November there is sometimes a gap in our available cold weather clothing and coats.

If you are considering a coat drive for CCO, think about starting it in September. As fall blows in with colder temperatures the need for coats, hats, scarves and gloves comes as well. If you would like to drop off donations of winter gear, contact out Donation Center to schedule an appointment.

Through Turtlefur’s Project Warmth, people who have purchased Turtlefur products can add the hashtag #projectwarmth to photos of themselves wearing their Turtlefur products, tag @tutrlefur, and share to the social media platform of their choice. Turtlefur will then donate a hat or neck warmer to people in need. Thank you Turtlefur for providing quality winter gear to people experiencing homelessness in our programs and thank you to all the individuals who participated in Project Warmth.

Go to Turtlefur.com to find out how you can participate in Project Warmth

No Gift Too Small

Eve Haycock, Naomi Program Director, was visiting friends and a young lady found out she worked at CCO. She was very curious asking many questions about the shelter and the people living there. This young person was moved by Eve’s description of CCO’s work with people experiencing homelessness and wanted to donate something to encourage and help the residents. She gave Eve the sketchbook she had been drawing in all year to encourage people to have hope in hard times. Then she gave all the money she saved over the summer from her allowance.

We at CCO are so grateful for this young ladies gift. It may seem small on the surface but the gift of hope goes deep into the hearts and lives of those who have little. This donation of hope may be the best gift we have received all year. Thank you.

CCO Back to School Rally 2022

Thanks to the amazing CCO staff, East Bank Club and Grace and Truth Church volunteers, donors, and partners; the children at CCO enjoyed a Back to School rally with games, activities, treats and a reptile show. Celebrations are so important at CCO and this rally is a great way to encourage and prepare kids for a new year of learning. It’s an opportunity for families to have some fun, get new school supplies and get excited for the coming school year.

On Wednesday afternoon, the kids had a pizza party with a reptile show hosted by Alison of Curious Creatures on Broadway, providing an opportunity for kids and families to experience and learn about animals in person. Local cartoonist, Tim “Spike” Davis, drew cartoons for the kids to color. Anna Ingerson did face painting, Isaac Ingerson did balloon twisting, and the staff facilitated more fun and games. 

Along with fun the kids received a backpack, school supplies, and new shoes thanks to our many donors and partners. Chicago Public School and DFSS provided basic school supplies for each child and CCO donors supplied backpacks and supplemented other supplies. We partnered with several local businesses to collect backpacks and supplies. Combined with donors purchasing items from our Amazon School Supply wish list and financial contributions through our GoFundMe page, CCO was able to outfit each child with a backpack, new shoes, and supplies for the school year. 

Thank you to East Bank Club and Grace and Truth Church for volunteering. Thank you Everybody’s Coffee, Uptown Farmers Market, Hearthstone and Terrace, Uptown Underdawg, Immanuel Anglican Church, and Emerald City Coffee for collecting backpacks and supplies. Thank you to all our donors who purchased items from our Amazon Wish List and gave financially through our GoFundMe. You are helping to ready our students for school and giving them another step towards quality education.

A Little CCO Ingenuity

CCO is excited to partner with individuals and organizations to find creative solutions to everyday problems that our staff and clients face. Recently, CCO received a large donation of restaurant, wire shelving from Starbucks through Rebuilding Together Metro Chicago. Even after the CCO kitchen and pantry were outfitted with new (to CCO) shelves, there were still many shelf parts left. The CCO staff found themselves trying figure out what to do with the extra shelf pieces and had a brilliant idea. WARDROBES!

Finding robust, spacious and hygienic storage for our client spaces is a tall order and most options are unavailable to CCO. With a few modifications, the CCO staff was able to construct wire rack wardrobes from the Starbucks shelving for our clients. The new wardrobes are being placed in the family rooms at the moment but we would like to expand their use to all CCO client living spaces.

Thank you to Rebuilding Together Metro Chicago and Starbucks for providing the materials and thank you to the CCO staff for providing the ingenuity and manpower to make this improvement to our clients lives.

Congratulations Graduates!

On June 10th, Amanda Learmond, resource manager for Cornerstone Community Outreach (CCO), had a conflict with three of her former clients. It wasn’t the usual type of resolution she is called upon to deal with on a daily basis at the shelter. No, she had three invitations to graduations from former clients of CCO. 

The three families had been shelter guests at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and all three families had been successfully housed. During their time at CCO, Amanda was each family’s case manager, working closely with them to overcome the barriers keeping them in homelessness. During that time they all formed a deep bond that continued after the families transitioned to permanent housing. Amanda worked closely with these families not just during their stay at CCO but in their new homes, visiting them and offering continued support.

“Even though I don’t have family in Chicago, with these families I feel like I have family in Chicago,” Amanda says. “I feel so honored that I was invited into these families’ lives. These parents and guardians inspire me in the way that they continuously create opportunities for their children in spite of their challenges.”

But with such a close connection with each family it was a hard decision to choose which graduation to attend. Jocelin was graduating from Kindergarten, Zion was graduating from 8th grade and Luis was graduating from high school. Each of these children had overcome great obstacles to finish their grades all while coming out of homelessness during a pandemic.

In the end Amanda was able to check in on all of them. “Even though I wasn’t able to watch each of them walk the stage, I was able to be with them to celebrate their accomplishment. My biggest dream is to watch Jocelin and Zion graduate from high school and Luis to graduate from college. I can’t wait to cheer for them then.”

Luis will attend college at National Louis University on a full scholarship to study business and then go on to complete a degree in civil engineering.

Amanda’s story is such a wonderful example of how when a family comes to CCO they become a part of the Cornerstone family and how we at Cornerstone become a part of theirs. Amanda said she is very grateful to everyone who contributed to make this experience possible, and encourages everyone to consider donating to Cornerstone to make more possibilities happen.

Click here to donate to keep these life changing experiences happening!

2021 Annual Report – Your Amazing Impact!

Click the images below to read the 2021 CCO Annual Report. In it, you’ll find exciting information about the good things happening every day at CCO. The graphic above shows that 104 households (192 individuals) moved out of CCO into their own homes in 2021! Now that’s cause for celebrating!

Please consider making a financial donation that would improve the lives of people experiencing homelessness. A $25 donation covers the cost of one person for 24 hours at one of CCO’s shelters. Your donation will provide safe shelter, nutritious meals, and wrap-around services to a person in need. Click here to support CCO’s mission to address homelessness, provide shelter, accept people, and help them find a home.


30 New Beds – Respite from Uncertainty

People can have a respite from the fear and uncertainty of sleeping in their car, on the train, or outside. They can have a shower, meals, and a bed. More than that, they can have a renewed spirit and a renewed sense of hope.
– Eve Haycock, Naomi Women’s Shelter Supervisor

Thirty additional beds have been added to Cornerstone’s Naomi Women Shelter for Women. These crucial beds, staff, and services will help bridge the gap between vulnerable women experiencing homelessness and safe, supportive shelter.

In 2021, 30% of women arriving at Naomi Women’s Shelter had lived on the street the night before. Eve Haycock, Naomi Women’s Shelter Supervisor, states that several women had been living for months in their cars while working part-time, minimum wage jobs. Without a secure place to sleep, eat, and recover from work, they were stuck in part-time positions, which lengthened and compounded their experience with homelessness. Fortunately, having safe shelter and wrap-around services has allowed many women to gain full-time employment, which increases the likelihood of getting stable housing.

Eve had also noticed that this group of new arrivals were often unwell, and some needed immediate medical care. One new shelter guest had been on the streets and suffering from cancer. Case managers and on-site Heartland Alliance Health medical professionals swiftly connected her with the Rush Hospital Oncology Department. Heartland Alliance Health has been a valuable partner in the effort to improve the health of CCO’s medically fragile shelter guests.

Thirty additional beds mean that 30 more women will have a raised quality of life, access to essential services, and a place to build relationships. In short, they will be allowed to live instead of simply surviving.

The night before I came to CCO, I slept out on a park bench.” Take a moment and read Carla’s story from the CCO Archive.

We hope you will join Cornerstone in meeting the needs of vulnerable women. Please consider making a donation that allows CCO to establish a computer lab, purchase a new copier, and other essential and programmatic necessities. Or consider donating to help pay for shelter beds and supportive services.

Your financial gift improves lives in a very real way. Click here to visit CCO’s donation page.

Congratulations Carla!

From the CCO Archive: Carla’s story was originally published in September of 2013.

“The night before I came to CCO, I slept out on a park bench. I said I would never stay in a shelter. And what did God do? He put me right in a shelter and blessed me there.

 I thought people in a shelter had to sleep on the floor. I was afraid that people would steal my stuff and that it would be dirty. I thought I would have to leave in the early morning and stay out all day. Naomi House has been totally different. I have a case manager, three meals a day, I didn’t have to sleep on the floor or leave during the day. It isn’t dirty. I’ve improved mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally.”

“Recently, I got a housing call and I was told, ‘It’s a go! Start packing!’ I have a place and I’m so excited about my little apartment! It’s perfect for me. And it makes me think about how good God is!”

-Carla, as told to Beth Nicholls

It would be difficult to talk to Carla and miss her determination and gratitude. After months of hard work, Carla turned the key to her own apartment. She looks back on her experience at the Naomi Shelter for Women as a stepping stone to stable housing. It has been a joy to work alongside her! Congratulations Carla!


Carla came to Naomi Shelter for Women from a park bench. Many shelter guests are welcomed into CCO after sleeping in doorways, vehicles, city buses, trains, and other places not intended for human habitation. In 2021, 30% of shelter guests entering the Naomi Men or Women’s Shelter Programs were “sleeping rough” the night before. Sleeping outside diminishes the physical and mental health of people experiencing homelessness. It makes them vulnerable to sleep deprivation, hunger, and violence.

Please stand with Cornerstone by helping to provide safe shelter space and permanent housing for Chicagoans experiencing poverty and homelessness. Your donation will ensure that beds, meals, and wrap-around services that available to someone sleeping on the street tonight. Click here to donate today!