Seeds of Hope – CCO’s Rooftop Garden

Gardening feeds my soul, and I’m so happy to share it with others.”
-Laura Thiessen, CCO Gardener

Long-time CCO volunteer Laura Thiessen had dreams of establishing a healing, fertile space that would benefit CCO shelter guests. In 2021, Laura’s vision of creating a tranquil, productive garden for shelter guests on the Hannah Shelter rooftop became a reality.

“I love to use gardening as a tool to connect with people. It’s an honor to bring gardening and green space to CCO’s shelter guests. Several women from the Naomi Shelter and myself planted calendula flowers this week. Even amidst the sleeping, winter-browned garden, the Naomi ladies were soaking in the sunshine and enjoying the outdoors. One Naomi guest had planted carrots in her garden bucket last year. We had so much fun digging them up, sharing them, and laughing at the different sizes. I believe that human interactions and garden spaces like this one can revive the soul, unite, and empower us. We can enjoy the outdoors, grow what herbs and produce we can, right where we are, and fellowship together. It’s a joy to see the happiness the garden brings to all ages. It awakens the wonder of nature and gives us a platform to grow seeds of hope!”

Along with delicious produce, vibrant and fun programs have grown from the rooftop garden project. Women at the Naomi Shelter have enjoyed learning how to make Herbs N Me Hand Cream with Laura. The hand cream is made from calendula flowers and other natural materials from the CCO Rooftop Garden.

Tuesday Tea is CCO’s weekly garden party (weather permitting). The casual gathering takes place in the CCO Garden on the Hannah Shelter roof. Women and children from the Hannah Shelter are welcome to join the Naomi Women, many of whom have planted and nurtured the garden. Delicious tea is brewed from the herbs found in the raised beds. Everyone joins in watering plants and picking produce that is ready to eat. Tuesday Tea is a time to celebrate the success of the rooftop garden project and enjoy the people and plants that occupy the space. The children join in on the gardening fun or play on the rooftop playground nearby.

“Grace,” a Naomi Women’s shelter guest, grew a tiny watermelon and enjoyed sharing it with everyone at Tuesday Tea. After taking a bite, she danced around the picnic table and sang, “I’m a farmer!” Grace danced for the sheer joy of nurturing and growing fruit that she could share with others. Recently, Grace moved from the Naomi Women’s program into her apartment, and she’s coming back to volunteer her time and energy into the garden.

Laura and the garden ladies have hopes for a produce booth at a local Chicago Farmers Market. Last year, the garden produced cucumbers, watermelon, butternut squash, sweet peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, sunflowers, kale, lettuce, broccoli, basil, dill, fennel, calendula, lilacs, cosmos, and wildflowers. Laura is looking to the future and, with the help of CCO shelter guests, planting the seeds she carefully saved from last year. She hopes they will produce a beautiful and life-giving space that brings hope and recovery to those sheltered at CCO.

The garden and all its vibrant outcroppings would not be possible without the generous support of Gethsemane Gardens and Hearthstone Terrace, two local businesses that know the value of the natural world in healing and uniting people. Thank you! And thank you, Laura, for creating a space that teaches, restores, and revives!

Please consider donating to CCO today! Your gift will ensure safe shelter and supportive services for families and single adults experiencing homelessness. Click here to visit our Donation Page. Thank you!

585 Found Shelter in 2021

CCO is grateful to provide safe shelter, nutritious meals, and supportive services to Chicagoans experiencing homelessness. With your help, Cornerstone welcomes families and single adults who were previously sleeping on the train, on a relative’s couch, in a car, in substandard or overcrowded conditions. People come to CCO from a variety of difficult situations. They all have one thing in common, a need for shelter and help finding housing. 

CCO accepts families of all descriptions. Dads with children, moms with children, grandparents with grandchildren, three-generational families, parents with special needs adult children, and families with service animals have all found safe shelter. Single adults experiencing homelessness need safe shelter too. At Cornerstone, single men and women can find support and a sense of community that reduces the isolation often associated with homelessness. CCO shelter guests receive critical, personalized assistance from case managers who access supportive services and permanent housing. 

CCO has kept its doors open throughout the COVID pandemic providing safe shelter and essential services. The staff has worked tirelessly to make sure the shelter facilities and all policies maximize safety for shelter guests. Services to CCO’s neighbors in need have continued, too.

Cornerstone shelter guests rely on your valuable support. Please consider donating today so Cornerstone can continue to welcome those experiencing homelessness tomorrow.

Letter From the Executive Director

Dear Friends:

Greetings from Cornerstone Community Outreach (CCO)!  We find ourselves at the end of another adventurous year and we are so grateful you have been a part of it! We have had continued success in housing our shelter participants, thanks to some new housing initiatives offered by the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services and All Chicago.  Two stories come to mind – first, a senior Vietnam vet who has been homeless for over 40 years now holds keys to his own apartment!  Even at CCO, he remained homeless for several years, but thanks to our faithful and persistent staff, he stabilized enough to receive permanent housing.  A woman lived on a park bench for months.  She wouldn’t even come inside to our women’s program.  CCO staff repeatedly engaged her in conversation, eventually earning her trust.  From there, small steps followed by bigger movement and finally an apartment of her own!  On top of that, staff worked to help her reunite with her daughters whom she had not seen in a few years, who had been looking for her!  

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