I know, I know school just got out. And we’re talking about Back to School already?! Yes we are.
During the 2021-2022 school year, CCO had an estimated 60 students enrolled in Chicago Public School. Now that they are going back to the classroom for in-person learning, our younger residents have many school needs. CPS wonderfully provides a box of school supplies for each child at CCO, however when it comes to Back to School that is just the tip of the iceberg. Kids need backpacks, lunchboxes, school uniforms or new clothes, new shoes, and miscellaneous supplies like calculators, extra markers and crayons.
So, CCO has started a GoFundMe and an Amazon Wish List for the Back to School needs of our student residents. Please consider a financial donation and/or donating school supplies to give young CCO residents a better chance of success in school. Thank you.
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!
“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!
Never get tired of doing little things for others. Sometimes, those little things occupy the biggest part of their hearts.” – Unknown
We hope you enjoyed looking back at the holiday season at Cornerstone! Your generous support, and financial donations, helped to create a holiday that the children and adults at CCO will fondly recall for years to come.
It’s a joy to highlight Christmas because it’s a season of gifts, food, and fun for our shelter guests. However, Cornerstone keeps its doors open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, welcoming those in need of safety, warmth, and shelter. The important work doesn’t stop! It continues well after the Christmas trees are packed away and put in storage.
Please consider making an ongoing donation that will allow CCO to continue to meet the needs of families experiencing homelessness, whether it’s winter, spring, summer, or fall. Your support is needed and genuinely appreciated!