The CCO staff and families would like to thank the incredible sponsors, donors, and volunteers who made this year’s Back-to-School Party a hit! We called, and you answered! School-aged children at CCO can step into the new school year with confidence! Many thanks!
“A few months ago, as I walked onto the Cornerstone (CCO) rooftop garden, I could hear beautiful music. One of our shelter guests, a mom with five children, was practicing her saxophone for church on Sunday. What an unexpected gift to hear her music flowing out from among the herbs, flowers, and veggies! It felt almost magical. She and her children came to CCO because her husband was deported, which meant that the kids lost their dad, and she lost her husband, along with the majority of their income and their home. She and her children were so involved in the garden. It’s been fabulous watching families make the garden their own and care for it too.”
– Laura Thiessen, CCO rooftop gardener
The CCO Rooftop Garden has almost completed its third season of producing a variety of vegetables, fruit, herbs, microgreens, and flowers for CCO shelter guests. The benefits go far beyond the bountiful produce. The Rooftop Garden is a place for women and children to play, plant, grow, harvest, witness birds and insects, and relax in a safe outdoor space. The rooftop garden has been the fulfilled dream of Laura Thiessen or, as the kids call her, “The Garden Lady.” Laura has worked with fellow plant enthusiasts and shelter guests to make the Rooftop Garden a haven of life amid the concrete and brick of Chicago.
The garden always needs seeds and supplies. In April, one special shelter guest donated many seed packets and helped with planting. Laura said, “She gave me seeds for flowers, squash, and pepper that she bought at the dollar store. Once they sprouted and were ready for planting, she helped with that, too. She got a job and spent less time in the garden, but her plants are still in a special area just for her.”
In May and June, shelter guests can get their hands dirty planting. Guests from the Naomi Shelter for Women often help transplant the seedlings into growing totes on the rooftop. Children from the Hannah Shelter for Families join in and learn about gardening while having fun in the dirt.
Throughout the summer, Laura and fellow gardener, Martha Alicia Montes, host a Tea Time in the garden. Tuesdays are for the single women at Naomi Shelter. Laura said, “Marta often does an art project with the ladies. One project was wind catchers made from recycled cans. We hung them on the pergola. They were so pretty. Sometimes we play music and dance in the garden. It’s pretty relaxed. We want everyone to enjoy the green space and have fun.”
Thursday morning Tea Time in the garden is reserved for moms and children at CCO. “We grow three types of mint and make it into iced tea with honey. Sometimes, we gather echinacea or wildflowers to put in our tea. We also have a snack like watermelon, popsicles, or fruit salad. The kids always come running. They are curious and ask so many questions. Often, they want to water the plants or help in any way. I’ll show them how to pick the mint. If they’re upset, I tell them they can go to the mint plants and brush the tops with their hands, smell their minty hands, and take deep breaths. A lot of children stay at CCO. It can be pretty chaotic but a lot of fun! I’ve taught the kids to save seeds from the foods they eat and plant them. The garden draws the kids. They still pick green tomatoes. I try to teach them how to be a garden protector, not a garden picker. They’re learning!” Laura says with a chuckle.
A family of golden finches has made a home in the garden. Laura has carefully chosen seeds and plants that attract birds and pollinators to the rooftop garden. Butterflies, bees, and other pollinators are frequent visitors of the flowers on the CCO roof. An enclosure had to be built to protect the black swallowtail butterflies from the birds. The children especially love seeing the butterflies in their habitat. The explosion of plant, bird, and insect life is a testimony to the importance of the CCO rooftop garden for humans and creatures alike.
“One day, we were in the rooftop garden during Tea Time. Several of the ladies just started talking about some personal and painful events. They were so vulnerable, sharing stories filled with heartache. I think something about being in the garden, outside in a green space together; it is therapeutic. We just listened. I felt honored to be entrusted with their stories. One of those ladies went on to get a job working in a large urban garden. She still has plants on the rooftop. The other ladies take pictures of her vegetables and send them to her so she can see that they are growing.”
“People come to CCO to get help. Sometimes, they move on fast. Even if their time at CCO is short, one moment can be important and special. Hopefully, when people look over their lives, they will know that Cornerstone gave them real support, compassion, and opportunity for a change. I’m grateful that the garden can be part of the good things happening at CCO. I want to thank all the women and children who helped in the CCO Rooftop Garden this year. I would also like to thank two important organizations, Seed Money and Awesome Foundation, for their financial support. This unique place of life, growth, and hope would not be possible without your generosity!”
-All quotes by Laura Thiessen, as told to Beth Nicholls
Cornerstone shelter guests need your support. Please consider making a financial donation today!
The 2022 Holiday Season brought joy and cheer to the families and individuals sheltered at CCO. Each child received a stocking filled with toys, treats, and a new pair of pajamas. They each wore their new pj’s to the CCO Christmas Party, where they got to meet Santa, receive gifts, and celebrate the holidays with their family. The Christmas Party featured CCO Board President Chris Spicer as Santa Claus, loads of sweet and savory treats, and a hot chocolate station. The crowd went wild when Santa arrived with his bags of gifts!
The celebrated season would not be possible without volunteers who made the party exceptional. Thanks to all who worked as elves in Santa’s Workshop, sorting, wrapping, and decorating Christmas presents for the big day. Christmas at Cornerstone would not be possible without your generous donation of toys for children and gifts for teens and adults. Many thanks!
We hope you enjoy the 2022 photo album. Enjoy the smiling faces found in it!
Are you looking for a 2023 charitable fitness resolution? Only 9 Team CCO guaranteed entry slots remain for the 2023 Bank of America Chicago Marathon (BACM)! Secure your spot today and become part of a dedicated team committed to providing shelter, meals, and wrap-around services for families and single adults experiencing homelessness!
“Running for a charity is a great way to support a work you care about. It opens the doors for friends and family to throw their support behind you for a good cause.” Click here to learn more about Ted Jindrich and his commitment to charitable fitness and CCO. A long-time Team CCO runner, and board member, Ted has participated in 14 marathons since 2015 and has raised thousands of dollars for CCO shelter guests.
Most of us haven’t run one marathon. That’s ok! Team CCO welcomes walkers, joggers, and seasoned runners to participate. Your charitable fitness and fundraising goals will make a difference in the day-to-day lives of families and individuals experiencing homelessness. People like Sandra found critical help at CCO. Click here to read about Sandra’s Path to Peace. Last year, funds raised through Team CCO provided nearly 2,000 nights of shelter and over 6,000 meals!
Are you ready to join the team? Click here to visit the BACM Charity Team page. Once there, click the “Participate with this charity” button. Also, be sure to complete the Team CCO Participant Waiver form. See the image below for instructions.
Running the Chicago Marathon isn’t for everyone. We understand that. Perhaps you’d like to support CCO by donating new or gently-used items or making a financial donation. Whatever you choose, we are deeply grateful that you have partnered with CCO to provide shelter to vulnerable Chicagoans. Thank you!
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.
“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!
CCO would like to extend a huge Thank You to the friends and family of Larry Hope. They have made a $1,000 donation to provide a meal to CCO shelter guests catered by Urban Tables. In addition to that they have donated $2,000 to replace the damaged CCO stove. These monetary donations were given on Larry’s birthday, February 12. These gifts are intended to highlight Larry’s life story, a story of love and true transformation.
The following are the words of Heather Yutzy, Larry’s close friend for the last 30 years.
“The meals and the money for the stove that we are giving to Cornerstone is done in honor of Larry Hope. Larry was a man who lived and worked in Uptown for many decades.
I met Larry 30 years ago when he was volunteering at the Monday night meal for the neighborhood at Uptown Baptist Church. Larry and I served meals, cooked, and washed dishes side-by-side for many months before I realized he was homeless. At that time, he was living on the streets and largely staying in U-Haul trailers that were parked on a lot in Uptown.
Larry was bright, articulate, funny, and curious. He was always learning and asking great questions. He began going to church and was welcomed by the congregation. He was deeply loved. In the late 80s, I saw Larry’s life being transformed by the love of God. Real change happened in his life but things didn’t change quickly.
Larry obtained employment at the Salvation Army Tom Seay Center. He poured his loving care for others into the meals he prepared there. He obtained his GED, and later in life, excelled in college courses. Through his faith, Larry overcame addiction and eventually began to work full-time caring for those on the streets of Uptown. His transformation reflected his faith and he brought his experiences to the streets to help others with physical and spiritual needs.
Eventually, Larry met and began courting a woman in San Francisco. They married and settled there. Larry spent the final years of his life bringing his message of hope to the streets of San Francisco.
When Larry died, his family and friends were utterly devastated. His life was an example of radical change. He had blessed so many. The donation is in honor of Larry’s story and his journey of faith in Jesus. I truly hope it encourages and blesses others.”
Team CCO member, Ted Jindrich has run 14 marathons since 2015. He has plans to run three more this year! His support for CCO has only been surpassed by his commitment to charitable fitness. In the following interview, Ted shares his close history with CCO, his constant fitness endeavors, and his desire to support the causes close to his heart. We are grateful for the generous and exceptional ways he has supported CCO over the years.
Why do you think charitable fitness is a good way to engage in endurance events?
“Running for a charity is a great way to support a work you care about. It opens the doors for friends and family to throw their support behind you for a good cause.”
What charitable fitness plans do you have for this year?
“I’ll be running three marathons this year: the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, the Olympic Discovery Trail Marathon in Washington, and the Paavo Nurmi Marathon in Wisconsin. I did a New Years Day run with friends and they asked if I wanted to join them in a, ‘run every day for 100 days challenge.’ I accepted but I will admit there have been a few days I just wanted to relax after work but I will get out and run. It’s been something I look forward to. Believe it or not, I’ve enjoyed experiencing the January weather.”
How long have you run for Team CCO? Why?
“I started running for Team CCO in 2014. So it has been 8 years.I had known people who were part of team CCO for years. But they only ran the marathon and that was like going to the moon, as far as I was concerned. In 2014, Team CCO members were running a 6-mile obstacle race and I heard about it. I loved the idea of an obstacle race but 6 miles did not seem doable. I committed to run it anyway and I loved it! After that, Team CCO organizers suggested that I do the Chicago Marathon. I said no way. But after volunteering at the marathon that year, I decided to train for the 2015 Chicago Marathon. I’ve completed 14 marathons since the Chicago 2015 marathon. It’s been a pleasure to fundraise for CCO each year at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. Obstacle course races are still my favorite type of race. I’ve done 13 so far. I’ve enjoyed doing the Tough Mudder, Savage Race, and Spartan Races. I can usually place in my age group because very few people my age do them.”
Do you have a personal connection or experience with CCO that has caused you to be a long-term supporter?
“I have a long history with CCO. In the 1980s, the Cornerstone shelter started when my church community moved into the Uptown neighborhood in Chicago. Our neighborhood, Uptown, was very poor at that time and we began serving a meal each day. We saw the need for homeless single women and women with children to have a place to sleep. When we started, we could only offer overnight shelter. In 1989, we purchased a building and were able to offer a stable shelter space with case managers to support shelter guests and help them find housing and supportive services. After a full day of work, I spent many nights rehabbing that building so that women experiencing homelessness could move in. In 2018, I was asked to join the Cornerstone Board of Directors and I’ve enjoyed supporting CCO in that way too.”
What was the 2021 Bank of America Chicago Marathon like?
I had a goal of finishing in under four hours. My best time was 4:12. I was not able to keep the pace and I completed the marathon in 4:36. I was a bit disappointed but still enjoyed the race. The Chicago spectators are great. My wife met me on her bike in Lincoln Park and my daughter, son-in-law, and grandkids met me in Chinatown. At about mile 23 I was walking and an older guy (my age) came up and said something like. “Get up here. We’re crossing the finish line together.” I loved it and I started running with the guy but my legs cramped up and I had to walk again. I ran off and on from there to the finish. Running a marathon is a great opportunity to raise funds for a charity. I am thankful I can run. I’m looking forward to running the marathon again this year.
Thanks for sharing your history, experience, and plans with us, Ted. We’re grateful for all the ways you support CCO’s mission to address homelessness, provide shelter, accept people, and help them find a home.
If you are interested in learning more about how you can support CCO’s mission at the 2022 Bank of America Chicago Marathon, click here.
On behalf of Cornerstone, we thank you for making this Holiday Season truly outstanding for all our shelter guests. We want to thank everyone who purchased gifts for the children, parents, and single adults at CCO. We’re deeply grateful to everyone who gave financially. Special thanks to the tireless elves in Santa’s workshop who wrapped Christmas gifts. A beautiful Christmas at CCO has been possible through your care and support!
Most people would never consider running 500 days straight through snow, heat, rain, and a global pandemic but Tim Necas is not most people. Tim’s desire to break a former running streak of 35 days in a row gradually turned into a personal mission to run 500 consecutive days. He did it while raising funds for those experiencing homelessness at CCO.