News

ED Sandy Ramsey Announces Retirement

“Dear CCO Staff, Shelter Guests, Volunteers, and Supporters,

To say that I have enjoyed working at CCO would be such an understatement.  It has been a thrill, an adventure, and a great ride.  I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.  Working at CCO with wonderful families and single people has made me a better person and I am thankful for each and every story I have been privileged to be a part of.  

The CCO staff has worked tirelessly alongside me and I am grateful to them for their faithfulness to our important work.  I could not have done this for over 30 years without them.

My successor as Executive Director will be Andrew Winter, who has been working alongside me for many years as Chief Financial Officer and has already been leading the way for the last couple of years.  He has exhibited great capability and compassion, and I know he is up to the task.

I will miss CCO, the staff, and all our residents more than I can express.  It is bittersweet to be retiring, but I am also excited about this new chapter in my life. Thank you for your support after all these years.”

  • Sandy Ramsey

CCO staff, shelter guests, volunteers, and supporters wish Sandy all the best as she embarks on the next phase of her life. She will be truly missed. Stay tuned for an upcoming tribute to Sandy and her many incredible years at CCO.

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!

CCO Free Store – Where Everything is Free!

“I can find a lot of clothes for my family at the Free Store.  I don’t have to worry about going out and buying clothes while I’m homeless. I can always find something new and CCO has a good variety. That’s how I’m blessed by the Free Store.”  

 – Victoria, Mother, CCO shelter guest & Free Store patron

Imagine a store filled with clothes, shoes, coats, jackets, and household items. Now imagine that everything in that store is FREE! It’s not too good to be true. It is true! Since the 1990s, CCO has operated the Free Store to meet the basic clothing needs of shelter guests.

This humble service fills a real and critical need. Over 75% of CCO shelter guests report no income at intake. That means shopping on a half-price day at the local thrift store is not an option. Many households have children who arrive needing clothes for school or play. Parents or single adults often need professional clothing for employment interviews, training, or jobs. The Free Store is open to all CCO shelter guests regardless of circumstance or situation.

The CCO Free Store has dedicated volunteers that make sure the needs of shelter guests are their number one priority. They assist families and single adults with their individual needs. A family with a newborn baby can find warm clothes and blankets for their little one. A single adult can find the shoes they need for their new job. Parents can find school clothes, coats, and boots to ensure their kids are warm on the way to school.

We want to say a huge thank you to all who have donated new or gently-used items to CCO! Without your donations, CCO volunteers would not be able to keep the Free Store stocked, sorted, organized, and ready for the next round of “shoppers.”

Please consider scheduling a drop-off by calling the CCO Donation Center at 773-271-8163 ext. 35 or by sending an email to donate@ccolife.org. If you would like to print a donation receipt you can fill it out and bring it with you when you drop off your items. Click here if you would like to make a financial donation that would benefit CCO’s shelter guests.

Thank you for supporting CCO!

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.

Larry Hope

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.”

122,193 Meals Served in 2021!

“Hunger is not a problem. It is an obscenity. How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
-Anne Frank

One out of five Chicagoans experiences food insecurity. For many people experiencing homelessness, access to good, nutritious food is a daily problem. The CCO kitchen served 122,193 meals to shelter guests in 2021. Over half of those served were children under 18 years old.

Whatever the age, nutrition is a basic human right. With your help, we have been able to create delicious meals for the families, women, and men who find shelter at CCO. On any given day you could find a mother of four having breakfast with her children before walking them to school, a single woman having lunch before heading to her job, or a senior citizen man having dinner and chatting to other shelter guests. Nutritious meals are a critical component to the services CCO provides.

Some CCO shelter guests leave a variety of substandard situations before entering the shelter, such as living in vehicles, in overcrowded housing situations, or on the bus or train. In these difficult circumstances, many have found it difficult to get the nutrition they need for work, school, or daily activities.

We are grateful that CCO can be a place to recover from the devastating effects of poverty and homelessness. Thank you for joining us in that effort! Please consider donating today.

Team CCO’s Marathon Man

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.” 

Ted, at the 2015 Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

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.”

Ted, repairing planters and planting flowers at CCO.

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.

2021 Christmas Photo Album!

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!

Thank You!

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!

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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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