Your 2023 Annual Report!

“Cornerstone gave me the chance I needed. It was so hard to find a decent job
when I was sleeping in my car every night.
I had no place to wash up, no rest, nothing to eat.
I couldn’t get past the first interview. 
Thank you for everything!
You helped me get my life back!”
– Former CCO Guest

Your support has paved the way for many CCO success stories! The 2023 CCO Annual Report offers information about the good things that have happened at CCO in the lives of shelter guests. We thank you for ensuring shelter residents access shelter beds, enjoy nourishing meals, and get individualized professional care leading to housing.

Your donation will guarantee stabilizing opportunities and housing for those experiencing homelessness.

Click Here to Donate Today!

Wrap-Around Services Fight Poverty!

Wrap-around services are a daily extension of the care shelter guests experience at CCO. Most shelter guests arrive with no income, support, and limited resources. Once guests enter CCO, immediate needs are met, such as meals, clothing, bedding, and hygiene items.

However, CCO’s wrap-around services go far beyond the immediate needs of families and individuals. The support needed for success is different for each person. A young mother with two children will have different needs than a senior with a chronic health condition. Case managers work alongside guests to create an individualized plan to link shelter guests with practical assistance that brings income, health, and housing stability.

Cornerstone needs your financial support to continue to provide services and shelter. Click here to donate today and make a difference in the lives of families and individuals experiencing homelessness.

2023 Christmas Photo Album

Smiles and laughter abound! The Holiday Season was filled with hope and joy at CCO! All Cornerstone shelter guests were remembered thanks to our outstanding donors, volunteers, and staff. Many thanks to everyone who made the season bright for children and adults experiencing homelessness! It’s a joy to see the celebration and fun flow over into 2024!

Photo Credit and Many Thanks to Nathan Cameron.

Cornerstone Helped Me

“To live under a dictator is like slavery. There is no justice. There is no peace. It is not a free country.” Over fifty years of living under a Congolese dictatorship was long enough for Ildevert Mboungou. In the Congo, Ildevert worked as a chef for the employees of a major oil company. The authorities found out that he was a supporter of the Democratic party, and the dictatorship that ruled and mistreated the Congolese people for decades took revenge. Ildevert had to leave his employment, home, and all he knew. He escaped his homeland and fled to America.

“I flew directly to Chicago. I did not know anyone. I was alone and deeply sad. I was living near the El train station. A man approached me and spoke my language. He told me he knew where I could get help and brought me to CCO. I do not know who he was.”

Homeless shelters do not exist in the Congo, and Ildevert was unaware that help was available or how to find it. This kind stranger took him from being isolated and living outside to CCO where he could find a sense of community, support, and help for the future.

“I came to CCO with only a plastic bag that held my Bible, documents, passport, and coat. That is all I had, but I was happy to find shelter. I met Franke, Andre, and Jeremy, and they made me feel welcome. I could have meals, clothing, showers, and a bed. I am no longer alone and outside. Coming to the shelter was extraordinary.”

During Ildevert’s stay, he worked closely with his case manager to access an ESL course at Truman College and certificate training in Food Service through a local non-profit. He became an active volunteer at the Kolver Center for survivors of politically sanctioned torture. CCO staff rejoiced with Ildevert when he received his political asylum certificate. Ildevert was reunited with his family when they came to Chicago, and they found a home. It has been a joy to see great things in Ildevert’s life.

  • Ildevert Mboungou, as told to Beth Nicholls and translated by Franke Moukiama

Sponsors, Donors & Volunteers

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!

We are so grateful to the following…

Chicagoland Women in Roofing who donated $1,000.

Roofing Contractors Association who donated $2,000.

Roofivent bought school supplies worth $500.

Baird and Warner collection backpacks, shoes, and school supplies.

Vive Church Chicago donated loads of new shoes.

Tiny Giants Early Learning Center collected backpacks, shoes, and school supplies.

Emmanuel Anglican Church donated school supplies.

Last but not least, thank you to all the volunteers who helped prepare donated items and who helped out on the party day. Many Thanks!

Magical Moments in CCO’s Rooftop Garden

“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!

Eat Cake for Charity!

Genesis Winter has taken amateur baking in Chicago to a whole new level. She is the founder and organizer of Chicago’s Best Baker Contest on July 22 at 2 pm at the Wilson Abbey. Click here to purchase “tastings” in advance. All proceeds support CCO!

Genesis, thank you for creating a delicious, fun, and philanthropic event. And thank you for agreeing to this interview. 

Can you give us a quick overview of the Chicago’s Best Baker Contest? 

Chicago’s Best Baker is the only amateur baking competition in Chicago. On event day, bakers come to the Wilson Abbey in the early morning to drop off their bakes. Then the judges taste each bake before the event officially begins. They choose Chicago’s Best Baker and then the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place in each of the seven categories: bread, pastry, cake, cookie, pie, international, and gluten-free. Then, we open the doors for the public to admire the magnificent display of baked goods. 

It’s exciting to see compelling flavor combinations or outrageous ingredients that taste great together. After that, the winners are recognized and celebrated at the Award Ceremony. Finally, we have the tastings, which is the thrilling part! Those of us who love baking shows don’t have to watch others eat and imagine the “light sponge” or the “citrus punch of flavor.” We can indulge in the winning bakes! And it’s guilt-free because it’s all for a good cause.

Tell us about the origins of the event. Where did this idea come from?

I love the Great British Baking Show, although my true inspiration came from state or county fairs. I wanted to offer a place where locals could compete with other locals and share food. It’s for amateurs. For many competitors, this is the first time they are publicly declaring themselves a “baker.” Even though they are bakers,  they will get recognition if they win! It attracts people who love to bake at home. So far this year, we have 180 items in the competition from 70 bakers. All the proceeds for the event go to Cornerstone Community Outreach. 

Chicago’s Best Baker Contest is a fun fundraising event. It’s not a fundraising event where you spend $95 to sit at a table, listen to loud music, and eat dry chicken. Spend $10 and try 40 cakes! If you love pie and only pie, get the pie pass for $10. At this time, we have 33 pies entered in the competition. People move around the space, selecting their bakes and genuinely connecting. Each contest year, as I walked around, I could hear people having great conversations, laughing, tasting, and genuinely enjoying themselves. I love that aspect of it. It’s a way to create community while raising money for Cornerstone. 

Do you have a personal connection with Cornerstone?

When I was a kid, Chicago didn’t have a lot of homeless services. My parents were part of a mission organization based in Uptown. I remember one day, the building beside ours caught on fire, and suddenly the people who lived there had nowhere to go. They ended up staying in our dining room. Back then, Uptown was a very impoverished neighborhood. I mean, abandoned buildings, burned-out cars, open fire hydrants, you get the idea. Early on, city workers would pick up people who were homeless and drop them off to stay in our dining room. Cornerstone Shelter started in our home. I witnessed the need and desperation even as a kid. 

Our dining room was ok as a short-term solution but we quickly realized that we needed a facility and staff that could really help people long-term. That was the beginning of Cornerstone Community Outreach. The very first shelter was for women with children. Since then, it has grown and grown. Today, Cornerstone has two family shelters, a shelter for men and a shelter for women. There is always a need for shelter.

Over the years, I have volunteered within the programs, distributed food bags to our neighbors, wrapped and given out Christmas presents. You name it! My husband has worked there for over 25 years. He’s the Executive Director. 

It’s inspiring that this event allows you to bake a cake, bring it to the competition, and help people in poverty and experiencing homelessness. I am deeply aware of the need and glad to be part of fundraising for such an important cause.

Have you learned any valuable lessons from organizing the event?

The first year, we only had three judges and over 140 items for them to taste! By the end, they were as sick as dogs. God bless them! It was terrible! They did a great job, but that was rough! After that, I realized I needed a lot of judges! I’ve been in contact with well-known bakeries in Chicago and baking schools. These judges are highly trained and fantastic bakers. This year, I have ten judges. I’d love to have more because this is a lot of food to get through.

How does the judging work?

The judging is completely blind. The bakers drop off their bakes and each item is assigned a number. No name is on the label. After the bakers leave, the judges enter and start tasting everything. First, we judge the Best Baker category. Each competitor hoping to be named Best Baker should bring 5 – 7 baked goods from the different categories. Last time, the winner of Chicago’s Best Baker did not take 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place in any of the individual categories but her grouping was strong. All 7 of her bakes were satisfactory to outstanding. A person could compete for Best Baker with seven bakes but two may be terrible and five may be fabulous. Those two bad bakes could make them ineligible for the Best Baker.

Once the judges select the Best Baker, all those bakes are placed in the appropriate category, bread with the breads, pies with the pies, etc. Then, those bakes get rejudged. The winners are announced 1st, 2nd, 3rd place in each of the seven categories.

What are some bakes that really surprised you?

Last time, the 1st place winner was Kevin Rak, whose Belgian waffles were so stunning that he beat out a table just loaded with unusual and delicious items- one of which was a pie-sized sausage roll made with homemade sausage by a British competitor and some European-style cheesecakes. I mean, those waffles were a surprise! The judges just melted when they tasted them.

We’ve had delicious gluten-free entries such as apple tart (which won first place), a massive flourless chocolate cake with berries and cream, a tomato pie, and gluten-free bread that was surprisingly good. 

The Chicago’s Best Baker Contest has so many benefits. Can you think of any that haven’t been mentioned?

Unless a person goes to school for baking and enters a professional competition, they are unlikely to get recognition for their baking skills. The Chicago’s Best Baker Contest wants to bring a bit of public appreciation to private bakers. Do you think your angel food cake is amazing? Well, so do all these other people!

Eating is its reward. Bakers love to feed people. There is something so beautiful about sharing food with strangers and having them be excited because your cookies are fantastic. It is very fulfilling.

Can bakers still register?

People who wish to register for the competition can still do so over the next few weeks. Registration will end about one week before the event. I hope to see you there!

Genesis, Thanks for creating and sustaining this exceptional event! We’re grateful to learn more about Chicago’s Best Baker Contest. Your creativity and generosity have meant so much to the amateur baking community and people experiencing homelessness.

Many thanks!

Click here to register at Chicago’s Best Baker Contest.

2022 Christmas Photo Album

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!

Photo Credit: Nathan Cameron

CCO Family Portraits with Santa

CCO Christmas Party Album…

You can support families at CCO by making a financial donation today!

CCO Staff & Christmas Volunteers…

2023 Charitable Resolutions & Team CCO

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!

Letter from the Executive Director

Dear CCO Supporter,

Merry Christmas from all of us at Cornerstone Community Outreach! I am so grateful that you have partnered with us in the past. CCO’s shelter guests need your support more than ever. Safe shelter remains a critical need. At Cornerstone, families and single adults experiencing homelessness receive holistic care and wrap-around services as they journey toward permanent housing.

I would like to ask you to continue to be a financial partner with Cornerstone Community Outreach. Our objective is to disrupt the cycle of poverty by providing safe shelter while exploring long-term housing solutions for our clients. While at Cornerstone, our residents experience a higher quality of life through professional, compassionate care that helps them on the road to permanent housing.

I hope you’ll take a moment and read Sandra’s story. Her path to peace has been a long one. Sandra and her 11-year-old daughter arrived at Cornerstone in a courageous move to escape the cycle of abuse in her life. She described the time before arriving at Cornerstone as the “lowest point in my life.” Thankfully, while with us, she found the support, care, and renewal that she needed. Today, she’s housed and employed using her lived experience to help other families who are homeless. I’m grateful that Sandra dared to escape her harmful past and found a new start at Cornerstone!
Click here to read about Sandra’s Path to Peace.

CCO is one of Chicago’s largest homeless shelters committed to providing immediate safe shelter and pathways to permanent housing for families and individuals from all walks of life. We welcome over 325 households each year in collaboration with the City of Chicago and a team of nonprofit partners. CCO prioritizes inclusivity, accepting clients from difficult circumstances by supporting many household structures, including intact families, single adults, LGBTQ+ families, and more. Ultimately, our goal is to ensure everyone has access to safe housing, nutritious food, and, most importantly, dignity, no matter their plight.

I would like to invite you to be part of more success stories like Sandra’s by financially supporting our vital work with a 100% tax-deductible donation. Have a wonderful holiday season! Best wishes in the coming year from all of us at CCO!

Andrew Winter

Executive Director

Cornerstone Community Outreach (EIN 36-3670992) is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization and contributions are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law.