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.

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

A Happy Holiday for Everyone

“Christmas isn’t just a day; it’s a frame of mind.” -Kris Kringle, Miracle on 34th Street

Christmas is for everyone! Cornerstone works hard each Holiday to celebrate and remember every shelter guest. Join us in making this time of year memorable for children, parents, and single adults experiencing homelessness.

We’re looking for volunteers to work in Santa’s workshop sorting, wrapping, and labeling Christmas gifts. Most people arrive at Cornerstone with little more than a backpack or duffle bag. We hope you will help us spread Christmas cheer through gift-giving. You can shop and donate gifts through the Cornerstone Wishlist. Or make a financial donation to ensure people coming to Cornerstone right before Christmas get gifts, too. Please use the QR codes below to get involved!


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!

Sponsor the Back-to-School Party!

CCO would like to partner with generous donors to help support this year’s Back-to-School Party. Each August, CCO hosts a party filled with school supplies, new backpacks, games, treats, dancing, and a lot of motivation for the new school year. Your support will help make this year extra special for the children at CCO.

Children experiencing homelessness can face additional barriers to consistent education. CCO tries to bridge the gap that homelessness and poverty cause in childhood development and academics. The family case managers ensure children are attending school and have all they need to succeed. CCO partners with Chicago Hopes, which provides tutoring during the school year and enrichment programs in the summer to children sheltered at CCO every weekday afternoon.

If you want to sponsor part of the fun at this year’s party, contact Amanda Learmond at a.learmond@ccolife.org. Or visit our Amazon Wish List by clicking here or scanning the QR code above.

Shelter to Home – 2022 Annual Report

Join us as we celebrate the outstanding accomplishments of the 2022 CCO shelter guests! CCO is honored to welcome, assist, and support anyone in need of shelter. In 2022, people experiencing poverty and homelessness found shelter beds, meals, personalized services, medical care, employment assistance, training, and education. We especially want to celebrate those who moved into their own apartments!

Many thanks to all who gave time, goods, or made a financial gift. Your generous partnership has made safe shelter possible. We hope you will continue to support CCO’s mission in 2023. Click here to Donate Today!

If you missed our 2022 Annual Report mailing, please click here to join our newsletter mailing list.

“I lost my job” – Unhoused Seniors

“I lost my job because I am 60 with diabetes.

I got laid off due to the pandemic,

and my job never took me back on.”

– a Naomi Shelter Guest

For over 30 years, Cornerstone Community Outreach has welcomed unhoused neighbors of all ages into safe, supportive shelter. The doors swing wide for everyone, from families with newborns to senior citizens and all ages in between. The post below will focus on persons 51 years old and over who have found shelter at CCO in 2021 & 2022.

In 2021 – 2022, in the CCO Naomi Shelters, 187 people (40%) of guests were ages 51 and older. Nationally, the number of unhoused older adults continues to rise.

Many factors play a role in the “graying of homelessness.” The death of a spouse or family member with whom the guest shared a dwelling and costs is one cause. The emotional and financial toll of loss reduces the likelihood of maintaining housing. It’s harder to pay the bills alone. For those walking a financial tightrope, the results can be catastrophic.

Other guests indicated job loss, age discrimination at job interviews, behavioral healthcare issues, and chronic physical health challenges or a combination of these as primary factors. Age discrimination blocks guests from getting and maintaining a job. Employers often hire newer, younger employees who receive lower wages. Shelter guests who have worked blue-collar jobs often have the added issue of declining health due to decades of physically demanding work. Among the guests at the Naomi Women’s Shelter, several women over 50 with university degrees and years of work experience struggle to find employment.

Systemic issues contribute to the rise in older adults experiencing homelessness. A few of these factors are weak safety nets, incarceration, an increasing lack of affordable housing, and the end of COVID assistance.

Remaining in housing is a growing challenge for older adults. Senior citizens receiving Social Security face rising rental costs on a fixed income. A seemingly small financial issue can force someone from their housing. Compelled to choose between prescription medication, food, utilities, or transportation, low-income adults struggle to make ends meet. Loss, medical issues, or a behavioral health crisis can disrupt the fine line that keeps older Americans housed. When this balance shifts, homelessness can ensue.

Since the pandemic, unhoused seniors face longer subsidized housing wait lists and stricter protocols. The circumstances point to the need for shelter and services for those who lose housing and accessible subsidized housing to keep homelessness from recurring.

Older single adults need a place to recover from the destructive effects of poverty and homelessness. Case managers at the Naomi Shelters for Men and Women work to build trust with new shelter guests. From that foundation of care, staff can assist guests in finding jobs, housing, healthcare, and a sense of community.

Please consider making a donation that will support single adults at CCO today. Thank you!

For further reading visit –

Justice In Aging – Low-Income Older Adults Face Unaffordable Rents, Driving Housing Instability & Homelessness

USA Today – America’s Homeless Ranks Graying as More Retire on Streets

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…