Friday, July 24, 2009

Breakthrough Urban Ministries

As I've mentioned in recent blogs, it's always inspiring visiting organizations that take a holistic approach to changing a community. That is, while it's nice to see tutoring and mentoring programs that serve the youth of communities that have a high percentage living in poverty, you also need to take into account about the other factors affecting the community as well. What about the child not having something eat at home? Create a food pantry. What if a child needs medical attention but doesn't have health insurance? Create a free clinic, etc.

This idea of a holistic approach to a community at-risk has been adopted by several programs that I have visited. One was Circle Urban Ministries in the Austin Community that I profiled here. Another outstanding example of this is Breakthrough Urban Ministries in East Garfield Park, which I visited yesterday with Bradley Troast, our new PIP fellow.

Bill Curry, the Chief Operating Office of Breakthrough Urban Ministries kindly gave us a tour of the organization. He and his wife, Marcie, who's the director of the Youth Program, helped found the Children and Family Services component of Breakthrough back in 2000. In fact, Bill and Marcie, and their three kids live in the East Garfield Park neighborhood and their kids go to school in the neighborhood and participate in the youth programming as well.

While we set out, of course, to see their summer youth program, we witnessed so much more. As Bradley and I entered the Center on West Carroll, we came in with people there for the soup kitchen, wanting to get breakfast. Mr. Curry also made a note that the downstairs of the center was a residence for women who have become homeless, either because of mental illness, drug addiction, or other factors. The Women's Center provides a variety of services, including free health care, drug and alcohol counseling, and treatment for mental illness, in addition to offering a safe place to sleep, eat, and shower. There's also an innovative program that Breakthrough runs that helps prostitutes get off the street and away from their profession. For the men, similar services are offered at the administrative center on N. St. Louis Ave, just a few blocks away.

Upstairs at the Center is the Youth and Family Center, where currently the Summer Studies Program is happening. There, students were creating art and learning about texture in the process, another group was learning about metaphors, and a third was outside doing gymnastics. We also learned that a fourth group of students was on a field trip. What was a great idea, I thought, was that high school students become a sort of student teacher and help out with the children. I was impressed with the level of maturity, patience, and kindness the high school students exhibited in dealing with the young children.

Ultimately the goal of summer studies at Breakthrough is to make sure that the students don't lag behind in their studies before they go back to school. In fact, one study that was conducted showed that students who participated in the Breakthrough Summer Studies Program gained 3 months in the reading level, those that didn't lost 3 months.

For specifics about all the different programs, in addition to the tutoring and mentoring program, that Breakthrough Urban Ministries offers, I encourage you to read Bradley's blog, since he gives a great synopsis. But, a great idea that Breakthrough has employed is the idea of having multiple tutor/mentors act as a support system to a child - somewhat in the idea of "It takes a village to raise a child." The idea is that you have several individuals work with a small group of children as tutors and mentors and let the relationships grow. If a tutor moves away because of graduating from college (a lot of volunteer tutor/mentors are college students from UIC, DePaul and other Chicago schools), or transfers jobs, gets married, has a baby, or has to leave Breakthrough for any other reason that is common for 20-30 something young professionals (which is another large group that tends to tutor/mentor at Breakthrough as well), then the child won't feel abandoned because they still have 4-5 other tutor/mentors looking out for them. This is an interesting idea and might be a method applied by other tutoring and mentoring organizations.

So to Bill, Marcie, and everybody else we met at Breakthrough Urban Ministries THANK YOU for the wonderful tour. What you do for the East Garfield Community needs to be reflected throughout the city and we hope to support you in any way possible in the future.

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