Whispers of Hope

Carlette S. Mack, Executive Director, Covenant House Illinois

Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering, ‘It will be happier.’

- Alfred Lord Tennyson

 

It was only a year ago that Covenant House Illinois opened its doors to homeless and at-risk youth in Chicago, and in that year, we’ve met hundreds of youth, built strong community partnerships, and felt an outpouring of support for our mission from across Chicago and Illinois.

When we opened our doors in February of 2017, we knew that our priority was to begin addressing the immediate needs of the City’s most vulnerable - homeless, at-risk, and underserved youth. This started with our daytime drop-in center – where young people can get a meal, take a shower, securely store their valuables, work with a case manager, or get a few hours of much needed rest – and expanded through community partnerships and volunteer days of service, from which youth gained access to physical and mental health care, workforce training, rehabilitative services, and life skills workshops.

We’ve seen incredible love and support from our community of champions - from the 60+ people who spent the night outside at our first-ever Sleep Out, to the groups of volunteers who’ve come to serve lunch and share activities with our youth, to the exceedingly generous advocates who’ve brought car loads of in-kind donations.

And, most importantly, we’ve begun building honest, trusting, and genuine relationships with the youth who walk through our doors.

In our first year, with nearly 6,000 visits to our drop-in center, we met more than 270 unique young people, each with a story to tell.

We started by listening.

We’ve heard stories of family trauma and struggles. We’ve heard stories of obstacles and perseverance. We’ve heard stories of challenges overcome and challenges not yet faced. And we’ve heard stories of hope.

The more we listen, the more we understand the needs of our youth and the ways that we can best serve them.

At Covenant House, we’ve always known that serving our youth is about more than simply putting a roof over their heads and a meal in their bellies. It’s about going beyond crisis care and following our guiding principles to help youth build a solid and secure foundation, one that will lead to a future free from homelessness, a future where goals are met and surpassed, and a future full of hope.

As we head into our second year, it is hope, above all else, that we bring with us.

We know that challenges lay ahead for us. We have challenged ourselves to expand our program offerings to include more life skills courses, workforce training, and extended hours. We have challenged ourselves to build on our existing partnerships and to find leaders and experts throughout our community to ensure we’re providing our youth with the best possible resources, whatever the need. We have challenged ourselves to expand our space and to increase our capacity to serve even more young men and women. And we have challenged ourselves to build a true collaboration with our youth, our corporate neighbors, our partners, and our community leaders, because that is the only way that real, lasting change can happen.

With the successes, lessons, and experiences of our first year propelling us, we are prepared to face new challenges head on. And, like our youth, we will meet these challenges with determination, preparation, and, of course, hope.

Today, as I walk the halls of our small, yet mighty, operation at Covenant House Illinois – watching our staff and youth interact, seeing young men and women seeking and finding self-improvement, chatting with volunteers who’ve come to share their time and passion with us – I hear the whispers of hope all around me, and I know that the year ahead will indeed bring much happiness.

Lauren Cartlidge