January 17, 2013 - Leave a Response


Loyola Journalism Research Methods Sustainability Survey




1. How aware are you of Loyola’s sustainability efforts
Unaware 5 5%
Slightly aware 24 23%
Moderately aware 47 45%
Very aware 19 18%
Extremely aware 10 10%
People may select more than one checkbox, so percentages may add up to more than 100%.
2. How often do you practice enviromental sustainability?
Never 2 2%
Rarely 18 17%
Occasionally 32 30%
Often 41 39%
Always 11 10%
People may select more than one checkbox, so percentages may add up to more than 100%.
3. What specific actions do you take?
Recycling 82 78%
Reusable water bottle 79 75%
Composting 6 6%
Public transportation 91 87%
Campus shuttle 87 83%
Cycling 20 19%
Walking 86 82%
Conserving electricity 60 57%
Reusable bags 59 56%
Conserving water 43 41%
Other 3 3%
People may select more than one checkbox, so percentages may add up to more than 100%.
4. What’s your stance on Loyola’s ban on the sale of plastic water bottles?
Unaware 5 5%
Neutral 11 10%
Don’t Care 7 7%
Support 60 57%
Oppose 21 20%
People may select more than one checkbox, so percentages may add up to more than 100%.
5. How often do you use reusable water bottles and the water filling stations?
Never 7 7%
Rarely 15 14%
Occasionally 20 19%
Often 26 25%
Always 37 35%
People may select more than one checkbox, so percentages may add up to more than 100%.
6. Are you aware that campus shuttle engines are to remain off until five minutes before departure?
Yes 36 34%
No 69 66%
People may select more than one checkbox, so percentages may add up to more than 100%.
7. How do you feel about the policy?
Neutral 20 19%
Don’t Care 12 11%
Support 68 65%
Oppose 5 5%
People may select more than one checkbox, so percentages may add up to more than 100%.
8. Are you aware that the fuel used for some campus shuttle buses is made from grease used in the dining halls?
Yes 69 66%
No 36 34%
People may select more than one checkbox, so percentages may add up to more than 100%.
9. How important is it to you that Loyola has incorporated sustainability efforts as part of its mission?
Not important 5 5%
Slightly important 12 11%
Moderately important 16 15%
Important 35 33%
Very Important 37 35%
People may select more than one checkbox, so percentages may add up to more than 100%.
10. What is your gender?
Male 40 38%
Female 65 62%
People may select more than one checkbox, so percentages may add up to more than 100%.
11. What year of school are you in?
Freshmen 11 10%
Sophomore 17 16%
Junior 36 34%
Senior 37 35%
Graduate school 4 4%
People may select more than one checkbox, so percentages may add up to more than 100%.
Number of daily responses

Bracelets fight breast cancer

December 16, 2011 - Leave a Response

By Michael Coyne

Breast cancer is far too common.

A trend that aims to combat this malady is also becoming more common. They’re one-inch rubber bracelets with a simple message: “I (heart) boobies.”

Especially during the month of October, the bracelets have virtually caught fire, appearing on wrists from schoolyards to CTA stops to offices.

“I wear it for my grandmother,” said Jess Williams, 18. “She passed away a few years back, but she had a long fight with breast cancer.” Williams added that her grandmother had to undergo a mastectomy while she was still alive.

An image of some of the bracelets available from the Keep-a-Breast Foundation. The KAB website offers the bracelets from $2.79. (Image courtesy keep-a-breast.org)

Kimmy McAtee, 28, a spokeswoman for the Keep A Breast Foundation, the company behind the popular but slightly controversial bracelets, notes that her grandmother, grandfather, and mother were all affected by breast cancer.

“We’re all touched by breast cancer in some way,” she said in a phone call from the company’s headquarters in Carlsbad, Calif.

“One in eight women are diagnosed,” McAtee said. “Someone dies of breast cancer every 14 seconds.”

Here in Chicago, it’s virtually impossible to get on an L train without seeing at least one of the bracelets.

“I don’t have a lot of money to donate to charities and stuff,” said Keisha Johnston, 21. “My big sister had [breast cancer], so I guess I wear it for her, but it’s more about taking a stand against something that causes a lot of pain,” Johnston said.

“Keep A breast is a grassroots organization,” McAtee said. “We didn’t even have employees until about three years ago.”

McAtee credits the work of young people for the rapid nationwide expansion of the campaign.

“We educate young people,” she said, adding that Keep A Breast is a “youth-based organization.”

“We try to say [that our volunteers should be] 16 to give a full day,” McAtee said. “But we’ll get people doing fundraisers at 13 and they’ll raise $6,000.”

The concern isn’t limited to women, however. An estimated 1 in 1,000 men will get breast cancer, including people as well known as ex-KISS drummer Peter Criss, who has since begun his own fight to raise awareness about the condition. “About 1-2 percent of cases [will be men],” McAtee said. “But men’s breast cancer is found later and has a higher mortality rate, mostly because men just don’t know to look.” She notes that men should examine themselves, just as women are expected to, and everyone should make an effort to live a healthier life.

“We have a campaign called the ‘Nontoxic Revolution,’” McAtee said. “In fact, in Chicago, Shepard Fairey artwork was put up [as part of our campaign].” McAtee notes that everyday products like household cleaners can increase risk of cancer. “It’s really knowing what you’re using, what you’re spraying,” she said.

“There are these things called estrogen mimickers that can cause cancer,” she said. “There are a few simple things [to reduce your risk]: obesity is a risk for all cancers… getting exercise because your lymph nodes don’t flush out naturally, so you have to actually sweat to cleanse your toxins,” she said.

“I think my school tried to ban them for a while,” said Maya Jackson, 17. “Honestly, I kept wearing it anyway. They got so popular that, if there was a ban, it’s gone now.”

Jackson’s experience is not all that uncommon.

“The resistance is not against the bracelets as a whole, so resistance comes from not knowing who we are,” McAtee said. The Keep A Breast Foundation’s website has actually had to make a blog post noting that some schools are banning the bracelets as “distracting” or “inappropriate.” McAtee noted that, once the mission of Keep A Breast becomes more widely known, the bans seem to disappear.

McAtee emphasizes that the point of it all is awareness. “We really do believe that the choices young people make affect their lives.”

Chicago LGBTQ homeless youth

December 15, 2011 - Leave a Response

By Raven Icaza

Young people who face homelessness have few resources to rely on in Chicago.  Patricia Posey, who left home when she was just 17, describes Teen Living Programs, a housing and support program that works with homeless youth as “the day that changed my life.”

“She was living with her mother, she got into repeated conflicts over her sexuality, and she left home.  She seemed to have been couch surfing and she was referred to us by a social worker at school,” explained Michelle Goldberg, development coordinator at Teen Living Programs.

Posey is just one of the many young people who experience homelessness because of their sexual orientation.  Some parents who do not accept their child’s sexual orientation force the individual to leave home, or they choose to leave because of harassment at school or in their community.

In Chicago, 10,000-11,000 “unaccompanied youth” from ages 14 to 21 made up 11 percent of the homeless population in the past year, according to a Chicago Coalition for the Homeless analysis.  Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer youth make up 20 to 40 percent of that population.

Beth Cunningham, staff lawyer at CCH, finds LGBTQ homeless youth rates and statistics difficult to pin down.

“It’s a tough population to capture.  I’ve heard numbers like 40 percent, but that’s anecdotal,” Cunningham said.  She explained, however, that anecdotal numbers give the “best estimate” in this situation.

“Between 40 to 50 percent of our youth at any given time identify as LGBT, and unfortunately that is the reason a lot of the times they are facing homelessness” Goldberg said.  “Their families don’t accept it, they don’t feel they have a home in their community—that they are being accepted, and that comes, unfortunately with physical abuse, emotional abuse.”

Despite the growing urge for acceptance, campaigned by many politicians and celebrities like Lady Gaga, and the various anti-bullying programs that have become part of public school curriculums, youth who identify as LGBTQ experience homelessness at a rate much higher than heterosexual youth.  Individuals are also choosing to “come out” at younger ages.

“It has been a consistent challenge, and what we’ve been seeing is seeing them much more sooner,” explained Brian Richardson, director of public affairs at the Center on Halsted, a resource center for the LGBTQ community.

Alexis Allegra, associate director of residential programs at Teen Living Programs, confirms the static nature of LGBTQ youth homelessness.

“I think this is a consistent problem and it is not something I have seen drastically change one way or another over the six years I have worked here,” Allegra said.

The struggles faced by LGBTQ youth include sexual and physical harassment, as well as stigmatization at school and home, leading them to run away.

“Youth have either been kicked out of their parental homes or have chosen to leave because of the harsh criticism and intolerance they experience,” Allegra said.

“It’s not just living on the street,” Goldberg explained.  “In our eyes, it’s not having a stable home to live in.  A lot of the youth we reach out to may not be able to live at home because their parents don’t accept their sexuality and they might live at a friend’s house.  They might couch surf– they might stay on the CTA one night, and then go to another friend’s house.”

Only 209 beds are available to homeless youth in Chicago.  According to Cunningham, cuts in state funding have lead to a drop in resources and services made available to these individuals.

While housing and outreach organizations like Teen Living Programs and Center on Halsted continue to offer assistance, there is still a need for resources available to LGBTQ youth.   Teen Living Program’s Bronzeville Youth Shelter, for instance, has only four beds available for ages 14 to 17.

“It’s more temporary for a lot of runaways that are referred to us by the police department, by the [Illinois] Department of Children and Family Services, and they stay with us between a few hours to two weeks,” Goldberg said.

Teen Living Programs also has Belfort House, a transitional living unit of 24 beds for ages 17 to 23.  Here, they stay an average of six months, but can stay up to 18 months as needed.  The youth are provided with educational and vocational resources, as well as health assessments.

“It’s a very loving, accepting community.  I think because they have other people they can identify with, and staff and case managers who support them and their decisions,” Goldberg said.

Programs like Teen Living Programs helped secure a strong future for Posey, who has since graduated from high school and obtained a job.

“They have struggled so much with loved ones who don’t accept them that what we see are young people we are proud and confident in,” Allegra said. “They are resilient and unbelievably strong.”

Toys for Tots brightens holidays

December 9, 2011 - Leave a Response

By Liz Smaragdis

As people prepare for the holiday season, many are trying to crunch the numbers in their budget. Making room for the holiday parties, dinners and gift giving can be overwhelming for anyone’s budget. Despite this, many people are also making room to give a charitable gift this year.

Toys for Tots coordinator Staff Sgt. Enrique Quintannar said he is seeing greater need this year, but also greater charity as well.

“We are definitely seeing more requests for toys this year,” Quintannar said. “But we are also seeing more donations. People are really stepping it up.”

According to a poll conducted by Harris International for World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization, four out of five Americans said they plan to give a meaningful gift that helps someone this year and roughly 75 percent of Americans plan to increase their charitable giving when the economy improves.

Quintannar, 32, has been involved with Toys for Tots for four years and is now serving as a coordinator for the organization this year.

“I was really excited to be placed in this leadership role this year. It is a lot more work than I thought but it is really rewarding to know that we are making a difference in the lives of many kids,” Quintannar said.

In its most recent count, 10,000 toys have already been collected in Chicago. While this is a great start, Toys for Tots is still in need of many more toys.  According to Quintannar, all types of toys are valuable including low cost toys.

“Last year we had around 30,000 children and this year we are expecting more,” Quintannar said.

Since Toys for Tots started taking requests for toys in October, Quinntannar estimates that it has received 500 requests, and they are still steadily flowing in.

“Each family fills out one request so there could be multiple children on each form. There is an overwhelming number of people requesting toys,” Quintannar said.

Collecting enough toys around Chicago is made possible by organizations around the city setting up collection boxes.  According to Lynne Pertersen of All Saints Church in Uptown, her church started setting up a donation collection box two years ago for Toys for Tots.

“We were already working with the VA hospital and this just seemed like another great way to work with our Marines,” Petersen said.

The American Medical Association has been collecting donations since 2006 for Toys for Tots. According to Delores Hill a human resources representative, the American Medical Association enjoys collecting toys for Toys for Tots.

“We have already filled up two boxes with toys and expect many more,” Hill said.

Toys are collected by the volunteer drop off spots and then brought to the local headquarter warehouse on Foster Avenue in Lincoln Square where they are separated and distributed to those who have requested toys.

“There is a lot of work that goes into making sure each child is accounted for and that each family receives toys. We work around the clock to make this happen each year,” Quintannar said.

Toys for Tots is an important organization for communities around the United States. According to Quintanar the great thing about giving to Toys for Tots is that all the donations stay in the community.

“It’s a great way to really give back to your community,” Quintannar said. “You don’t have to give a really expensive gift either. There are some great toys out there that are inexpensive.”

To make a donation to Toys for Tots, visit their website  for more information and to locate a local drop off.

Protesters bank on credit unions

December 6, 2011 - Leave a Response

By Lindsey Herzik

Many people are upset with the bank bailouts and the new debit card fees, but instead of just complaining, people are taking action.  Occupy protesters and dissatisfied big bank customers are turning to community banks and credit unions for their banking needs resulting in a surge of new customers for these local banks.

A Teacher in America

December 3, 2011 - Leave a Response

by Michael Coyne

Nobody ever said teaching was easy.

For someone like Kevin Geist, teaching can be even more challenging. Geist, 30, teaches a work program for special education students at Morton West High School in Berwyn.

“I teach kids that have cognitive disabilities—they wouldn’t have Down Syndrome, but they’d have an IQ of between 60 and 75,” Geist said. “We teach them skills within the high school, we try to get them jobs, like delivering things, [learning to work] within an office setting, or doing like some maintenance. So that by next year, when they’re a senior, they hopefully have a job outside of the school.”

Geist has been a public school teacher for seven years. This is Geist’s second year teaching the work program.

Kevin Geist gestures to a white board at Morton West High School

Geist lives in a simple third-floor walk-up apartment in Chicago’s Edison Park Neighborhood. While his apartment could serve as a traditional bachelor pad, Geist dedicates his life more to his work.

“I’m always there before school, always there after school,” he said. “I try to go to all of their events, if they’re involved in anything. Whether it’s theater, chess… whatever they’re doing.”

Geist emphasizes that his goal is to be accessible and visible to his students as much as possible.

“A lot of these kids I teach don’t have any strong role models in their life. So I try to be that,” he said. “When I was growing up, someone from my family was always there, whatever I did. And I remember going to a basketball game [for my students] and there were almost no parents. Maybe one or two. That changes your perspective.”

The culture in Berwyn, specifically around Morton West, is not unlike that of many parts of the City of Chicago.

“It used to be predominantly Ukrainian or western European, a little bit of Italian, but now it’s predominantly Hispanic or Latino—between 65 and 72 percent. It fluctuates,” he said.

He said that many students have home lives in which parents are distant or absent, and gang culture has taken hold for some in the suburb.

For Geist, setting reasonable goals for his students, then giving them the tools to meet those goals is simply a way of life.

“We’re giving them job skills and opportunities they wouldn’t normally have gotten,” he said. “Before 1975, they would have been institutionalized.”

He acknowledged the bluntness of his assertion, but doesn’t mince words.

“The other aspect is they’re not college-bound. There are maybe one or two that could maybe do that; maybe go to a trade school or some sort of a four-year university. But generally, that’s not realistic,” he said. “So we’re giving them a realistic goal, with realistic expectations… You’re providing them with some pretty good opportunities they wouldn’t normally have gotten.”

His experience has not always been ideal, however. He looked down as he recalled one student whose mother was somewhat distant, and didn’t have a very good grasp of English.

“There were triplets [that] were older than him—they were seniors—and they knew the language,” he recalled, noting that these triplets were involved with a gang.

“School wasn’t really his thing,” Geist said. “He was a smart kid, really good basketball player, but he’d just say some of the most off-the-wall comments; the entire class would turn and kind of be like, ‘why are you talking about girls that way?’ He’d grab girls in the hallway, say things like, ‘you see that hoochie lookin’ at me?’ It was really bizarre.” Geist shook his head; “Clearly, there was something wrong, but he was doing well school-wise.”

“He ended up getting expelled because of all the inappropriateness,” Geist continued. “He was like a ticking time bomb. He showed up at meetings in gang outfits, he was wearing a rosary around his neck, which is like a gang, disrespectful thing. So it’s a clear sign that he was involved in something.”

Since 2008, many police units across the country have used rosaries, displayed abnormally, as indicators of gang affiliation or activity. Geist emphasized that this student had long since fallen from his academic high point before he came to him.

“He was supposed to go to the alternative school,” he recalls. “He was crying, ‘Mr. Geist,’—first time I ever saw him show any real emotion—‘I really want to be normal,’ I was like, ‘it’s kind of too late. You needed to do this like a year ago, six months ago, or even three months ago. Now that you see the writing on the wall, you need to take responsibility.’”

As for what became of that student? “He got into the wrong group and dropped out,” Geist said. “Then last year, I saw him on the news. Him and three of his friends… gang-raped a 14-year-old girl.”

“You get to know someone and you try really hard,” he said of the efforts involved in his teaching. “You provide an environment for them to succeed; whether they take it is up to them, ultimately. I can’t make them do anything.”

Geist takes a unique approach to teaching, noting that he tries to keep his classes as positive as possible.

“I like to reward their character, hard work, encouragement,” he said. “It’s kind of my nature. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t really enjoy it.”

“I don’t like to be ‘tough,’” he said of his teaching style. “There’s respect, there’s responsible, but you can do it in a natural way. I’m not going to intimidate them; I’m not going to sit them down, in a chair and put my finger in their face,” he confessed. “If my dad or my coaches would ever do that to me, I’d stop listening after the first yell. It works once, but after that, it’s like, ‘eh…’”

Geist’s colleague, Josh Baltz, who is in his first year of teaching, has been partnered with Geist in a program in which first year teachers are paired with a “mentor teacher.”

Baltz teaches special ed students who are a level below Geist’s students, but Baltz said he takes cues from Geist. “Kevin is a great mentor teacher,” Baltz said. “He’s always positive, and I guess that’s something I try to emulate, too.”

Analyzing his relationship with Geist, Baltz calls Geist a “confidant,” and applauded his role as a mentor. Baltz said, “he’s excellent at all those things.”

Geist’s enthusiasm for his profession is palpable.

“I love it,” he said. “Not only the teaching aspect, but you get the opportunity to do other things, like I used to coach basketball, football, but now I’ve kind of changed my way of thinking and I’m getting involved with the theater program at our school, which has been awesome because you’re around kids who really care… Actually, some of those kids help tutor some of the kids in my class. It’s the giving aspect. It’s very rewarding.”

UNO Schools: Teaching for Results

November 30, 2011 - Leave a Response

Murphy prepares her classroom for the day

By Alyssa Pronley

Daniela Ibarra, a bright eyed, energetic 11 year old, doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up. But that doesn’t stop her from dreaming. She wants to go to Julliard, or maybe become a geologist or a fashion designer.

Daniela and her 27 classmates are fifth graders attending St. Mark’s UNO Charter School in Humboldt Park, the predominantly Hispanic West Side Chicago neighborhood. St. Mark’s just opened this year and has already started to change the attitudes of its students. Daniela said of her time before she got to St. Mark’s, “A lot of people thought I wasn’t that smart, but I’m like ‘I can prove it!’”

Daniela’s enthusiasm and energy is present in many of the students at St. Mark’s, a public school attached to the Catholic Church of the same name. St. Mark’s bills itself as a place where all students who need help can come to learn. Although many come from needy families or are behind their actual grade level, each student arrives ready for an equal chance to learn – in the same uniform and with the same books as everyone else.

Their teacher is Christine Murphy, 22, from Chicago. She is known to students at St. Mark’s as Miss Murphy. She is a Teach for America Corps member and part of the first group of teachers at the UNO campus in Humbolt Park. Her days start early. Before the sun is even up Murphy has her coffee in hand, lesson plans ready and a smile on her face as she heads to work.

Once at school, Murphy makes copies of worksheets for her students and sits at her desk to go over her meticulous structure for the day. Murphy knows that there are limitations in her students’ knowledge and that most of them are not learning at the level they should be. As she goes over past tests, Murphy gets excited about one of her fifth graders actually scoring at a fifth grade level.  All of Murphy’s work revolves around one goal: to bring her students’ national test scores up to that fifth grade level.

Murphy teaches in front of the class

“Some of the students are way behind, but that’s why Teach for America places us in schools with such high needs,” Murphy said.

Murphy’s class average at the beginning of this year was around 184 for the Nationwide Reading and Math Achievement Test. The national median for fifth graders is 208. UNO’s target for growth is to get each student up 5 points from where he or she scored this fall. Murphy is admittedly a bit more ambitious and would like to get her students to the point where they are best prepared for sixth grade. To do that her students would need to score around a the national average of 212 points – a 28 point jump from the current class average.

Murphy’s goal is lofty, but she points to the UNO Charter Schools’s motto: “academic success is not a hope, it is an expectation.” This is clear as Murphy constructs her lesson plans from a template given to her by UNO filled with necessary subjects fifth graders should know before moving on to sixth grade. She takes the time to split up the sections and fill in essential questions she comes up with that she wants her students to be able to answer when they graduate from her class.

UNO manages nine charter schools in Chicago and is the largest direct-service charter school management firm in Illinois, as well as one of the nation’s largest Hispanic-based charter managers. However, UNO aims to fulfill the promise of proving all children can achieve academic success, regardless of income level or ethnicity.

UNO also helps students and families bridge a gap in the American public school system’s ability to serve the Hispanic community, specifically. According to their website, they hope to operate 19 schools and serve 6,200 students nationwide by the 2016-2017 school year.

Murphy did not always want to be teacher. In fact, becoming a lawyer was her childhood dream. She was born in Boston but spent most of her years growing up in Parker, Colo., a Denver suburb. She was raised in the Jesuit tradition, attending Regis Jesuit High School before graduating from Loyola University Chicago in 2011. Her parents have always been active in volunteering and Murphy cites her background as what led her to a career path of service.

Murphy has big goals for her class, yet the reality can be tough to swallow sometimes. Murphy says sometimes her “three hour lesson plans last for one hour.” As a new teacher, she is beginning to see what keeps the students attention and what doesn’t work in class.

“I don’t have the background or experience yet, but I’m learning as fast as I can,” she said.

Murphy leads her students to music class

“In Chicago there’s a huge need for qualified teachers,” Murphy said. She notes that she is simply doing her small part to help fill that need. In addition to teaching during the day, Murphy takes classes at Dominican University towards a master’s degree in Education. “It’s a lot, which is why I don’t sleep,” she half-joked. 

A lot of Murphy’s time is also spent on home visits. She has to visit with each of her students’ families once each semester. Some of these families live in the neighborhood around the school, but, according to Murphy, many of them live in the basements or cramped back parts of the houses. Others, she says, have no home at all.

Murphy also estimates that 97-99 percent of her students are a part of the need-based free breakfast program the school provides.

Back in the classroom, Murphy starts each school day the same way: “College Scholars, let’s proceed,” she said, calling the students to attention.

“Welcome to the Class of 2023” is what students pass on their way into Miss Murphy’s classroom. Each UNO teacher uses their college alma mater as a theme in the classroom – a way to get students not only interested in college but to allow them to know that it’s a possibility for them.

Joshua Jimenez, 10, has dreams to go into the Navy or Army. He said he enjoys classes at St. Mark’s.

“Miss Murphy teaches us a lot. She teaches us what we need to know to get a good education,” he said.

For students like Daniela and Joshua, the fact that they are already college scholars tells them they can achieve their dreams, whatever they may be.

Homeless hit stride in running club

November 15, 2011 - Leave a Response

By Lindsey Herzik

Chicago running group Back on My Feet is unique in that these runners aren’t just struggling with completing that last mile, they are also struggling with being homeless. Back on My Feet is a non profit running group that aims to help homeless Chicagoans regain their footing through the power of running.

One Stitch at a Time

November 2, 2011 - Leave a Response

A washcloth knitted by one of Smith's students at Cook County Jail

By Liz Smaragdis

Jo Anne Smith teaches a knitting class each Sunday. Smith has taught hundreds of women over the last four years but her class isn’t held at a yarn shop or a local school. Every time she arrives at her class, she is required to present an identification card and goes through security including a pat down and metal detector. Smith teaches knitting at Cook County Jail.

“I was teaching social work one night a week.  I was doing mitigation work and I thought it would be really neat to come down here and volunteer. That’s why I approached the jail,” Smith said.

The knitting program,  “Changing the World One Stitch at a Time,” started out with just a few women showing up each week. By word of mouth, women at the jail learned about the program and the class quickly reached its capacity of 35 students and now has a waiting list.

Smith, 57, is a licensed social worker and has spent her entire career working in criminal justice. She currently owns a private practice and teaches social work at Governors State University, in University Park, IL.

While Smith is an avid knitter, her class is much more than just learning how to knit. During the 3.5-hour class, Smith is able to talk with the women and counsel them on how to deal with issues they may have.

“It’s about finding their voice and finding their ability to do something productive,” she said.

According to Smith, a lot of the women are mothers or are pregnant and like to knit things for their children.

“What they really like is they tell me what they want to make, for example, a pink baby blanket for my baby. And then I can go down and get really nice yarn and needles. And that builds their self-esteem too because they’re choosing it they’re picking what they want to make and they make beautiful stuff,” she said.

Smith said that she enjoys working with the women at Cook County Jail.

“ I learn so much from them. I’m a social worker and a therapist. Just being able to talk to them about their lives and their struggles. It really helps me in the work that I do.”

Whenever one of the students leave the jail Smith gives each woman who participated in her program a certificate of completion. She also mails them a box filled with yarn, knitting needles, and projects that were finished in jail.

Denise Johnson was in Smith’s class for about four months and knitted potholders.

“Miss Jo Anne taught me a lot of patience and always told me that I could do this. I enjoyed it very much and the class is very important because it relieves a lot of stress,” Johnson said.

While Smith receives donations for her program she pays out-of-pocket for most of the program expenses.

“I don’t mind spending money on the yarn and materials because I know exactly where my money is going. It doesn’t go to overhead costs it goes straight to the cause,” she said.

Local yarn store, Loopy Yarns, sells yarn at cost to Smith for the program. Storeowner Vicki Sayre said the accomplishment of completing a knitting project is beneficial for anyone.

“When you finish a knitting project you feel so proud-even people like lawyers feel the accomplishment. There is just something about knitting and creating that makes you feel good,” Sayre said.

While Smith’s program has received support from the community, it has also received criticism. Some people have told Smith that these women in jail should not have fun and they shouldn’t be receiving help. Smith always tries to convince people otherwise.

“We can never say never-it could be you in jail. You can be in the wrong place at the wrong time. These women can come back to the community and be very productive,” Smith said.

Smith has big dreams for her program. She hopes to write grants and get enough money to hire them and teach knitting to others in recovery homes.

“There are a lot of women and men that could benefit from learning how to knit and build their self esteems” Smith said, “and learn to relax and learn to deal with their anger management issues.”

Co-op houses community activists

October 18, 2011 - Leave a Response

Co-op residents enjoy a potluck dinner every Tuesday.

By Sophia Bairaktaris

The aroma of dinner in the oven wafts through the kitchen and dining room. Someone rings a bell to call everyone to eat.

Residents make their way downstairs, and guests holding their potluck dishes are welcomed inside for the weekly Tuesday night get-together.

Dishes and spoons clank, and dinner is served.

Stone Soup Cooperative houses social justice activists in a not-for-profit intentional community, a household whose members share responsibilities and partake in consensus decision-making. Three houses make up the cooperative: Ashland House, Leland House and Hoyne House.

Ashland House resident Kevin Hovey, 27, said the co-op is a big “loose-knit family” pursuing the community motto, “justice and joy.”

“We get together around this big table and its like cousins and sometimes brothers and sisters,” Hovey said. “We live together and we’re friends.”

Currently, 19 people, including families with children, live at the Ashland House located at 4637 N. Ashland Ave. in the Chicago Uptown neighborhood.

The building is a former convent, leased since 1997 from Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, according to the co-op Web site, stonesoupcoop.org. While the building is a former convent, Stone Soup does not identify with any particular faith or religion.

While much of the housework and household is shared among members and the living costs are split, Stone Soup is not a commune. Each member or family has their own private room and members are employed outside the home, most with jobs and careers geared toward social justice activism.

Leland House, just a couple of blocks away, is located at 1430 W. Leland Ave. Hoyne House in the McKinley Park neighborhood is located at 3549 S. Hoyne Ave. Ashland House is the largest of the three, with three floors and much communal space.

Hovey, who has lived at Ashland House for a year, is a North Lawndale Green Youth Farm grower within the Chicago Botanic Garden. He works as a site garden manager who teaches youth about urban sustainable agriculture.

Instead of working as a certified nursing assistant as he was trained to do, Hovey turned to his other skills and interests in agriculture. He has found himself in various types agricultural work around the country before settling in Chicago.

“It paid very, very little, but I thought it was a better contribution than what I had seen in the lower level medical field,” Hovey said.

The $515 rent per month at the Ashland House includes food and utilities, so residents are able to more easily take on activist jobs and roles in the community that do not always pay so well, Hovey said.

The intentional community lifestyle at Stone Soup attracts many different people from various backgrounds and lines of work.

Alexandra Sossa, 41, has lived at Ashland House since 2003. She is the director of outreach and operations at the Farmworker and Landscaper Advocacy Project (FLAP) of Illinois, a not-for-profit law firm for migrant and undocumented workers.

“We go to the farms, we go to the nurseries, we go to the landscaping companies, to the streets and we speak to the workers,” she said. “I am the one who finds the cases for the organizations, the cases we will eventually litigate.”

Sossa is originally from Medellin, Columbia. She received her law degree from the University of Medellin. Sossa said she came to the United States “for love” when her husband at the time was studying English at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

She moved into the Ashland House in February 2003.

“My father kind of worked in the same work that I’m doing in Columbia with the coffee farm workers,” Sossa said. “I am kind of continuing the work that was doing in Columbia. When I came here I wanted to work with social justice.”

Stone Soup’s diversity and consensus decision-making process and has helped Sossa to become more productive in her work with FLAP, she said. From just talking with other house members on issues facing her clients to using other residents’ resources to also help them, Sossa has been able to use the intentional community to FLAP’s advantage.

“I like to be around social justice workers. Also, because I’m coming from another country, it’s hard for me to live in this country by myself,” Sossa said. “I come from a big family and I like to be around people.”

Ashland House is usually bustling with activity.

Several meals, including the Tuesday potluck at Ashland House, are shared between the three houses on different days, with as little as five people and as many as 20 residents and guests.

Leland House members Morgan Nunan, 31, and his 2-month-old son, Oscar Rudderham, visited the Ashland House for a recent Tuesday potluck.

Nunan lived in the Ashland House for four years before moving into Leland with his growing family. Leland House offers more spacious individual rooms that are more suitable for families, he said.

Nunan said having a newborn baby in the co-op has been a good, yet challenging experience.

“As he gets older, others [in the house] will take more of a role helping to raise him, if they want to,” Nunan said. “I get nervous that our life with the baby is encroaching on other people’s territory.”

Living in a co-op is not for everybody, Hovey said. Every house has its own nature reflecting the people within it.

While disagreements in a house filled with people of many different walks of life can be common, that does not stop the flow of visitors interested in Stone Soup as a potential home for themselves.

Prospective co-op members often stop in for the weekly potluck dinners at Ashland House. Mary Luz Botero, 52, stopped in on a recent Tuesday to learn more about the social justice community.

Along with lending a helping hand with cooking dinner, Botero was given a tour of the house by a resident. She said the house’s identity as a former convent really inspired her to learn more.

“[Being] centered in a very sacred space is a really great thing for me,” Botero, a housekeeper, said.  “Maybe that’s why I was drawn to this place.”