Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Anna and Diamond | A Tutor Story

When Anna and Diamond started working together six years ago, Anna devised a simple but effective tool for motivating Diamond: stickers.

“She loved stickers,” Anna says.

The two laugh as they remember the binder Diamond covered with all of the stickers she earned for things like writing down her assignments.

Although she still has that binder today, Diamond says stickers aren’t quite the motivator that they used to be. “Don’t get me stickers now,” she jokes.

Her love for stickers isn’t the only thing that has changed. Six years ago, Diamond was a shy sixth-grader who hated books. Today, she is an outgoing high school student in Senn’s theater program, and she cites reading as one of her favorite hobbies—thanks, in part, to Anna.

The relationship between Anna and Diamond has evolved, too, from that of tutor-tutee, to that of friends.

“It’s just interesting the way it’s changed so much,” Anna says, explaining that early on, the pair focused more on skill-building, like multiplication and reading. Now, though, Diamond is able to complete most of her assignments on her own.  “So we just talk about things,” Anna says. “It’s just more of a relationship that way.”

Their relationship extends outside of their weekly tutoring sessions, with Anna frequently attending Diamond’s theater performances, such as Our Town. The two also enjoy spending time together baking cookies and apple pie, a hobby Anna introduced to Diamond. Diamond has also taken advantage of Family Matters programming other than tutoring, such as the Teen Girls program and weekly piano lessons. “I have so many memories from here,” she says.

Yet both agree that their friendship is one of the main reasons they return to evening tutoring year after year.

“It’s just Diamond,” Anna says. “Just the relationship that we have.”

“I agree,” says Diamond.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Gretchen and Arin | A Tutor Story

In 2006, Gretchen signed on to idealist.org, looking for an opportunity to tutor in the Chicago area. She had no idea that, almost a decade later, she would still be riding the train to Family Matters every Thursday evening. 

For Gretchen, Family Matters is more than just a tutoring organization. It is a community, the source of numerous new friendships, and a place that has felt like “home” for nine years.

It is also the spot that has given Gretchen the opportunity to get to know Arin, a sixth-grader at St. Mary of the Lake who Gretchen describes as smart, hard-working—and just a little bit sarcastic. In the four years that Gretchen has been tutoring Arin, the pair has worked on everything from vocabulary words to science experiments. Gretchen has been impressed by the breadth of Arin’s intelligence, her analytical skills, and her willingness to learn.

But it’s the time that Gretchen and Arin have spent just hanging out that Gretchen has enjoyed the most. Gretchen constantly shows up to Family Matters with something new in her bag: Boggle, art supplies, the ingredients to make homemade biscuits. Arin says she likes working with Gretchen because of her fun personality and sense of humor. Gretchen similarly appreciates how much Arin makes her laugh.

“I just really like working with Arin,” she says, explaining that her reason for tutoring is pretty simple: “It makes me feel happy.”

And although Gretchen has seen a lot of exciting developments over her nine years at Family Matters, her favorite thing about Family Matters is that it still feels like the same place she found on idealist.org nine years ago. “It’s a home, it’s a community, and that hasn’t changed.”

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Faces of Family Matters | Part 2

"I don't have time. I don't have time, and I thank God for this program. I work very far away, and Ashaki [the Teen Girls Director] supports me very much. Every year since my girls started coming to Family Matters in 2011, we have had new coats, new gloves. We had just left the shelter, and I couldn't take my girls many places.

Through Family Matters they did a lot of things I can't provide myself, like trips to Indiana and Chuck E Cheese. One day my daughter Heidy was jumped at the park after school. Ashaki took her in like her own child - she went to the police, talked to the principal and the teacher,she even sent me a text message and said, 'Don't worry.' I thought, 'My kids just moved from Africa where we have civil war, and now my daughter is traumatized because she was beaten in front of her friends.'

Being a member of the board has been a good experience for me because I can talk with people of means. They are very humble, and they support this program, and I'm very proud of how much I've learned. I'm the kind of person who is open, and this has opened my mind too because I have learned how to talk, how to be a part of meetings. I have learned how to be a leader, how to talk with others, how to share my mind, how to deal with different kinds of people.

The last Family Matters gala was my first time going out in Chicago at night. That day I said, 'I'm in the US now.'"

Megan: "It's always a pleasure working with Enrique. The place is set up to really support the pairs in tutoring or whatever program it might be - you don't feel like you're just left to your own devices, there's a lot of good support there."

Enrique: "Megan is really helpful, she encourages me to do things, she gets me involved in programs at school that I don't really know about, she takes her time with me, it's a lot that she does for me. I couldn't have gotten into Lake View [High School] without Megan's help."

"Family Matters has changed me in a lot of ways. I've learned many things - how to be a better person, a better worker, a better friend, and basically a better self. I wasn't trying hard enough and Family Matters gave me that push to try harder. They inspired me to keep going and never give up. I'm very proud that I took the time to be here and hang out with the youth and the people my age as well. I've learned how to deal with a set of different people. We get a better understanding every time we come together.

[Family Matters] is like a second home for me. A place of peace, a place I come to when I need things, when I need to get my work done, and other good things like that. It spreads my talents, shows my weaknesses, and helps me improve on them to make them not weaknesses but strengths."

Monday, December 15, 2014

Megan and Enrique | A Tutor Story

When Enrique, a high school sophomore, first met Megan, she struck him immediately as someone who could offer him “a lot of help” with his schoolwork.
            He was right.
            Over the last three years, Megan and Enrique have used their weekly tutoring sessions to tackle a range of projects including bringing up Enrique’s algebra grades, improving his punctuation skills, and learning new vocabulary words. For a recent English project, Enrique was required to memorize and perform at least 14 lines of a Shakespearean sonnet. The idea of making eye contact while delivering his lines made Enrique nervous, so the pair drew pictures of peoples’ faces and hung them around their tutoring room. Delivering his lines to this “audience” over multiple tutoring sessions paid off: Enrique earned over 100% on the project.
            Megan, who works in Northwestern’s media relations department, says that she enjoys tutoring Enrique in part because of his pleasant personality and intelligence. She also credits Family Matters with providing an environment that supports tutoring pairs. “You don’t feel like you’re left to your own devices,” she explains.

            Beyond schoolwork, Megan also encourages Enrique to try out new activities at school. Last year, he participated in volleyball. This year, she has urged him to learn about his school’s drama program since he enjoyed performing the sonnet for his English class. “She takes her time with me,” Enrique says. “It’s a lot that she does for me.”
And though Megan is quick to deny it, Enrique insists he could not have gotten into his high school without her help. During his eighth grade year, he sat down with Megan and Keri, the evening tutoring coordinator, to discuss the high school he wanted to attend. He was attracted to Lake View for multiple reasons—they had a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program, offered art classes, and of course, they didn’t require students to wear uniforms. As part of Enrique’s application, he had to write an essay about the neighborhood in which he grew up. Megan prompted Enrique to think about different details he could include in his essay and assisted him in organizing his thoughts into an outline. When he found out he was accepted into Lake View, Enrique “just felt so happy.”

            This year, the pair’s goal is to continue working on essays and writing thesis statements, a skill that will no doubt come in handy when Enrique eventually starts applying to colleges.  Although he doesn’t really like to think too much about the future, he says he might like to become an artist, or maybe a photographer. He also likes to sing and wants to travel the world. In the meantime, though, he’s focused on getting through the next few years of high school—and he's grateful to have Megan's help along the way.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Faces of Family Matters | Part 1

"Growing up, violence was a big thing in this community, and still is to this day. Walking home from school, in the park we saw crazy things, and we could come to Family Matters and talk about what we'd seen. One girl came to programing one day and shared that she had just seen a man pull out a belt and start beating his girlfriend in the park. That was the day we started talking about domestic violence. Every girl had something to share about something she'd seen or had heard or had happened in her family. We were so young and knew so much about rape, about domestic violence. Children shouldn't see that at a young age. Being a young teen in this area, you see and experience so many things.

I thank God every day for Family Matters - to have had somewhere to come to be safe."

"I love coming to Family Matters. I feel safe here. I learn about ways to solve
conflicts and I have fun. I wish I could come to Family Matters every day, even
on the weekends. I learn something new here every day. "

"Besides the smell of the house (good smells, like books) I remember feeling very safe and peaceful at the Family Matters house back on Ashland street. I remember just going in the attic and looking out through the small window and reading books. As a recent immigrant family, when we came to Family Matters, my parents were not aware of the school system, nor anything in this country, and Family Matters became a resource to them.aware of the school system, nor anything in this country, and Family Matters became a resource to them. They were not only helping me academically, but also supporting my family.

I volunteer at Family Matters because I think there's a need in our communities for these types of organizations that support our youth, who are our future leaders. If there is no guidance or enlightenment during our formation years we will become lost adults. I want to feel and be part of a better society."

Monday, December 1, 2014

I Am A Witness

I have been interning at Family Matters for the past 10 weeks. During my time here I have worked in administration and with the Teen Girls Program (TGP). I have witnessed the girls plan and execute workshops and projects, among many other things. The TGP Open Mic, the girls’ most recent initiative, allowed the girls to not only showcase their creativity and talent, but also presented them with the opportunity to direct and produce their own show. The teen girls were responsible for every aspect of the show ranging from decorations to refreshments to performances. I witnessed the girls navigate challenges during rehearsals as well as on opening night. 

At the TGP Open Mic event I witnessed community members come out and support the girls and the community they live in. I also witnessed a passerbyer drop in and take hold of the entire audience with her words and spirit. While the passerbyer and her performance were sensational, the act was also a testament to the Teen Girls Program, and the entire Family Matters, being a safe place for the participants as well as the larger community. So many times I have witnessed the girls do things that are so minuscule in their eyes, but for me as a newcomer, their impact is more obvious than ever. They created a space for people to share their deepest emotions through spoken word, singing, drumming, and any other medium of their choice. In doing so the girls ignored the limits of comfort zones and created a space where everyone felt both welcomed and comfortable.

Other golden moments of the night occurred every time the girls leaned on each for assistance. Instead of running to the program director or one of the interns, the girls went to each other when they had a question or looked for suggestions. They were solely self-sufficient. While the audience got to witness the girls’ hard work and creativity come to life, there was so much more going on. The night was certainly something to witness.  Although my days as an intern are few, it brings me comfort to know the teen girls program is constantly growing and the girls are molding themselves into the young women they want to be and know they can be with the support of the program director, the community and one another. 

Family Matters and the Teen Girls Program have had a lasting impact on me and I am so thankful I was given the chance to learn and grow with and from them. They are truly amazing inside and out, back and forth, up and down... generally all around. 

Raven Johnson 
Northwestern University

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Volcano Explosion!

Hi, my name is Axel. I’m nine years old. I have been coming to tutoring at Family Matters for two years. I come two times a week and I work on reading with my tutors. This summer, I came to Family Matters on Wednesdays and Fridays. My tutor and I made a volcano. We made this because we read about it in a book. The book was That Crazy Eddie and the Science Project of Doom by Judy Cox.  It’s a chapter book. I read the book at tutoring and at home.

The book is about two friends, Matt and Eddie. They heard in their school about a science project competition. (A competition is like a battle or a contest.) Matt wanted to win the contest because the prize was a fifty-dollar gift card. He wanted to buy himself a skateboard. Matt asked his best friend Eddie to be his partner.  Eddie said “yeah, sure” because Eddie’s dad was a scientist. Eddie had a lot of good ideas about science projects.

Eddie decided he and Matt were going to make a volcano that would erupt.  While they were working on the project, they got in a fight.  Matt had to stay home from school one day because his stomach felt weird. When he got back to school, other kids made fun of him. Matt found out that Eddie told the other kids Matt was sick. So, Matt was mad at Eddie. They only had one day before the contest, and their project wasn’t finished. 

That day, Matt’s little sister climbed on their roof because she wanted to play with their cat, Mittens, who was up there. Matt’s mom was gone. Matt was scared. Matt ran down the street to Eddie’s house and told Eddie.  He wanted Eddie to help him. Eddie helped Matt get his sister off the roof.  Eddie’s sister said that they should be friends and enter the contest. They decided to finish their project that night.

They did the contest, and they lost. They got third place. Matt didn’t win the money to buy the skateboard. Matt felt kind of sad. He also felt kind of happy because he decided that having his friend back was more important than getting the skateboard.

I liked this book because I liked reading about the volcano. And I liked that Matt and Eddie stayed friends and worked things out and they helped Matt’s sister get down from the roof. 

After the last chapter, there is a section called “How to Make a Volcano That Really Erupts.” My tutor and I read it together and we found out what tools we needed to make a volcano. I brought some things from my house, like a cardboard box, flour, and 2 dinosaurs (for decoration). 

It took three days to make the volcano. On the first day, we got an empty Pepsi bottle and put masking tape from the mouth of the bottle all the way down. Then we put newspaper into warm water and flour to put around the tape. We had to measure the exact amount of flour and water we needed.  Then we let it dry. The next tutoring session, we painted it.  

The next tutoring session, we used baking soda, vinegar, dishwashing liquid, and red food coloring to make it erupt. We used a funnel to pour everything in. After we poured everything in, we waited. Nothing happened. We tried again and nothing happened.

We decided maybe it didn’t work because the baking soda was expired. We walked across the street to the store and got more baking soda. Then we poured everything in again. Then nothing happened again. The next time, we poured in a lot more vinegar than the directions said, until it exploded. 

I loved it when it exploded! I liked making the volcano, too. Next time, I want to put more red food coloring in it so that it would be more red.