Since it opened at the start of this year, East Garfield Park’s Above and Beyond Family Recovery Center has been trying to do more than help community members overcome addiction.
Dan Hostetler, the center’s Executive Director, said that they also wanted to make sure their clients have the tools they need to rebuild their lives. That’s why they work to help them find housing and jobs. On Oct. 7, they brought together all the organizations they work with for their first housing and employment fair.
The event was open to the center’s clients and anyone from the community that happened to walk through the door. Those who came in were able to talk with representatives of non-profit organizations, businesses, and city and state agencies. They also received information about resources they can access, free medical tests and job applications.
The event also provided an opportunity for numerous community organizations to network and discuss potential collaboration. The crowds varied throughout the day, but overall, the center officials said they were happy with the turnout.
Above and Beyond was created with the goal of providing addiction recovery treatment that fits their clients’ specific needs. It offers group therapy, individual counseling, art therapy, treatment for trauma, help with finding housing and a job-training program.
“They are going to get interviewing skills, presentation skills,” said Siri Hibbler, Above and Beyond’s director of housing and workforce development, of the five-week program . “We are going to prepare their resumes. They are going to create portfolios both for their careers and their lives.”
Hobbler said the organization also helps connect clients with employers that offer entry-level work, where criminal records or lack of experience aren’t obstacles.
“We try to work with organizations that have programs that hire ex-offenders,” Hibbler said.
Hostetler said that the center also offers free breakfasts and lunches to its clients, thanks to donations from Panera Bread and Zero Percent, a Chicago-based start-up that specializes in collecting food that would otherwise go to waste.
He said that the center provides support to each client for three years, checking with them regularly.
All of the center’s programs are available to anyone who needs them, regardless of their ability to pay, he noted.
“We provide services for people who have no other alternatives,” Hostetler said.
The center is currently funded by founder Bryan Cressey, but it is trying to become financially self-sufficient. Hostetler said that it recently got approved for Medicaid, which should help.
The Oct. 7 fair was the brainchild of Renee Jones, the center’s outreach director Hosteter said that when the center started accepting clients it didn’t get a lot of traffic. Jones went out to schools, homeless shelters, prisons and hospitals to get the word out. Hosteter credited Jones with getting the center to the point where, nine months later, it has over 5000 clients.
Jones, who spent most of her life in East Garfield Park, said that she’s been trying to help the less fortunate since she was a child, when she would volunteer with her mother in their church’s homeless assistance program. That experience, along with the experience of watching her family members struggle with addiction, inspired a career path that Jones said she follows to this day.
“As the result of volunteering, I’ve been helping people ever since to find alternatives to drugs and homelessness,” Jones said, adding that another reason she organized the fair was to help social service organizations operate outside of their individual silos.
Many of the vendors at the fair focused on health. The Greater Humboldt Park Community Diabetes Empowerment Center promoted its heart health screenings, in addition to its health and nutrition classes. The social service organization Chicago House promoted free HIV screenings. Bridgeport-based Brothers Health Collective offered on-site Hepatitis C testing and advertised its other health screening services.
Some vendors focused on jobs. Westside Health Authority promoted its job placement services while Walgreens took applications for a number of positions at its stores.
“A lot of our positions are entry-level,” said Darron Briscoe Jr, the manager of the chain’s State and Madison location. “If someone tells us they haven’t worked before or that they haven’t worked for 20 years, we’ll train them.”
Cannon & Associates recruits employees for light manufacturing, heavy manufacturing and office work in the suburbs. The company provides transportation, though the clients have to pay for it. As owner James Cannon explained, so long as applicants consistently show up on time, he’ll get them working quickly.
“I consult with companies and community-based organizations to place people in [jobs],” he said. “But I’m not a social worker. My business happens to be social work, but I’m not a social worker.”
Cannon said he doesn’t work with companies unless they pay employees at least $9.25 an hour and that those jobs lead to careers.
“These are long-term employment opportunities,” he said.
East Garfield Park based Breakthrough not only works to provide housing to the homeless individuals, but offers medical care, mental health support, employment training and access to nutritious food. Illinois Department of Human Services representative talked about the many forms of assistance her department offered while the Chicago Commission on Human Relations representatives educated visitors about what kind of discrimination is illegal and how to file complaints.
Inspiration Corporation, the organization behind East Garfield Park’s Inspiration Kitchen, was promoting its job training programs. Lark Jackson, the organization’s career specialist, said that it offers more than just culinary training. Molina Healthcare, the Medicaid expansion program, not only advertised its health insurance plans, but donated bags of food that anyone who came to the center could pick up.
“We’re passing out canned goods, fruits, a box of macaroni, corn bread,” explained Staci Diggs, Molina’s Community Engagement Specialist.
The Legal Assistance Foundation was at the fair as part of its West Side outreach.
“We provide free legal services,” said Kulsum Ameji, the organization’s Community Engagement Attorney. “I’m here because we want to build better relations in East Garfield Park.”
Other organizations that were present in the fair included the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army.