A Publication of WTVP

In my five years at South Side Mission, I’ve seen a lot of great stories unfold. I’ve learned that success is incremental and looks different to everyone, and that sometimes helping someone means adopting them. Every once in awhile, someone will ask what my favorite success story is, and that is a tough call to make…

Laura just might be the greatest success that South Side Mission has helped produce. Laura attended the Culinary Arts Training School at South Side Mission, worked hard for 12 weeks, showed up for every class, studied for tests, and had a few minor cuts and burns on graduation day to prove it. Shortly after graduating, she landed her dream job at Apple’s Bakery. Now baking (BAKING!) for a living, helping to produce the finest line of gluten-free treats in the country, all while caring for her four children, gives her a well-deserved, and somewhat unfamiliar, sense of accomplishment.

But, I did say that success is incremental. Laura still lives in one of the city’s most dangerous housing projects, and still has to get up at 5am to navigate the series of busses that will get her to work by 7am, and there are days when the money still seems a little short. But the remarkable difference between 2010 and 2009 is that today, Laura has hope. And a future.

Perhaps Chase is the greatest success story of South Side Mission. Chase began in the youth programs of the Mission as a young teenager. The afterschool tutoring and clubs that were designed to support academics and prevent gang involvement might have accomplished both. Or, perhaps it was Chase’s own resolve to live a life that was different from the neighbor kids who inevitably ended up shot or in jail. No matter, really. South Side Mission stood in the gap to either will the good decisions or support the good decisions. In many cases, it really is a moot point. Consider the age-old question:
Q: What came first? The chicken or the egg?
A: Who cares? Let’s eat!

Indeed! After completing his high school career with honors, Chase began attending Illinois Central College with an eye toward enrolling in the University of Illinois. Now in his second semester at the Peoria campus of U of I, he intends to graduate in 2012 with a bachelor’s of business administration degree.

But success looks different to everyone. Chase still lives in one of the poorest areas in America, works too many hours for too little money and couch-surfs most nights. But he is successfully different. Chase has plans for a prosperous future.

You know what? I think I know the best story of all—Jackie. Jackie came into my life the day I started at South Side Mission. A native New Yorker, complete with a thick accent, and Summa Cum Laude graduate of Columbia University, Jackie was the perfect addition to the administrative team of South Side Mission. We were her “sunset career,” she having already completed a lifetime of working for an enormous communications company. (Yes, that one.)

When she took her seat at the reception desk of the Mission, there was no doubt about who was in charge. All business, but with a kindness interwoven, she was the matron saint over the kids in the youth programs, children in the preschool, ladies in the shelter, and lost souls who occasionally wandered in for food or help. Also the voice of reason to the staff, she spoke with a pragmatic experience that few of us had ever seen. She once had lox and bagels flown in from Manhattan so that we would know a real bagel. Extravagant with her love, she made it known that we all belonged to her. Because we did.

You see, Jackie came to us by way of the shelter. She lived with us for over a year while she got her feet back under her, and after she recovered herself, she rented a little house in the neighborhood and joined our staff. I hope that you have all had the chance to work with a Jackie, just a snappy miracle of God who makes every day brighter by her election to participate.

Jackie was an Ivy League graduate, and she was tapped to speak to her 50th class reunion, at The Plaza of all places. I was anxious to hear the stories she would tell them, about a life that was very different from theirs, but perhaps richer.

Sadly, Jackie suffered a stroke the night before her flight departed. She entered a nursing home straight from the hospital, and never left. Three months later, we held a memorial service for her in our chapel, which was attended by us, her only family.

We strive to intervene in the lives of the poor and to change the hearts of those we serve. And we do. Story after story and life after life bears witness to the difference that South Side Mission makes. And those are the same people who change the Mission, keeping it young and vibrant. Ready to change the story of a single mom, the heritage of a young man with potential, and write a new ending for a nice old lady who just needed a family.

Three people. Three stories. All successes. iBi