Editorial Note: This is a story that was written in 2004 to tell the story of a tutor/mentor program operating out of a church on the West Side of Chicago. That church was highlighted in a 2013 CBS 48 Hours Video showing drug dealing in front of the church.
Maxine Williams was the coordinator for the FunDay School tutoring program that was operated by SunRise Missionary Baptist Church from about 2003 to 2008. We did very well for most of those years with an enrollment of more than 30 children at one time. We were connected with resources by TMC but the program became more demanding than our volunteer base could handle. Several of our alum are now in college. The program operated in a low skilled, low income, crime ridden area recently featured on a CBS national news.
The West Side of Chicago: Part of the World
Featuring the FunDay School Tutoring Program
Two police cars drive by as I stand outside the church at 10:00 on a Saturday morning, waiting to visit a tutoring program. “It’s a nice day in the neighborhood today. Some days it’s kind of scary,” Maxine tells me. But even on this “nice day,” Maxine hesitates before getting out of her car until the church is unlocked and we can go right in.
Sun Rise Missionary Baptist Church is located in West Garfield, a neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side that is known for its drug activity. Outside the church building is a worn and vandalized sign for the 4400 Van Buren Block Club, which prohibits drugs, loud music, loitering, and gambling.
The predominantly African-American congregation of 300 members is devoted to bringing hope and resources to West Garfield. As Ronnie, a deacon who also volunteers as a tutor, explained, Pastor Homer Gardner, is respected in the community; when people see him coming down the streets, they put away the drugs they are using or selling. Many of the church members grew up in the area and have moved to other parts of Chicago, but they stay in the church and come back to tutor “because [they] remember when the neighborhood wasn’t like this.”
In an effort to give today’s kids a childhood that is safe and comparable to their own, the members of Sun Rise have developed a biweekly tutoring program at the church. They have planned their sessions with the help of World Vision of Chicago who supplies support, training, and some tutoring materials to churches that desire to start tutoring and mentoring programs. They named the program the FunDay School. Every other Saturday morning, kids from the neighborhood come to FunDay School to get help with their homework or to work on basic skills like reading and math.
“I need to get serious about school now—I just been playin’. But now I’m doin’ real good. No more Ds or Fs—I’m gettin’ good grades now.” This is the first thing that Sammy, a fourth grader, says when I ask him about school. Sammy tells me excitedly that he did all of his homework on Friday afternoon. He picks up a colorful book about leprechauns and begins answering comprehension questions such as, “How would you spend a pot of gold?” He writes that he would buy an outfit and a Playstation 2, and would give the rest to the church.
After that comes spelling words. Sammy gets all the way up to the sixth grade list of words and beams with pride in how much he is learning. When he hits the seventh grade list, he switches to a history exercise and asks me who Harold Washington was. I tell him that Washington was the first African-American mayor of Chicago, and Sammy adds him to his personal list of “people who did good,” which currently includes George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Jesse Jackson. We take a break and share some cheese crackers.
The FunDay School seeks to give the kids what they need most: education and love. Maxine, one of the facilitators, often hugs the children and gives them the love that many of them need. She saw this need at a back-to-school fair and cook-out that the church put on this fall. Many children came alone, and some seven-year-olds came with their toddler siblings, whom they were taking care of. These kids also start school already behind, because their parents have not been able to teach them the basic tools they will need. Deonte is in kindergarten, and this morning Maxine is teaching him about the letter B. She sketches Bs for him to carefully trace with a thick red pencil, and asks Deonte what words begin with that sound. “Boy, bat, bug…”
At the next table sits Terrence, a tenth-grader who is now tutoring after being a former student of the tutoring program. Having grown up on the West Side, he explains, “The neighborhood got bad about three or fours years ago—people started getting killed and stealing.” Terrence now attends North Lawndale College Preparatory High School, where he got accepted on merit of his good grades. One of his classes, a Business/Entrepreneur class, recently started a successful vending machine business. Terrence’s goal after graduation is to attend Atlanta Tech and study law there, in order to “become a lawyer and defend innocent people.” Meanwhile, he is helping Sun Rise educate leaders for Chicago’s communities, and also providing a much-needed male role model for the young boys in the program.
At the end of the tutoring session, Maxine takes me on a tour of the neighborhood, pointing out the glass-strewn vacant lots that used to hold homes, apartment buildings and thriving businesses. She explains the history of the area: After the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., riots tore Chicago apart. People fled the community, leaving behind very few resources and little hope. The families who stayed on the West Side faced crowded, under-funded public schools and few services. With FunDay School, Sun Rise is one of the groups trying to resurrect the neighborhood, beginning with its youth. When I ask Maxine if she sees any hope for the community, she responds, “We are the hope.”
Maxine believes that World Vision’s program fits perfectly with its overall vision statement. “World Vision seeks to help the at-risk children of the world, right? Well, that’s what FunDay School is! There is a great need here on the west side of Chicago. And, we are part of the world.”
(This article was written by Kristin J. Niehof, an intern at World Vision of Chicago, in October 2003. Kristin graduated from Wheaton College (Wheaton, IL) in June 2004.)
FunDay School will start its 2004-05 school year on September 25, 2004. It seeks volunteers. It also needs donors. It needs textbooks and workbooks for all grades, snacks for the children, reference books, school supplies of all types, computer software and instructors, donations to cover costs for outings to sporting events, plays, museums, the circus, etc. and a larger place to hold the sessions, if we have a year like last year. The program offers its services on every other Saturday at 10:00 a.m. at 351 S. Kilbourn. Call Maxine Williams, 312 751-4837 to find out ways you can help.