Transforming Lives

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Local News

By: Ashmar Mandou

Each year, in honor of Cinco de Mayo, Lawndale Bilingual Newspaper puts a spotlight on local individuals and/or organizations making remarkable strides for the betterment of their community. This year, we are placing a spotlight on an organization that has served families for over a hundred years, Gads Hill Center. As a beacon of hope, Gads Hill Center has been providing educational opportunities and access to resources to families across Chicago. As a way to highlight the plethora of transformations occurring at the organization, Gads Hill Center hosted their inaugural Nuestros Niños, Nuestro Futuro last week to give families an opportunity to share their experiences and why such as an organization is pivotal for positive growth. We spoke with Gads Hill Center Chief Executive Officer Maricela García and parent Bartola Vasquez who kindly shared their thoughts about how Gads Hill Center is transforming lives.

Chief Executive Officer of Gads Hill Center Maricela García

Lawndale Bilingual Newspaper: What prompted Gads Hill Center (GHC) to create Nuestros Niños, Nuestro Futuro?

Maricela García: We believe it is important for Gads Hill Center to bring together families, volunteers, and elected officials to celebrate the successes of the children in our programs and encourage civic engagement within our communities. Our hardworking families usually don’t have time to engage in dialogue with elected officials about their concerns, or spend extra time getting to know the volunteers and staff who are committed to their children’s success, which is partly why we hosted this event.

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Local News

Last Friday, GHC celebrated the inaugural event at its Pilsen location. What was it like for you to be a witness countless parents who have benefited from GHC?

It was truly gratifying to be a part of a celebration that is focused on the bright futures of the children in our programs, and to see so many families from the community join in that celebration. There were fun activities for children and parents, and healthy food available to foster healthy eating habits among families.

For over a hundred years, GHC has been providing opportunities to families through education and access to resources, as Chief Executive Officer of such a vital organization how are you weathering the budget crisis?

The budget cuts have affected our afterschool programs as well as some of our early education programs. At a time when we should be creating opportunities for youth to learn and explore in a safe environment, the state is decreasing funding for essential programs. How can we expect a decline in youth violence in Chicago when the state is cutting funds for the very programs that keep youth safe? To meet these challenges, GHC used some of our reserves to provide scholarships to families who cannot afford to continue their children’s enrollment in our programs, but also cannot risk losing their jobs due to the lack of affordable childcare. However, relying on reserves was temporary and is not sustainable. If the budget impasse continues, we may be forced to reduce enrollment in our programs. Our families are contacting their state representatives urging them to pass a 2016 budget no later than the end of the month in order to address this critical issue.

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Local News

You work with families on a regular basis, among the many, what have been the most memorable transformations a family has experienced through GHC’s programs?

It is so rewarding to see the children in our programs grow up to be successful, accomplished young adults. Alex Aguero, who was one of the speakers at our recent Annual Spring Gala, is an example of a youth who started attending our programs in second grade and is now a rising senior in our Teen Connection program. Over the years, we’ve been able to provide more than just academic support for youth like Alex: in his speech at the Gala, Alex stated that GHC also helped form his character and foster his passion for civic engagement. We are so proud of the resilience, determination, and compassion of our youth. All they need is support to achieve their full potential.

What would you like people to know about GHC?

GHC has been a beacon of hope in the community since 1898. We build communities of care where children, parents, volunteers and staff recognize and celebrate their humanity. We offer high-quality programs for children from birth through high school, and enrollment is currently open for GHC’s summer programs. We’re also always looking for new volunteers to join Gads Hill Center’s mission to create opportunities for children and their families to build a better life through education, access to resources and community engagement. We invite community members to reach out to GHC about information concerning our programs and volunteer opportunities.

Parent Bartola Vasquez, a parent whose two sons are enrolled in Gad Hill Center’s Club Learn Program.

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Local News

Lawndale Bilingual Newspaper: When and how did you become involved with Gads Hill Center?

Bartola Vasquez: I became involved with Gads Hill Center about year ago when I needed someone to pick up my sons after school. I had been inquiring about different places, but most didn’t accommodate what I needed as a working parent. I learned about Gads Hill Center when I saw a flyer in one of my children’s backpacks, and not long after enrolled my sons in Gads Hill Center’s Club Learn program.

How has the organization transformed your life?

Gads Hill Center has shown a lot of interest in helping my children succeed in school. My older son’s academic scores are especially improving – this past quarter he earned higher grades in almost all subject areas. Everyone at Gads Hill Center is very caring toward all of the kids, and I think that the afterschool program, in which they help with homework and engage children in activities, is really helpful for their development.

What aspects of GHC do you enjoy the most?

I enjoy that Gads Hill Center is always offering fun, engaging activities for children during the school year and the summer, which is a big help for those of us parents who have to work.

What would you like other parents to know about GHC?

I would like other parents to know that if they are looking for a place they can trust, Gads Hill Center will help their kids with whatever they need. I’ve worked with other childcare facilities before, and this is the first place I feel completely comfortable bringing my kids.

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