Submitted Date 05/26/2019

College Trip to Chicago

Coming from a small town I didn't know what to expect going to Chicago. Honestly, the reason I chose it was because it was one of the cheaper trips. So here I am, on a bus with mostly baseball players that I didn't know very well, going to a city that I had never been, expecting an average three weeks. Four quiet hours later, the bus driver hurries us off and as we stand next to the street, he piles our suitcases on the side walk and then literally speeds away. In a neighborhood, often referred to as Southside "Chiraqu", you can understand my instant anxiety.

It was an advantage that my heart was already racing because it prepared me for the four flights of stairs that we had to climb. I couldn't help but thank myself for packing light and grin at the struggle of those who seemed to have brought their entire lives. Later I learned that the building was separated by floors. The basement housed single homeless woman and single mother families. The main floor held the kitchen where I spent most of my time, the security at the front doors, and offices. The third floor was for homeless men who were let in to eat dinner, shower, sleep, and then left for the day with a sack lunch. It also held the teens who wanted to do better. And finally we got the fourth floor to ourselves along with another employee who lived there year round.

The first day, we met with our feisty red headed leader, Lisa. We were then given maps, swipes for the public transport and a destination. My group's mission was to go to the bean and take a picture. As a directionally challenged person, I tenetivly accepted, relying heavily on my group members to get us there and back. Before we left, we were assured that we would not be harmed because the violence was between African American gang members. People around us would only stare and maybe ask us questions as to why we were there.

Turns out, public transport in a crowded city is quite freeing,… once you figure it out. We went on may adventures throughout the city going to baseball games, churches, restaurants, and parks to name a few.

We learned about the extensive segregation of the city. African Americans, separated from caucasions, from Puerto Ricans, from China Town, from Mexicans, ect.

We met with people who supported the segregation because they thought it was the best way to preserve culture. We also met with people who didn't care much about culture and just wanted the city's violence to become less of an issue. We were also able to listen to a police officer who told both sides of the story when it comes to violence between the police and the community.

We met with many good people with many good ideas who seemed to all want what anyone wants, peace and equality.

Another exciting thing we were able to do was visit an urban farm who grew food year round and had a food bus.

Along with meeting with people, some of us were assigned jobs to do throughout the week. I was assigned to help in the kitchen because of my dietetics major, conveniently located downstairs. When I had heard that I would be doing this for the rest of my experience, I have to admit that I wasn't thrilled with the idea of washing dishes for free for three weeks. So I met the manager, got a uniform and was told to go help the staff. The kitchen staff ended up being two women, one in the morning one at night, who prepared and served breakfast for 30 people, lunch for 75, and dinner for close to 200 at times.

The food came from all around. We got shipments every week from grocery stores. When they couldn't sell the food because of bruises or dents, we would get it. The manager ended up asking me to use my skills as a dietitian and nutritionist student to make the meals better for the people they were serving. Feeling like I was completely clueless and not wanting to boss around people who were working incredibly hard, I decided just to observe and help them prepare the food. As we began talking, I realized how selfless they were and how little training in nutrition they both had. They just cooked whatever they knew how in large quantities, most of it soul food.

I ended up not having to wash one single dish because the people who lived on the second floor as recovering addicts, washed them as payment. I was also privileged enough to get to know these men and learned a lot from them.

I worked with the men in the Life Transformation Program on third floor. I was assigned there as tutor for the GED program but I rarely tutored them. It mostly turned into to me just hanging out with them and learning about their lives in Chicago and how they arrived the Mission. One of the guys I talked with a lot was a recovering alcoholic who was a former stock broker. His family left him because of this addiction but since he was getting back on the right track he was able to make an amends with them. He was even able to help his daughter chose a college that she started to attend this fall. Another one of the guys I worked with was a former gang member, dealer and addict. He was ashamed of life at one point because he was dealing drugs only a few blocks from his family but didn't see them for months. He was proud of where he came from since he overcame the struggles of being in a gang and dealing drugs. He had earned an associate's degree and was wanting to work towards his bachelor's in business along with his son so they could graduate together. I was amazed that he was able to get an associate's degree but didn't have a high school diploma. These guys impacted me since I also came from a small town and never really had to deal with the same things the men went through. It was eye opening to see how they grew up and but were trying to right what they did wrong. I went into Chicago thinking this is a big city that I have only visited once and thought to be full of criminals, but I left knowing that the people there are just like me, wanting to live their lives to their potential and to have others do the same.

I also fell in love with the church because in the midst of this violence and hatefulness, God's presence seemed to be clearer to me. Worship was a passionate message filled with powerful voices. There was even a moment where a woman was overcome by the Holy Spirit. Picture a 70 year old petite African American woman in her best dress and heels, running around the sanctuary only to stop briefly to gasp for air and then continue.


Later on, I asked one of the cooks about this bazar display and she simply chuckled at me and said that it is common to be so overtaken by the spirit that there is just no way that you can stand still, your only option is to run.

On the last day of our trip we went to Boys Town. We went there to learn about survival prostitution in homeless men. Some of us went and talked with some of them and some of us noticed a drag show going on and got sidetracked. The experience there was oddly comforting. Everyone there was open with who they were and didn't really care what people thought because Boys Town was a safe haven for them. They could be the person they knew who they were.

Coming into this experience uncertain and scared, I was surprised to find that in the last couple days, I had a much better outlook on homelessness, poverty, gang violence, food service, and culture than I had ever hoped for.

I came out with a better understanding of how it is to have grown up in a big city and witness violence first hand. The men and women I met there are people I won't forget and I will always cherish the memories I made in Chicago.

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  • Ceara 3 months, 3 weeks ago

    That sounds like an incredibly moving experience. So eye opening. Thank you for sharing!

  • Miranda Fotia 3 months, 2 weeks ago

    Great piece! Thanks for sharing!

  • Kiersten Felch 3 months, 2 weeks ago

    Going new places is always amazing, especially if it isn't the type of city you're used to at all.