On a sunny Thursday afternoon, I found myself sitting outside at New Wave Cafe (@newwavecoffee, 2557 Milwaukee Ave.), eager to hear the amazing story of Logan Square resident Jeremy Miller (and his awesome beard). You’ll see why.
Thirty-one-year-old Miller and his wife Bekah, both Warsaw, Indiana, natives, have lived in the neighborhood for five years. Before Chicago, they lived in Phoenix, Arizona, where Miller went to school for sound engineering. They made the move to Chicago so Miller could pursue an externship with a local record label (where he worked with local artist Joe Pug). Now Miller is a property manager for a building in the neighborhood, while his wife works as a nanny. Outside of their “normal” jobs, they jointly own a small painting company.
Back in September, when the Chicago Public School teachers strike came into fruition, Miller saw a need to become involved. “Something tugged at my heart about kids not going to school,” he says. So he volunteered at the YMCA in Old Town. There, he and other volunteers engaged with youth who dropped in. The activities ranged from arts and crafts to physical education.
“These kids really wanted to be in school,” says Miller. When teachers voted to go back to the classroom after the seven-day strike, Miller found himself looking for other volunteer opportunities.
One day in January, while browsing the Chicago Reader, he came across an ad rather skeptically. “There was an ad that read, ‘seeking men volunteers.’ Initially, I thought it was a dating site.” After taking a second look, he realized it was from Open Books, a bookstore that also serves as a nonprofit that promotes reading and literacy in public schools.
Miller committed to their ReadThenWrite program, an “immersive reading, writing and publishing experience for teenage authors.” He was placed in Ellen Mitchell Elementary.
For four months, he and three rambunctious students—Dominic Principato, Cesar Cueves and Paul Koroluk—met for one hour twice a week. They coined their group “The Sporty Pirates”—nothing short of unique. Much of the session focused on coaching students to improve their comprehension skills through reading and writing.
One of the biggest challenges was to keep students interested with relevant material. “It was our job to find different ways to educate (students),” says Miller. Working with students can be difficult but he “lived off their energy.”
The students became so fond of their teacher that when Miller missed one of their sessions, Cueves wrote and performed a poem about how he missed him. Toward the end of the program, poems that students wrote were published.
Overall, the experience was positive and productive. Once the school year begins, Miller plans to return.
As if volunteering, owning a small business and managing a separate business weren’t enough, Miller still finds time for his other passion—music. As a child, he played the trumpet and then moved on to other instruments. He makes up one of five band members of the Rambos, where he plays bass, guitar and does some of the vocals. The Rambos usually play once a month.
You can catch Miller every Wednesday at the The Hideout, where he is responsible for alcohol compliance (fancy for door guy).