As a young boy, Gilbert Juarez watched his older brother and sister attend school at Christopher House, and he saw firsthand how they blossomed. Juarez described how Christopher House helped his family by “encouraging my sister to persevere and play sports that might be considered boy sports, like basketball, and my brother — he loves to eat and loves to try new foods, (…) he loved food so much I guess it was just natural for him to want to learn how to cook, which might have been considered something that girls do,” Juarez said.
Juarez, now a senior at Northwestern University, along with his older sister, who is now a certified nursing assistant, and his brother, a certified culinary chef, credit the non-profit organization for providing his family, against all odds, a chance at success. “You need to surround kids with positives: positive role models, positive environments, positive attitudes,” he said. “I know that when my mom was raising my siblings and me, it was hard to find those positives — working two, sometimes three jobs and going to school. Christopher House helped make those positives a little easier to find,” he said.
Juarez shared his story at Christopher House’s 27th Annual Benefit on Thursday, April 27, to show that he is one of many students who credit their success to the educational resources provided to them by Christopher House, which houses a family of schools in Chicago’s North and West sides. With locations in Logan Square, Belmont Cragin and Uptown, it provides a continuum of education for children from six weeks old through preschool and elementary school, along with an after-school program and a school for parents, according to the website. The organization’s mission is simple: to provide high-quality education to at-risk, low-income children and families.
The communities Christopher House aims to serve include working, poor families, according to Lori Baas, CEO of Christopher House. “It is a mom who works at Jo-Ann Fabrics with two kids that is just making enough money to get by,” she said, “and Christopher House then is able to provide great early childhood education for their kids and, if needed, financial support in emergencies, like if they can’t pay their electric bill,” she explained. Fundraisers help to provide the rich, high-quality educational and counseling services the children and families rely on.
Their fundraiser in late-April was the most successful of their 110 years of operation, raising more than $760,000 to go toward educational, supplemental resources for the more than 5,700 children and parents who rely on Christopher House’s services.
In the coming year, Christopher House plans to expand their school in Belmont Cragin, adding grades five through eight to provide students a steady transition into high school and eventually college. “In a few short years, we will be able to say that we provide a continuum of education and support services from birth to high school, birth through eighth grade, for low-income students and their families,” said Tom O’Neill, president of Christopher House’s Board of Directors.
The event also honored the Bretz-Martinez family, who has been with the Christopher House Uptown community for the past four years, with the 2017 Family of the Year Award. The Bretz-Martinez family, consisting of parents Zaida and Oscar Bretz-Martinez, along with their two sons Logan and Castiel, was honored for their commitment to their children’s education and their loyalty to Christopher House’s mission. Zaida Bretz, who is chair of the Parent Policy Council, said, “I was shy, and being a part of the policy council gave me a chance to get more involved and learn about how to have the greatest impact not just for my children, but others in need, too.” Zaida has plans to return to school and pursue a degree in occupational therapy in order to help families similar to her own, according to the event’s press release.
Cubs Charities, a five-year partner of Christopher House, was the 2017 Honoree of the Year, being recognized for their efforts and dedication to providing Chicago youth with medical and educational support. The award was accepted by Laura Ricketts, co-owner of the Chicago Cubs and co-chair of Cubs Charities. “It shows we are being recognized, not only for our efforts on the field but our efforts off the field, in the community which is equally important to us,” said Ricketts.
Juarez, who graduates from Northwestern in the spring, hopes to one day be in the position to support the organization that helped push him toward his success today.
“I look forward to the day when I can give back [in] support of helping others see that they have resources,” Juarez said. “And while there may be a bumpy road ahead, there are always people here to help navigate and help propel you forward.”
To donate to Christopher House, click here.