By Diane Rand
Dave Landsittel and I are liaisons for one of the most impressive non-profits in our city that you’ve likely never heard of—Breakthrough. Twenty-five years ago, Executive Director Arloa Sutter founded the organization after taking a homeless man in her neighborhood out for a cup of coffee and listening to him. From those humble beginnings, Breakthrough has grown to be a faith-based organization that partners with those affected by poverty to build connections, develop skills, and open doors of opportunity. What does that look like in practice? It looks like three homeless shelters—a men’s, a women’s and a family shelter, a fresh food “market” that last year offered food for nearly 3,000 people in the community, and a community center called the Breakthrough FamilyPlex that houses sports and education programs, a café, and a health center. Breakthrough is located and operates exclusively in the 40 blocks that is East Garfield Park (EGP).
Last year, our church’s contribution made a meaningful difference in the current and future lives of 20 preschool children living in what is arguably one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago. East Garfield Park’s 22,000 residents have an average annual income of less than $20,000. Forty-seven percent require government benefits to access food and more than 49 percent live below the poverty level. According to the Chicago Tribune, last year, EGP had the highest crime rate in the city among Chicago’s 77 communities.
But here’s the good news—when kids, particularly inner city poor kids go to high quality preschool—amazing things happen. According to analysis by University of Chicago economist James Heckman: There’s a 13 percent return on investment when we send these kids to preschool. The impact of going to preschool lasts three generations or more, and men who went to preschool make $19,000 more than those who didn’t go to preschool. Breakthrough’s preschool is housed in its new FamilyPlex community center and last school year had 40 students in two classrooms. With our support, they turned a loaf of bread into a banquet, cobbling together matching gifts, private donations and other contributions, and opened up a third classroom serving an additional 20 students. They have plans to open up the last available classroom in the preschool and are determined to reach their 60-student potential. Dave and I are hoping that our continued support will allow more community members to access Breakthrough’s Fresh Food Market this coming year.
As you can see from the above example, every dollar we contribute to our church’s outreach efforts is carefully deployed for maximum impact. It is only through your support and contributions that our church can engage in the type of work that deeply impacts people’s lives in our city. Please come to the Outreach Benefit dinner on April 27 and bring your friends and neighbors. If you’d like more information on Breakthrough, please contact Dave Landsittel or myself. We are excited about our church’s new relationship with this organization. They are in need of volunteers to plan and serve dinner in their homeless shelters, distribute food in their Fresh Food Market, and a variety of other opportunities. Dave and I, and the guests at Breakthrough, welcome your support.