AEC Cares Project Chicago

Event Photography by LeVern Danley

Our Learning and Wellness Center is becoming even more beautiful thanks to the more than 150 design and construction professionals and volunteers who donated their time and hard work on June 25 for “project Chicago,” a one-day “blitz build” at the Center.

Volunteers painted walls, installed cabinets, laid flooring, inserted tiles and more.

View the AEC Cares Project Chicago photo gallery

Client families from throughout Chicago’s New City, Englewood and West Englewood communities will benefit from the many Center improvements.

The event was made possible by AEC Cares, a non-profit corporation supported by Reed Construction Data, with the American Institute of Architects and Hanley Wood, generous sponsors, donors and volunteers.

Thanks again to AEC Cares and all the volunteers who made project Chicago possible!


Valuable Lessons Shared in Early Education

In celebration of Week of the Young Child, we wanted to take the opportunity to also celebrate our early education center staff who make a difference in the lives of so many young children. Metropolitan’s early childhood education centers serve children of families meeting federal poverty guidelines. These children are reported to be within 92% to 99% of the national normative data for literacy, social/emotional, mathematics and cognitive development. As passionate advocates for early education, staff from our centers told us the valuable lessons they have shared with children as they learn and grow.

Staff were asked, “What is the most valuable lesson you’ve shared with a child?” 

“The most valuable lesson I’ve shared with a child is how to believe in themselves.  I have found that self-confidence will greatly influence one’s academic success, so having it will allow children to open up in class.  As educators, we must strive to make our classrooms a welcoming environment with ample encouragement to help them on their path.”
Adriana Kinsler, Pre-School Teacher | North Children’s Center      

“The most important lesson I can share with a child is that all children are capable and beautiful.”
Pamela Gabb, Infant/Toddler Teacher | Learning & Wellness Center     

“I believe the most valuable lesson one can share with a child is to do your best.  It’s all that you can do.  Do it because you can, not because someone is watching.”
Lanika Bates, Pre-School Teacher | Learning & Wellness Center

”I think that one major valuable lesson that I have shared is how to make sense of the world around them. There are so many questions to be answered, and I try very hard to find new ways for children to individually find answers to their questions through exploration. Through exploring the surroundings that are interactive to one’s own being on earth. So I try to guide a child’s life’s long learning process  through effective teaching that’s interesting, motivating and meaningful. There’s another lesson that I have shared and that is learning can be hard, learning new things can be hard to understand at first but if you let someone help you, guide you, learning becomes fun and enjoyable.”
Linda Schmidt, Pre-School Teacher | Midway Children’s Center

Did you benefit from early childhood education? What did you learn? Whether you were a child, parent or mentor, share your insights on the importance of educating children with us in the comments below.

Populus Returns for A Fun Day at Camp!


Populus Group, a staffing services company located in Lisle, Illinois, paid a return visit to Metropolitan’s camp held at Reinberg school in Chicago. Populus Staff provided five hours of fun, inspirational talks and a delicious pizza lunch for more than 25 campers. Each camper also received a bag of school supplies and the program received two tubs of much needed art supplies. The kids truly had a great time & exclaimed, “We can’t wait until you come back next year!”  Thank you Populus Group!

Running Domestic Violence Out of Town

Heather Flett, Program Manager at Metropolitan Family Services, was recently featured in the “Get to Know a Team Mate” section of Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network newsletter. Heather is on the Run Domestic Violence Out of Town Team in the Bank of America 2013 Chicago Marathon.


Heather Flett

“My name is Heather and I am so excited to join you on the RunDV Out of Town team!

I just celebrated my 20- year anniversary in the movement to end domestic violence. I have worked with survivors, perpetrators, and child witnesses of domestic violence in many different settings, including schools, shelters, the court system, and community agencies.I am currently a Program Manager at Metropolitan Family Services (one of the collaborative partner organizations).

When I’m not working, I enjoy crafting; organizing the Handmade Market; cooking; reading; time with friends, and, of course, running. And, those off occasions when I gets the chance to sleep.

Last year, I ran my first marathon. I would be lying if I said it had always been a dream of mine. Frankly, I never had the desire; I considered the friends of mine who did, out of their minds. In fact, prior to the marathon, I wasn’t much of a runner.

My first 5k was the October before the marathon, and the few months before that, I began to run on a regular basis for the first time. My decision to run came in the Fall of 2011 when Metropolitan Family Services had to close intake for our domestic violence counseling program. The demand for services in our community far outweighs the resources available. Turning away women and children in need of service left me feeling powerless and heartbroken.

It was Charlie Stoops and his campaign, Everyone Can Do One Thing to End Domestic Violence that inspired me. Raising awareness and funding for domestic violence was my motivation.

To say that the training and the marathon were difficult would be a gross understatement. In addition to a number of injuries, I was unaware of the extent to which training would take over my life. But, a year later here I am, ready to do it again. It may be because the benefits and rewards far outweigh the pain and sacrifice; or, it may be that my brain has lost so much oxygen due to all that running that I can no longer make rational decision.

I will see you soon on the running path!”

Celebrating Cathy

A Featured Volunteer with In-Home Senior Respite in DuPage County

Cathy has been a volunteer with Metropolitan’s In-Home Senior Respite since 2008. Cathy is one of our go-to volunteers who has helped many, many families. View our interview with this special volunteer highlighted during Volunteer Week below. Thank you Cathy!!

Poinsettia delivery

How did you begin volunteering with Metropolitan?
A friend, no longer with respite service, had casually asked me if I had ever considered volunteering for In-Home Senior Respite. First she had to explain what it was, “Three hours of relief each week for the care giver of a senior…”. After giving her request some thought, I contacted her and the ball was rolling. My interview was scheduled, vetting completed, began training and then assigned to a family. In-Home Senior Respite has been one of the most rewarding experiences to me, and I am pleased to be of service.

What do you do as an In-Home Senior Respite Volunteer?
My particular job is to cover for other respite volunteers who may become ill, as you know we do not attend to our clients if we are sick with a cold, flu or other contagious illness, and clients too should cancel appointments if they have such illnesses. My coverage can also take place when a regularly assigned volunteer goes on vacation or is unable (for many reason) to make the regularly scheduled appointment. I am also assigned to a new client until a permanent volunteer is located and suitable to the family to be served.

Why do you volunteer?

  • The sharing of knowledge of days gone by
  • Giving care givers a much needed break
  • Witnessing the joy elders relate to in their daily life
  • Appreciating the foundations laid by those whom I currently serve
  • Observing the devotion and love that our care givers show our senior clients, is most rewarding.

In-Home Senior Respite is a hidden resource within our communities. Our service enables clients to keep loved ones in their home and in familiar surroundings, while they tend to the seniors every need. This leaves little time for the clients own needs, three hours is brief but can offer a much appreciated rest.

How has volunteering impacted you?
I have served fifteen families in Du Page County, in my close to five years of service. Several of these families, (I have found through our conversations) knew many of my Great Aunts and Uncles, the stories my clients share with me are most delightful. They connect me to my very own past.

Our clients backgrounds are from many different belief systems, ethnicities and careers, it is awesome to hear the adventures they have lived through and the struggles of life they look so fondly upon. One can see how our world has changed and developed by the foundations they have laid for us.

Seniors have always been inspiring to me, the vast knowledge they hold and the experiences they lived are a part of history. Having the opportunity to share in their life story is to me a great honor.

It is an honor to serve those who have come before me and I hold them as true treasures. Many of our clients and care givers have become an extension of our very own families. On occasion we lose them and it feels as if we have lost one of our own family members. What they impart is special and most memorable, and I would not want to have missed the opportunity of having met or serving them.

To learn about Metropolitan’s In-Home Senior Respite volunteer opportunities, click here.

Happy National Volunteer Week!

This week is National Volunteer Week and we’re celebrating by highlighting some of our dedicated volunteers at Metropolitan Family Services.


Meet Marina

“I was introduced to Metropolitan Family Services while working on ‘Make a Child Smile’, an annual family fundraiser event in 2010. I was stricken by how involved both the MFS staff and committee members were with the event to make sure that it not only raised funds for the families in need, but also created a fun and friendly environment for kids and parents that attended. After this event, I was happy to join the team of dedicated employees as a volunteer at the general office downtown. Being a “Jack of all trades”, I assist multiple departments to reach their objectives of serving clients. This is very rewarding, as I get to see firsthand the importance of the work I am doing on a daily basis. Though I am not in direct contact with the clients of the organization, I know that in this difficult economic time every little bit helps.

Although I volunteer for the organization, it is fair to say that I volunteer for kids who are in the Head Start program in our DuPage center to empower them to learn; I volunteer for victims of domestic violence to empower them to heal; I volunteer for the Upward Bound program at our Calumet center to empower kids to thrive; I volunteer for single dads to empower them to earn. I volunteer to empower Chicago-area families.

I will continue to volunteer and help Metropolitan Family Services every way I can because knowing that what I do changes 53,000 lives a year is the biggest reward one can think of achieving.”

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Pi Beta Phi Visits DuPage Head Start

Seuss Birthday_Blog

DuPage Head Start celebrated Dr Seuss’ birthday earlier this month with members of the alumnae chapter of Pi Beta Phi. This interactive literacy event included story time with the children, playing games and decorating a book plate. Pi Beta Phi gave each child a Dr. Seuss book where they inserted their newly decorated book plates. All 68 Head Start children were given books! One child asked when he should return the book. The sorority members answered, “That’s your book to take home and keep!” The child asked, “Forever and ever?” The Pi Beta Phi members were visibly touched as they answered, “Yes, you can keep the book forever and ever.”

Thank you, Pi Beta Phi! 

Teen Dating Violence Leaves Scars

“We know that dating violence is a really important public health problem and has an impact on adolescent development…” – Deinera Exner-Cortens

Today’s article in the Chicago Tribune, “Teen Dating Violence Leaves Scars, Experts Say,” focuses on the research and impact of teen dating violence.

To see the original feature click here.

If you or someone you know if effected by teen dating violence, Metropolitan is here to help. With centers throughout the Chicago-area, we offer services through our Family Violence Intervention Program (FVIP) to provide counseling, advocacy and case management for victims of teen dating violence. Listed below are site specific numbers and areas served where FVIP services are available. The STAR Action Team at our Midway center is a program specifically focused on teen dating violence prevention.

  • Metropolitan Calumet – 773-371-3600 (Serving the Far South Side)
  • Metropolitan North  – 773-371-3700 (Serving the Northwest Side)
  • Metropolitan Midway – 773-884-3310 (Serving the Southwest Side)


Teen dating violence leaves scars, experts say
Victims of abuse more likely to feel suicidal, abuse drugs or alcohol

By Janice Neumann, Special to the Tribune
March 13, 2013

Sheela Raja remembers treating a victim of teen dating violence who at first felt too ashamed to talk about the experience. Instead, the victim buried the trauma in alcohol until she finally opened up during therapy.

Raja, a licensed clinical psychologist, and other domestic violence experts are calling for more awareness about the negative health consequences of dating violence. A study in the January issue of the journal Pediatrics tackled just that subject.

Researchers used a sample of more than 5,000 participants in a national study who had dated as teens or preteens in 1996, and evaluated them five years later, when they were in their late teens or early to mid-20s, for physical and psychological dating violence victimization.

Researchers from Cornell University and the Boston University School of Medicine, assessed the participants for problems such as depression, self-esteem, antisocial behaviors, sexual risk behaviors, weight problems, suicidal thinking, substance abuse and adult intimate partner violence victimization.

About 30 percent of men and 31 percent of women reported a history of physical and/or psychological dating violence.

Results showed the teen victims of physical or psychological abuse were more than twice as likely to be re-victimized in adulthood. Women were 1.5 times more likely to binge drink or smoke, twice as likely to feel suicidal and showed increased depression, while men showed more antisocial behavior, were 1.3 times more likely to use marijuana and twice as likely to feel suicidal.

Deinera Exner-Cortens, lead author of the study and a doctoral candidate at Cornell in the department of human development and Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, became interested in the subject while she was researching HIV and AIDS in Africa during a college internship and noticed the link between abuse and the disease.

“We know that dating violence is a really important public health problem and has an impact on adolescent development,” said Exner-Cortens. “To our knowledge, this is the first study to look at these outcomes over a long period of time.”

The study’s authors also suggested improved screening for abuse and prevention. Raja agreed.

“Immediately afterward, one of the biggest issues is shame and not wanting to come forward and talk about it, feeling like they did something to deserve it and that’s one of the biggest barriers,” said Raja, also assistant professor of dentistry and medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“Sometimes we see people on the surface and think, ‘Oh, they’re OK, they’re doing well,’ they could have these issues and they’re not being addressed,” Raja said.

To help such victims, blame should be avoided, Raja said, though immediate safety is always a concern. She gives such patients a chance to weigh the pros and cons of their experiences and choices and look at how they are coping. She noted better mental health options are crucial for victims and unfortunately, because of budget cuts, in short supply.

Paul Schewe, director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Research on Violence, also at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is researching how teens end romances and whether they can be taught to end relationships in a healthy manner. Otherwise the consequence can be stalking, drug abuse and suicide, he noted.

“I think adults tend to dismiss these teen relationships, saying, ‘Oh, it’s just puppy love,’ ” said Schewe. “The emotional attachment is very, very real, very strong.

“There’s tons of emotion and passion and that’s why when those relationships end, people revert to suicide.”

Schewe plans to do focus groups and interviews of victims, along with larger scale surveys, to try to better understand and prevent the cycle of abuse. Those results could then be used by educators in teen violence prevention programs. He said the solution needs to come from different segments of society and include parents, park districts, churches and mosques.

“It really requires intervention at every level of the social ecology, as well as developmentally,” said Schewe. “As kids grow and develop, these things need to be addressed.”

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Voice of the People

Today’s Voice of the People section in the Chicago Tribune featured Metropolitan Family Services President and CEO Ric Estrada. To see the original feature click here.


Voice of the People
March 8, 2013

Early learning
President Barack Obama’s plan to invest in young children is a road-tested strategy that applies resources in ways that have been proven to generate positive returns for children, families, communities and the economy. Expanding the commitment to early childhood also meets critical needs our society cannot afford to ignore. At Metropolitan Family Services, we see both benefits and needs every day in the nearly 900 children we serve with preschool, child-care, home-visiting and Early Head Start/Head Start programs. Our children are ready to learn when they head to school.

The value of early learning has been proven repeatedly by research and decades of practical experience. Nobel scholars like University of Chicago economist James Heckman have long asserted that young children are the smartest investment we can make, pointing to research conducted right here in Chicago that documented returns of $7 for every $1 spent, in the form of better school performance, higher lifetime earnings and decreased costs of behavioral challenges.

If anything is surprising about the president’s proposal it is that early-childhood programs are suddenly considered controversial or speculative.

We hope our elected leaders do not take the bait because every American community is affected. Illinois was once a national early-childhood leader, but it has moved backward since 2009, eliminating services for 22,000 children and creating stress for parents who know what their children need but can’t get.

This challenge exists in every community we serve. We see it in city neighborhoods that desperately need new facilities. We see it in working families in DuPage County who aren’t “poor enough” for Head Start and can’t find affordable child care.

The good news is leaders like Mayor Rahm Emanuel are bucking the trend by finding a way to invest in early education. Law enforcement officials like DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin are making a point to show the connection between early learning and safe communities.

The president has put a thoughtful plan on the table to leverage federal, state and local resources. If we want children to succeed and want our economy to recover, we cannot afford to let this opportunity pass us by.

Ricardo Estrada
President and CEO, Metropolitan Family Services, Chicago

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