Today I attended a fund-raising luncheon for La Casa Norte, an organization dedicated to supporting youth and families who are homeless in Chicago. According to the program booklet produced for the luncheon, “Today La Casa Norte’s programs include emergency, transitional and permanent supportive housing units for youth and families. It also provides a rich array of critical education training, a drop-in center for homeless youth, counseling, therapy, computer access, mentoring, clothing, and emergency food. Their programs now serve households in over 43 zip codes across the Chicagoland area.”
This organization has been a focus of my friends Michael and Gregory since its inception in 2002. Twelve years ago, Gregory was diagnosed with early onset of Alzheimers. This encouraged the two of them to talk about their legacies. In Michael’s words, “We decided that probably the best way to help was through supporting young people who were seeking to better themselves through an education, but could not afford to do so…to pay forward our own good fortune.” The establishment of the More Than Ever Education Fund, generously seeded with Michael and Gregory’s money, will help to support the educational needs of the 18 to 24 year old clients of La Casa Norte in attending institutions of higher learning. Today’s luncheon was the kick-off for this fund.
Alzheimers: A Love Story, a moving documentary that was produced almost a year ago by students from California (accepted at almost two dozen film festivals across the nation, garnering over a dozen awards including an award at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival), was shown at the beginning of the formal program after lunch. This documentary chronicles Michael and Gregory’s 41 year relationship and their dealing with Alzheimers. But it more importantly chronicles how love can survive and flourish despite the emotionally painful and physically debilitating impact of this disease. Michael followed the documentary with inspiring remarks about not being a victim of circumstance, but rather a hero, rising above circumstance especially with the support of organizations like La Casa Norte.
One of the scholarship recipients spoke with great poignancy about his life on the streets and how La Casa Norte saved him from an abusive family situation. He is presently at North Park University and is on track to graduate with his BA in May 2017. 25 students will participate in La Casa Norte’s More Than Ever Education Fund this fall.
There is much good to be done in this world. Wracked with trauma and abuse, hunger and homelessness, there are some who have an opportunity to heal and move forward through the good work of organizations like La Casa Norte. Such organizations can flourish and grow with the abundant and consistent support of people like Michael and Gregory and the caring model they create for the rest of us to emulate. This support is needed more than ever.