Thursday, November 11, 2010

Anonymous donor challenges LPCS to raise $10,000!

November 2010

Dear Neighbor,    

This year, the Lincoln Park Community Shelter is celebrating 25 years of service to our community.  Our core values remain the same:  community engagement, providing a safe refuge for those in crisis, and respect and dignity for our guests.  However, our approach to the problem of homelessness has changed much over this quarter-century.  Today, our innovative On Track Program—which provides training, coaching, and support—combined with our well-trained staff and extensive community of dedicated volunteers ensures our guests get the help they need to reach their goals.

Our guests achieve extraordinary success:  Last year, nearly 70% of those engaged in the On Track Program became housed again. Over the past 10 years, over 650 men and women have moved out of the shelter and into permanent housing.

A recent event brought home to me what this organization has accomplished in these 25 years. Last year I attended a memorial service for a man named Jim, along with several long-time volunteers and his family.  In the mid-1980s, Jim was a constant presence in Lincoln Park, often sitting on a bench near Clark and Deming. He could not be missed: he wore a greatcoat and a long grey beard, had a weather-beaten face and a decidedly remote and unfriendly demeanor.

Community residents reached out to Jim and appealed to neighborhood churches to try to help him and others living on the streets. When the Lincoln Park Community Shelter opened in February 1985, Jim became one of our first guests, and on some nights in those early days, our only guest.

Jim had little to do with the other guests of this new endeavor.  He rarely spoke and seemed wary of the assistance we were providing, but was always cordial. Over time, our volunteers had conversations with Jim, learned about a few of his interests, and provided him with some assistance. But the LPCS of 1985 did not have the resources to understand or meet all of his needs, and eventually, he stopped coming to us.  

Jim passed away in 1988, and at the recent gathering in his memory, we finally gained some insight into his past. Jim had grown up in Cincinnati in a close-knit family, so close to his sister that when the Boy Scouts wouldn’t accept her, he refused to join. He’d gone to college and become a transit engineer, eventually helping Chicago’s CTA implement its first comprehensive computer system.

His former colleagues at the CTA described him as a brilliant and visionary man, fiercely loyal to friends and possessed of a sense of humor, but at times remote. Undiagnosed and untreated mental illness escalated, and ultimately caused him to be unable to hold his job, and to separate from even his closest friends and family.

The staff and volunteers of the Lincoln Park Community Shelter have learned so much from our experience with Jim.  He reminds us that each guest has a unique story and set of circumstances, and unique needs.  Our programs are highly individualized, and respectful of the prior accomplishments and future potential of each guest.  And, we have developed the expertise to help those whose lives have spiraled out of control because of an undiagnosed illness.

We also better understand the value volunteers bring to our efforts, especially the ways in which they touch the lives of our guests.  The volunteers who made Jim feel at home during his time at LPCS have said they are much richer for having known him. To this day, we hear from guests that the interaction with volunteers plays a central role in their ability to succeed.

It is not easy to sum up 25 years. In this time, we’ve developed programs that motivate and empower guests to make lasting life changes, focused our efforts on returning people to housing, and built a dedicated staff and new facility, while remaining deeply connected to the community around us.  We can say with confidence that we are helping the Jims of 2010.

Because the LPCS has always been completely privately supported, we need your help to continue this success. As we celebrate this 25th Anniversary, please make a gift today to help our programs – and guests – continue to grow and change. This year, we have been challenged by an anonymous donor to raise money from new donors, and we need your help to meet this goal! Every dollar you give will be matched, up to $10,000! Use the enclosed envelope, or give online at

As you consider your donation, remember Jim’s story for what it says about who we are, how we’ve grown over the years, and what we can continue to do with your support.

With gratitude, 

Bob Burson, Founding Member

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