Arloa Sutter lives and works in a neighborhood called East Garfield Park located on the west side of Chicago, Illinois. It’s a neighborhood filled with wide boulevards, tree-lined streets, and beautiful public parks. The neighborhood is home to the Garfield Park Conservatory, one of the largest conservatories in America, and lies only ten minutes from downtown Chicago. Yet, for all of its beauty, the neighborhood has some challenges too.
East Garfield Park has struggled for decades with the effects of disinvestment. Families must leave the neighborhood to find healthy produce options. Most public grammar schools are underperforming, surviving on far fewer resources than their suburban counterparts. Despite the gorgeous brick homes, vacant lots dot the landscape. There is a noticeable absence of job opportunities in the neighborhood, and this has been the case for decades. As all of these challenges coalesce, frustrations run deep and the potential for violence seems ever present. Arloa recounts that shortly after moving into the neighborhood a bullet passed through her living room window and lodged in her dining room wall. She easily connects this event to the systemic issues that have burdened the community. “This is what happens when kids lose hope in education and take their futures into their own hands,” she concludes. Despite the convergence of these difficulties, Arloa is not ready to surrender.
Rising to the Challenge
Arloa is the Executive Director for Breakthrough Urban Ministries, a community development agency that is determined to weave together the collective efforts of neighbors to create change for families in East Garfield Park. They have chosen to focus on the nearest 32 blocks and saturate the community with support.
Breakthrough facilitates two transitional shelters, one for men and one for women. They run an after-school program for kids in the neighborhood and a client-choice food pantry for families. They even have a home delivery service for seniors who find it difficult to come to the pantry. Breakthrough also offers computer training, financial literacy workshops, and employment readiness classes.
Though she beams with pride as she lists the ministries of Breakthrough, Arloa is quick to share that this ministry had small beginnings. “It was a grassroots endeavor that started it all. We kept asking ourselves, How could God use us to care for the inebriated and homeless? Until then the great debate was always over whether or not to give the homeless our pocket change. We knew there had to be more we could do.
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