In her affluent Chicago suburb, Sandy Welch's children attend excellent schools. They have access to more books than they can read, and the majority of students in their district read at or above grade level. The high school graduation rate is a stunning 97 percent.
In an urban neighborhood just 20 miles away, three out of four children read below their grade level—if at all. Most have little access to libraries or books.
These two worlds came together in 2001 when Sandy's husband, Greg, joined Springboard, an organization that provides seed money for after-school programs. A year later, Springboard made a donation to Breakthrough Urban Ministries, located in Chicago's gritty East Garfield Park neighborhood, which provides a variety of services, including after-school sports and tutoring.
Over the next five years, Sandy and Greg got to know some of the Break-through staff. Impressed with the work they were doing, Sandy invited director Bill Curry to speak at a luncheon for her women's Bible study in December 2007.
While Bill's stories of how Break-through helps underprivileged kids were compelling, the fact that he and his family actually live in East Garfield Park really spoke to Sandy. "So many of us want to do good things," she says. "But to take that leap of faith, to move into the neighborhood—gave him a ton of credibility. You could see his love for those kids and his passion for helping them."
Inspired by Bill's sharing, Sandy's group visited Breakthrough's facilities a month later. The neighborhood, once one of the most violent in Chicago, is run down but slowly improving. New buildings sit next to crumbling, abandoned, or boarded up ones. "I was a little worried," Sandy admits. "It was out of my comfort zone."1