CCH honored two of its dedicated volunteers Monday, kicking off a Leadership Circle event that also featured screening The Homestretch, a new documentary on the lives of three unaccompanied youths in Chicago.
Michael Heaton and Mike Bagley were honored for 11 years of volunteer work on behalf of CCH. Their extensive efforts include founding and long-time leadership of the John “Juancho” Donahue Golf Outing, which since 2003 has raised more than $450,000.
Both men said the homeless people helped by CCH advocacy inspire their efforts.
Mr. Heaton is a Chicago attorney and partner at O’Keefe Lyons & Hynes, LLC. Mr. Bagley is senior vice president of American Chartered Bank and treasurer of the CCH Board of Directors, where he has served 10 years as a board member.
About 150 people attended the CCH-hosted screening, which featured a panel discussion with the film’s directors, one of the film’s featured youth, Kasey, and Prosser high school’s homeless liaison, Patricia Scott.
The event also kicked off a two-month CCH fundraising campaign, Hopestretch for homeless youth.
Also a panelist was Tia Carter, a CCH youth leader and Tilden high school senior. CCH Board President Bernie Dyme, moderating the panel, asked for Tia’s reaction to the film.
“I kind of got really emotional… I thought about when me, my Mom and three sisters went through it (homelessness). But watching this made feel there is hope, gave me ideas.”
Tia said friends helped her cope. “If you don’t have friends,” she said, trailing off. “For people like me, it’s like God is watching over me, because a minute ago I didn’t have nowhere to go.”
The 90-minute film shows Kasey all-but rejected by her mother and grandmother because she is a lesbian. Kasey is seen as often hopeful, but agitated, too, as she tries to move forward with her life after high school, helped by Teen Living Programs and later, La Casa Norte.
Kasey said film directors Anne De Mare and Kirsten Kelly “made it easy for me to open up part of my life, because they genuinely were concerned.”
Prosser, located in the northwest side Belmont-Cragin neighborhood, saw its homeless enrollment almost triple, to 89, since Ms. Scott was first filmed working with students. She said she endorses CCH’s ongoing work to get Illinois to restore $3 million for grants funding homeless services in public schools.
“We need everything,” she added. “We get a stipend for supplies, coats and shoes. My friends from the Chicago Coalition will echo this, but let’s do something about getting more funding for homeless students. The need is growing faster than we can comprehend.”
Ms. De Mare said the directors’ original plan was to follow three unaccompanied youths until their high school graduations, “but then the steady support disappears. We realized we want to do a film about how you launch as an independent person.”
Later, taking audience questions, one woman said she was appalled to see that homeless youth need to win a lottery to get one of 20 beds in an overnight shelter, with some 15 youths turned away many nights.
“How can anyone in the public trust not consider this an emergency?” she asked.
The filmmakers pointed out that city of Chicago funds were restored to the overnight shelter, The Crib, and about 100 new overnight youth beds opened when the city added $2 million a year in homeless youth funding two years ago.
The film is “a powerful way to put a face on homelessness for youth,” said CCH Board member Deborah Harrington, retired president of the Woods Fund of Chicago.
In answer to a teacher’s question, the directors agreed that closing Chicago schools hurts unaccompanied youth. “Anytime you destabilize the only stable adults in their life, it is a problem,” Ms. De Mare said.
Unaccompanied youth need a safety net that includes shelter, housing, schooling – and “they need adult guides and mentors,” said Ms. Kelly.
Produced by Chicago’s Kartemquin Films, The Homestretch is showing exclusively at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State Street. Many showings sold out in advance, with tickets remaining for the remaining shows on Wednesday and Thursday. The film is slated to air on public TV stations in spring 2015.
– Anne Bowhay, Media, and Graham Bowman, photo