Flowers in the Yard

Reflection by Hope House resident, Sara Haines

I have a confession to make: I’m a closet pessimist. A few months back I had an evaluation and received several “excellent’s,” some “good’s,” and a “satisfactory” or two. Naturally, I focused on my deficits. The logic goes, “here are the deficits, eliminate the bad.” Let me tell ya, my motivation to tackle my weaknesses faded fast. It’s so draining to focus on all the work that needs to be done!

In social work, flowerwhat my background is in, the strengths based perspective makes for one of the professions bedrocks. This approach to a situation focuses on a person’s competencies, especially one’s resiliency, rather than their weaknesses. For me it can seem like stopping to smell the roses while there are weeds waiting to be pulled. Yet, it’s the beauty of the roses that inspires me, reminding me why I started weeding in the first place!

Here at the Port, the People’s School is all about cultivating life. It is workshops led by people in the community, sharing their talents with others to help them cultivate and develop their own abilities. If the people are the roses, the Back of the Yards is the garden, gangs, violence, and poverty are the weeds, and the People’s School is the gardener.

Within each person lies gifts, waiting to be unearthed “because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). Just as water poured on a flower prompts its growth, so too does pouring love into another’s gifts. And they grow in the most incredible places.


Red Line Philosophies

Reflection by Hope House Resident, Molly Gabaldo.

Tonight I was riding the red line to meet up with some friends downtown. The moment I walked into my selected car, I noticed a foul and strong odor of urine. Now, in my profession, I know what pee smells like, and unfortunately, wherever this scent was coming from was stale and ripe. I was not the only one noticing, either. I soon realized that the odor was coming from a man, poorly dressed, pacing on one end of the train. His pants were sagging, jacket ripped, hair disheveled, mumbling to himself.  Riders began to wave their hands in front of their faces, move out of the car and away from this man, openly offended by his lack of cleanliness. He mumbled apologies to passerbys, aware of his state.

I sat in that car wondering what the life of this man looked like before today. I was deeply disturbed by humanity’s willingness to point out the shortcomings of others by displaying their lack of acceptance of another as clearly as leaving a red line car to create space between themselves and someone perhaps seen as ‘lesser than’. So I started to ask myself: what are we willing to do to accompany our brothers and sisters? What are we willing to endure? What does that say about our own walk with God?

I believe that we are called to endure the stench of poverty. We are responsible for sitting with and recognizing the the deep wounds of injustice without turning up our noses or laughing in the face of our brother’s and sister’s barriers. I believe that walking away is accepting a societal norm of apathy. So, breathe it in. This is the task that we have set forth by God; to get so close to the needs of our communities that it just maybe becomes a part of us, no matter the “stench”.


Welcome, Kristen!

KEWe want to extend a great HOPE House welcome to our new roommate, Kristen Eckert! Kristen is currently a student at Wheaton College and will complete degrees in International Relations and Spanish this December. Kristen is originally from Peoria, Illinois and loves to play basketball! We expect her to show us her moves during open gyms in the coming months! She is also fluent in Spanish and has enjoyed volunteering at a free clinic in Bolingbrook this past year as a medical translator. Kristen is living in Chicago for the summer to complete an internship with the Mexican Consulate until August. We are so grateful for Kristen’s willingness to spend her summer in service of the Back of the Yards and grow with us here at the Port Ministries. Welcome, Kristen!


Interested in learning more about joining us at the HOPE House? Download the application HERE!

1 Year. A LOT of Hope.

A Reflection by Dannis Matteson, Hope House Resident


Wow, what a year. So much growth, so much change, so much transformation since May of 2015!

As I look at our year at the Hope House, I am left with so much gratitude.

Thank you, David for allowing that seed to be planted!

Thank you, Molly for nurturing the dream years ago, and for jumping in and doing the hard work of starting this thing!

Thank you, Kevin, Shanu, and Sara, for forging a foundation of what it means to be Hope!

Thank you, Port staff and volunteers for your patience and accompaniment as we worked to build a new HOPE community guided by the light of tradition.

Thank you, Port Board for your guidance and support all year long.

Thank you, to all of you who have generously supported us in so many ways to help us get the Hope House running again. You surprised us with an abundance of donations, service, and encouragement all year!

Thank you, Back of the Yards community for welcoming us and sharing your vibrant beauty!

As Tom and I transition out of the Hope House and on to our next step in life’s journey, this gratitude and all of these memories will continue to light our way… We look forward to hearing about the growth and transformation that will continue to blossom at the Hope House and the Port at large!


A Dumpster, Saltshaker, Breakfast, and the Back of the Yards

A Reflection by Thomas Cook, Hope House Resident

Every day Dannis and I walk our dog at nearby Cornell Square Park. Weekday morning walks are usually more eventful as we usually see the regular folks who have their routine of walking at the park every morning, and we also see many parents taking their kids to Daley Public School (right next to the park). Weekend mornings are less busy and the park is more quiet. A few weekends ago, however, I saw a sight we normally do not see at the park. As I finished my first of four laps around the park with our dog, I saw a man standing for a while by the dumpster that is right next to the park fieldhouse. As I got closer, it became clearer what he was doing: he was propping the dumpster lid open with his head and then finding food and eating it with his hands. I could see that he had food he had found in the dumpster in his left hand and a salt shaker in his right hand to season it. He continued to rummage around for food, find some he was thought was suitable for eating, season it with his salt shaker, and then eat it. Apparently this was his breakfast.


21st century America and we still have people eating out of dumpsters. One doesn’t have to go to a third world country to witness extreme poverty–it’s right here in our own city. How is this possible, and how does this happen in the so called ‘greatest nation on earth’?

I would say it’s because we have a misunderstanding of wealth and resources. Somehow we have been led to believe that wealth and resources are infinite. Our American culture teaches us that there is unlimited wealth out there for the taking: enough for everyone to have as much as they want and desire, and then some. You can acquire as much as you want with little or no effect on others.  

Now I haven’t studied economic theory, but the above understanding of wealth and economics doesn’t make sense to me. I have studied the Bible, and, the understanding of wealth and economics from Biblical times makes perfect sense to me. Biblical understanding of wealth was that there was only so much to go around and therefore if you took more more of the pie than you needed, you were taking away from someone else and causing them to suffer. Applying this to today’s economic world tells me that the poor are poor because the rich are rich.

Going with this way of thinking, the man we saw at the park that Sunday morning eating out of the dumpster with a saltshaker was doing so because somewhere else someone was feasting lavishly and taking much more than their share of the pie (sounds like the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus–Luke 16:19-31). The thinking works for communities and groups of people, too.  So why does the Back of the Yards (clearly an underserved population and neighborhood) exist in the first place? Because other neighborhoods (perhaps, for example, Winnetka, Il, where the median household income is $200,000, compared to Back of the Yards–where it’s closer to $20,000) are taking and receiving more than their share of the pie for things like school funding, road construction, land development, and business investment, leaving the Back of the Yards with next to nothing for these same things. But I’m not going to lay all the blame on rich suburbs for the poverty of the Back of the Yards. Actually, I think we’re all partly guilty of this man eating out of the dumpster because we all take more than we need at some point and this has a ripple effect on those around us.
If you’re looking for a way to simplify your life and not use more than you need so as not to impoverish others, come live with us at the Hope House. We’re not perfect, but we try to live simply so that others may simply live. We live in and serve the Back of the Yards neighborhood. We need you to join us so we can work towards never ever again having to see a person in 21st century America eating out of a dumpster.

Welcome Sara with us!

We welcomed a new Hope House community member on Friday. Her name is Sara Haines and she comes to us from Aid for Women where she was working and living at Heather’s House, a halfway house for women. Sara is passionate about social work, loves water color painting, and enjoys working out and running whenever she can find a green space. She is originally from Joliet, IL and went to University of Illinois in Champagne.  Sara is excited to get involved in the Port Ministries and has many talents and gifts to offer the Port!

Welcome, Sara! We are so glad you’ve joined us!


Note to self: Don’t be that guy

A Reflection by Dannis Matteson, Hope House Resident

This morning, I sat down to read today’s gospel reading and what I got from it was “don’t be that guy, Dannis.”

There was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
Now there is in Jerusalem at the Sheep Gate
a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, with five porticoes.
In these lay a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled.
One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.
When Jesus saw him lying there
and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him,
“Do you want to be well?”
The sick man answered him,
“Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool
when the water is stirred up;
while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.”
Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.”
Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked.

John 5:1-9

So we have Jesus approaching a man who has been suffering some kind of condition for 38 years. For some reason, Jesus has the audacity to ask the man if he even wants to be well! Why would Jesus ask that question? The man is clearly suffering. I wonder if Jesus is not convinced by the man’s attempts to be well. The man’s response to Jesus seems to come out as an excuse. “I try every day, but people keep jumping in ahead of me!” It seems the man continues doing the same thing over and over, every day. He is in a rut. He says he wants to be well, but he keeps repeating something that clearly does not work. This reminds me of Albert Einstein’s quote:

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

In my prayer this morning, I saw Jesus in a new light. Just like he had to be real with the man in the story, I think God was trying to be real with me. I felt God saying to me, Dannis, don’t be that guy. Stop doing the same thing over and over expecting to get better. Do you want to be well? Don’t let my healing be your last resort.   You are well. Get up and continue your walk with me. I need you to get up so that together we can help others get well, and become whole. 

I came out of my morning meditation replenished by the idea that the work of justice is the work of healing. And, the work of healing requires wholeness and wellness on the part of each of us individually. If I am not allowing God to help me get up and be well, how am I going to work toward justice and the healing of others?

Note to self: Don’t be that guy.


A Walk in the Desert…Err, Down the Mountain

A Reflection by Molly Gabaldo, Hope House Resident

Recently, I had the humbling opportunity to travel with a fabulous group of physicians and support staff through Rush University Medical Center’s Global Outreach program to the Dominican Republic for a medical mission based trip.  We spent the week in a community called Peralta, a small village in central DR in which is the hub for surrounding rural communities; we provided medical care, listening ears, and willing spirits to our Dominican brothers and sisters. But this is not the point of this blog.

On one of the last days of clinic, we traveled to a community far from Peralta, atop a mountain where many workers would travel for months at a time to harvest coffee beans.  Due to the treacherous and long journey, workers were unable to visit us in our clinics, so we traveled to them.  While atop the mountain, heavy rain fell for about an hour, muddying the only ‘roads’ that would lead us back to our new found home in Peralta. Locals insisted the safety of our journey back, so we confidently loaded into the bed of the truck that had led us up the mountain to head home. About ten minutes into our plight, the inevitable stopped us.  The truck was stuck in the mud on a long incline….and I mean stuck.

We spent about an hour using dry dirt on the side of the road to try to create new, dry road underneath the tires of the truck and intermittently would physically pull the truck a few feet up the incline that loomed over us. It didn’t take long to realize that our hope was in a nearly impossible task, realizing that there were many similar, steeper inclines awaiting us. Accepting that night was quickly approaching, we started a journey that few of us will forget, walking approximately eight miles down the mountain.

This journey came after a long week of treating a couple hundred Dominicans, a wave of stomach flu affecting each of us slowly throughout the week, and now, attempting to pull a truck up a mountain. We were tired.

Our Dominican guides (turned friends) kept saying, “just 30 more minutes”, “we’re almost there!” It didn’t take us long to realize that “30 minutes” meant three hours. My Spanish is bad, but not that bad.

About half way through, I started thinking about the people who had walked on this road before us, and who will walk it after us. I began to become grateful that my backpack wasn’t a baby, or bags of plantains, or clean water. It dawned on me that my joy in the thought of our cold shower and mediocre mattress that awaited us was a privilege and a gift that few who walk this path enjoy.  Suddenly, my legs started moving a little faster but my eyes began to drift upwards toward the clearest sky that I have ever witnessed. Beauty in simplicity. How often do we allow ourselves to feel the power of simplicity?

A true ‘walk in the desert’. Lent demands that we strip ourselves of the complexities of our day to day lives. Removing the layers of a society that pulls our minds and our priorities into places that are not life-giving, that are fleeting and distracting from the simplicity of the love of a God who carries us down the mountain, tossing stars in the sky and friendly faces along the way to encourage us in our plight of goodness, of love. A God who says, “just 30 more minutes!”, knowing that hearing, “3 more hours!” is neither encouraging nor life-giving; recognizing our emotional limitations while still pushing us a little bit further.

You may be wondering what any of this has to do with the Port Ministries or the Back of the Yards. Disparity is universal. The barriers that are faced by the community of Peralta may be named differently than those experienced by the community of the south and west sides of Chicago, but the aching realization of need are the same. We are called to ‘walk down the mountain’ of homelessness, hunger, economic injustice, gun violence, feelings of worthlessness, and healthcare injustice with our Chicago family.  How else are we to empathize to feeling the ache of one more step towards home? Walk down the mountain, your heart cries for it.

Patience and Faith

A Reflection By Kevin Felisme, Hope House Resident

My time here at the HOPE House continues to be an extremely beautiful growing experience for me.  When I reflect on my last eight months here at the PORT, I think about all the moments when I questioned if what I was doing was enough.  I struggled a lot with being patient and believing in ideas that seemed way too good to be true.  I remember sitting down with David our Executive Director and talking with him about this idea of creating free life skill classes for people in the community.  I got the idea from my study abroad experience in Cape Town, South Africa where I led workshops for youth in the neighborhood of Woodstock.  My favorite workshop was focused around hip hop empowerment and we talked about the different themes of hip hop music and how it can be used to empower or destroy people.  I will never forget that feeling I had after that workshop because we were able to talk about some really serious issues like violence, drugs, and sex.  Creating a safe space for that type of serious conversation was a really powerful moment for me and it was something that I would never forget.

So when David and I were talking about this idea in early August, I never truly believed we would actually make it this far into the process.  It is not because I am a pessimist, in fact I am the exact opposite.  Instead, it was because I had a hard time dealing with the significant amount of patience and faith it required.  Patience with the process and faith that if we put the hard work in, everything will come together.  Well, fast forward to February and we have an amazing group of female artists that have already moved into our buildings and are ready to hold painting workshops to the community for free.  This is truly incredible!  If that is not amazing enough, Molly, another Hope House Resident, has taken the initiative on getting a local yoga instructor to come teach classes for free to the community.  It seems like when people learn about our workshops, they want to come and teach all kinds of classes for free.

I also reflect back on the days when I would be sitting outside the gym with my basketball waiting for youth to come to our open gyms.  It seemed that no matter how much I promoted it, youth just were not interested in what we had to offer.  Fast forward to February and every Friday we get a solid group of at least eight to ten youth.  Now we are expanding our youth programs to include a teen lounge area that is also in the basketball gym.

So patience and faith are two very important capacities that I have been forced to work on during my time at the PORT.  I still continue to have these bold ideas that I would love to see come into fruition at the PORT.  So all I need are patience, faith, and a great group of people that believe in continuing to move forward with bold ideas one step at a time.

Wake Up: You Don’t Need to Make Money! (if you live at the HOPE House)

A Reflection by Thomas Cook, Hope House Resident

If you spend more than 30 minutes in your car driving somewhere and you have the radio turned on, you will probably hear the song ‘Stressed Out’ by twenty one pilots.  It’s a song about the current millennial angst of going through the transition from childhood to adulthood.  The singer longs to ‘turn back time, to the good old days’, ‘when our momma sang us to sleep, but now we’re stressed out’ (I know you’re singing along as you read this haha).  The singer longs for the days when he and friends used to play pretend and dream and build rocket ships, but now people are ‘laughing at our face, saying, ‘Wake up, you need to make money!’

Before I continue talking about the song, I need a disclaimer.  The HOPE House we live in is a beautiful thing for many reasons.  First and foremost, it supports the Port Ministries, which in turn has helped tens of thousands of people on the underserved South Side of Chicago in its 30 year history.  Secondly, it is a community of like minded people who are choosing to share life, faith, and service with one another.  Third, the rent is $250/month.  It is this third aspect of the beauty of the HOPE House that I will be focusing on in this article.  It is not because the other two aren’t just as important (if not more important), but because it goes with the main point I am trying to make.  Ok, back to the song and my point…

‘Wake up, you need to make money!’  The crowd saying this phrase in the song are, of course, right in the sense that, yes, we all need to make money.  It is the agreed upon currency we use in our society and no one can live without it.  But what’s debatable is how much money one needs to make in order to thrive in our society.  It seems to me that for most single and married young adults, their biggest monthly expense is rent (or a mortgage).  So most–if not all–single young adults and married couples need to ‘make money’ in order to pay their biggest monthly expense, which is rent.  

(FYI: The median one bedroom rent price in the city of Chicago is $1,600 (9th highest in the U.S. in 2015: If you do a little math, that comes to $19,200 a year a person pays in rent (if they pay the median monthly average in Chicago).  If a person makes $10/hour and works full time, their yearly salary is $19,200 (and that’s before taxes). I think my next blog post will probably be about the ridiculous price of rent in our country…)

It also seems to me that many–though certainly not all–single and married young adults, deep down in their souls would ultimately rather being doing something other than working the job they are currently at; and this is a major source of being ‘stressed out’ (even if it is not recognized by the person).  Not that they don’t enjoy their job some or most of the time, and not that they aren’t good at their job, or that they don’t like the people they work with.  But if you were to ask most of these people, ‘Is your job fulfilling your deepest desires and dreams for your life?  Do you feel like your job fulfills your ultimate purpose as a person?’  Are you currently doing what you are absolutely passionate about?  Do you feel like your job is truly making a positive difference in the lives of people in our world?  Do you feel like your job is your ‘personal legend’ (feel me Alchemist fans)?’, I think most would answer ‘No, not really’ and then say some variation of ‘It’s just a job, man; it pays the rent’.

In my opinion, this is not a good situation.  So we have a ton of people who, in order to pay rent, are working jobs they would ultimately rather not be doing and this is leading them to be ‘stressed out’ because, again, they’re doing something they aren’t really passionate about because they have to pay rent.  It’s a vicious cycle for those who chose to live it and seems to only lead to a person being more and more ‘stressed out’.

Well, what if you could live somewhere in Chicago and pay very, very cheap rent, say $250/month?  Well you can and the place is called the HOPE House and it’s in the lovely Back of the Yards neighborhood!  The reality is, if you choose to live in the HOPE House, you really don’t need to make that much money.This would mean a person would not have to make as much money, and would therefore be less ‘stressed out’, because they would not have to work as much at a job that is ultimately not fulfilling their ultimate purpose.  The cheap rent of the HOPE House means they could perhaps even leave that job they are not passionate about and seek out more meaningful work for themselves (even if it is part-time, because again, it’s only $250/month and one doesn’t need a full-time paycheck to pay that amount per month).  They could worry less about working and paying bills and have more time to discern what their ultimate purpose is in life (personal legend) and spend more time pursuing that.  They would have more time to do other fulfilling things as well: like spending time building a better relationship with their significant other, family, and friends; volunteering at the Port Ministries and making a difference in the lives of people in our community; reading the literary classics and being inspired; getting in shape and exercising; going to the Lakefront and being refreshed; going to a Cubs game at magnificient Wrigley Field(!); taking classes and furthering their education; taking time to prepare and eat healthy meals, ‘build a rocket ship…dream of outer space’; ________________ (you fill in the blank according to your passions), etc.

So if you are sick of hearing in your life those voices from the song saying, ‘Wake up, you need to make money!’, come live with us at the HOPE House.  If you do, you will be the one ‘laughing in their face’ saying, ‘No actually I don’t!  The cheap rent I pay here allows me to not be stressed out about working a job that ultimately doesn’t fulfill me just so I can pay rent.’  So come join us!!  Leave the world of paying crazy high rent and working a less than ‘personal legend’ job just to be able to pay rent.  We can’t promise you a momma who will sing you to sleep (that would be a little weird), but we can promise you’ll be less ‘stressed out’‘ 😉