May 10, 2016 | Sarah Guminski | Policy in Practice, Urban Affairs

On April 6, 2016, I sat down with Deanna Hallagan and LaToya Winters at Marillac House in East Garfield Park to talk about their work with children growing up on Chicago’s West Side and how the Hope Junior program is fighting to break the cycle of urban poverty.

Deanna Hallagan has directed the Hope Junior program at Marillac House for over 20 years. She has been connected to Marillac since childhood when her mother started Project Hope, a teen motherhood support program. Hope Junior began soon after as a pregnancy prevention program for young women, but has since grown into a coeducational after school program for children in Kindergarten through 8th grade.

LaToya Winters was a member of the Hope Junior program as a child growing up in East Garfield Park. After graduating from Northern Illinois with a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology and a Minor in Family and Child Studies, she returned to Marillac House as a Youth Worker for the Hope Junior program. She is currently working toward her Master’s Degree in Social Work at DePaul University.

The children with whom you work deal with very adult issues from a young age. How do you work to keep their childhoods intact?

Deanna Hallagan: I think kids really do want the chance to be kids, and there are so many things in our world now that force them to not be. It breaks the bubble and shatters what illusions they have. But I think they really want the chance to be kids and to have fun. Their resilience, at least in my experience, is incredible—the humor, the sense of fun. Kids need the opportunity to have fun even if something is not going well in the outside world. I think that’s what we try to provide.

A lot of times we take kids out of the neighborhood. I actually have a camp in Wisconsin that my husband and I have worked on starting. We do a lot of different overnights up there to remove everyone from the neighborhood and watch their defenses go down. To watch them really just be kids, it’s so important—trips to the zoo, trips to the swimming pool, all of those things are so important for what makes your childhood your childhood. And they still have to happen; I think they need to happen in order for people to keep their sanity. The amount of violence that our kids see is just off the charts. I’m not only talking about violence in our streets, but the violence in everything. I think kids really need the opportunity to be in places where they can be silly and have fun. I know that might not sound groundbreaking or earth shattering, but it’s the truth, and kids really do thrive when they have a chance to see what’s out there.


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