Last night my 17-year-old daughter and I drove to Chicago’s west side. In East Garfield Park, one of the city’s grittier neighborhoods, we drive slow down Carroll Avenue. In the dusk, small children play in tiny front yards. A toddler in only a diaper follows his older brothers down the street.
A block further, we park in front of an old brake factory that has been turned into a homeless shelter and community center. The outside of the old brick building is covered with scaffolding that’s been there a couple of years, the inside is worn, but clean and bright. The women who live there call a friendly hello as we enter.
Upstairs, we join a group of women around a table: fellow Redbud Writers Jennifer Grant and Caryn Rivadeneira, suburban moms and authors like me, and Arloa Sutter, director of Breakthrough Urban Ministries, which runs the center where we met, are talking with four homeless women who live at the center. Varied in age and race, they are connected by the community created in this center, and by their desire to tell their story.
These women want to write, and we want to offer some mentoring and guidance as they pursue that passion. The women talk about their struggles. Some are unique to life in the hood, others are universal–loneliness and uncertainty. They talk about joys, to about God, how much he loves them. And these women also love one another fiercely. When one breaks down in tears, the others huddle around her to comfort. “We’re sisters,” the women tell us.
The refrain “God’s been so good to me,” echoes around the table, woven like a gold thread through the dark stories of their lives. I steal a look at my daughter, who has served meals in the kitchen downstairs, but never listened to this intimate a conversation with the women who live here. By listening to their stories, we have fed them in a different way–and we ourselves have been fed. My daughter says little, but learns much.