While many non-profit organizations are being forced to close their doors during a time of increased need, The Art of St. Sabina is rising to the occasion to serve their communities. Courtney Holman, the Executive Director of The Ark at St. Sabina, spoke with us to talk more about how her team is answering the call to serve during this dire time.
CG: Tell us a little bit about yourself-how did you get involved in the work at St. Sabina?
CH: My name is Courtney Holman, I am the current Executive Director for The Ark. I was born and raised on the south side of Chicago and have been an employee of The Ark for eight years. I started working there in 2012 after previously volunteering while attending Roosevelt University. When The Ark first opened, it was just a safe space for boys who couldn’t play in the park, which is what we still see happening today. I have always known that I wanted to serve others, and I cared about our community deeply. I knew that I wanted to see our black and brown kids see our black and brown leaders return to our community and invest in them so that they could see how important it was for them to do the same as they get older, so I worked to create that structure to build that community.
CG: What is The Ark?
CH: The symbolism is Noah’s Ark, as branded by Father Pfleger, it is a shelter from the urban storm. The Ark is a community center that serves over 45 schools, inclusive of CPS and charter schools. We provide holistic after-school programming as well as summer programming for youth ages 6-24. We also offer young adult programming through the city’s program called “Young Futures.” Our whole goal is to tell our kids and our youth that they can overcome what they were born into and that they can still be great and live their purpose. Our youth get meals, computer time to complete their e-learning assignments, team building activities, and enrichment classes.
In the life skills class, they discuss violence, music, friends, and family. We also created a program for our 16-17-year-olds to work with younger youth during the summer. Implementing small, structural changes has allowed us to become a community that helps youth to get a sense that there are adults here who care about them. We have created these relationships where youth feel loved and empowered and then return to find out how they can help out as well.
CG: How has the Coronavirus impacted the work at The Ark?
CH: We now have extended hours to meet the need. We just responded to the community and extended our hours for those parents who do not have a place to send their children during the day. We are working as an essential business because we have parents who work at hospitals and grocery stores and in public transportation. We have hired more maintenance staff, and they are sanitizing the space at the beginning of the day and throughout the day. We are regularly sending emails and reaching out to parents. We are also taking temperatures of participants so that we can remain a safe haven. We have put many methods in place, along with prayer, to make sure that we are giving the community what they need. We are sanitizing everything. We have faith that when it’s time to serve, we will be able to do so. In six days, we have had 212 youth that were not previously enrolled in The Ark, so there is a, and we are doing our best to meet that need.
CG: How can parents enroll their children in The Ark?
CH: Come up to The Ark at 9 am, or anytime, complete the application, and that’s it. Your child is enrolled.
CG: What are the challenges of doing this work?
CH: We’re used to working hard, and we have received a lot of support. But we also get a lot of negativity- folks saying, “why are you open?” But those typically come from people who have somewhere for their child to go. Some people don’t know what it is like not to have a place for your child to go for an eight hour day or trying to leave your child at home. We are just trying to be a safe haven for our community. Our grant providers have asked us to modify things in regards to Coronavirus precautions, but they have not told us to cancel services because they know how important the work is.
CG: What makes this work meaningful for you?
CH: This work is purpose-filled. When you do what you know, you should be doing; the experience is rewarding. Our goal is to impact, empower, and influence to get our youth in the right space mentally. We all went through something, and it is time for us to be a resource. We can still be the answers to someone else’s problem. When we work with a higher purpose and calling, I believe many people will be blessed because of it.
How can people get involved in supporting this work?
CH: They can call, go on our website-www.thearkofstsabina.org. We are unable to accommodate volunteers during this time due to Coronavirus, but people can drop off donations.
People can donate on the website-cleaning supplies, and snacks are appreciated at this time. They can also check out our website or email us to discuss other ways to partner in the future.
CG: What is one piece of advice you would give someone looking to give back to your community right now?
CH: The most significant thing at this time is prayer. That is one of the most important things because this is beyond us. The truth is it is not our efforts allowing us to do this work right now. Try to figure out the most significant need and try to address that need. Find whatever is placed on your heart, ask others what their need is, and try to help them. For something that has kept us so isolated, I have also seen so much unity. My team and I are doing the best we can to stay healthy and use preventative measures to continue to do this work until God says differently.
For more information on ways to contribute to the work at The Ark@ St. Sabina, please visit their website at www.thearkofstsabina.org.
Chante’ Gamby, Contributing Writer