The Shema House was founded to provide a home base for a small band of volunteers, and a safe, encouraging environment for a neighborhood of boys.
In 2006, the Shema House became a place where young people could practice community service as a path toward personal maturity and achievement. Along the way—issues of racial, religious, economic bridge-building became a part of our ethos. The house exposed boys (and a few girls!) to good role models, positive friendships and adult mentoring—all with the hope of seeing them grow into the very best people possible.
Everyones lives were changed. We became the Shema Family.
Today, in 2014, the question doesn't seem that radical. It feels like a "Duh!" statement...but in 2006, it was a dramatic shift in thought process to simply ask:
"What if a charity simply listened to the neighborhood, and helped with what was needed?"
It turned out—what our neighborhood did not need was another large building full of programs and answers.
It needed a safe, cooperative environment for boys to practice life skills, find a family included them and supported their dreams. A home that offered healthy relationships with other boys and adults who could help, as the boys used to say: "practice being good at life".
Here is what Shema House life looked like in those early days:
Serving: The Shema House donated thousands of hours to Chicago charities over 6 years.
Mentoring: Chores, life skills, games, fun, and preparing meals all gave adults opportunities to model the ‘hear+do’ mindset and sharing critical life skills such as cooking, self care, nutrition, money and time management, job interviewing, life goal planning and many others. Plenty of great coffee talks, answering questions about relationships, conflict resolution, anger management, community leadership and teamwork.
Friendships: Having a pack to run with that encourages hard work, discipline, honesty, volunteerism, empathy, and cooperation makes a huge difference in everyones lives. We were a place that those types of friendships could thrive. Those friendships still impact our lives today
The Shema House helped boys discover their creative and professional potential. Today, the boys are thriving as young adults, showing great work ethic, strong thinking skills, and good empathy for their community. Many have received scholarships to college, are happily married, travel the globe as volunteers, and serve in the US military.
However, it’s not just the boys whose lives were altered. Volunteer adults were inspired to start new projects, change their college majors, go back to school for non-profit management, stop abusive lifestyles, and incorporated service into their way of life.
In 2010, the Shema House closed its Arlington Heights location and reopened in downtown Chicago. Having completed its mission of ‘raising’ the 15 original boys it started with, it still carries on the legacy of partnering, serving & mentoring in Lincoln Park. In fact, the house has expanded, and is now the headquarters for Love Without Agenda—helping other charitable entrepreneurs across the globe.
While this chapter has a happy ending, the story is just beginning.