Seeing a Need in Her Community, She Created a Safe Space for Kids and Families to Shine
Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Jennifer Maddox, who was a Top 10 finalist for the L’Oréal Paris Women of Worth Award in 2018. Each year L’Oréal Paris and Points of Light recognize and celebrate Women of Worth who make a beautiful difference in their communities. Ten honorees each receive a $10,000 grant to support their most cherished cause, and an online vote determines one honoree who will receive an additional $25,000 grant. Nominations for 2019 are now open! If you know a woman who works to create lasting and significant change in her community, nominate her to be one of the 2019 Women of Worth.
“You can’t put a Band-Aid on just the children who are living in a challenging situation,” said Jennifer Maddox. “You have to nurture the parents as well. Getting the parents involved in our organization has been key to our success.”
The statistics are alarming: In South Side Chicago, the overall crime rate is triple the national average, and violent crimes are astronomical – 100 times the overall rate in the country. The adage, “it takes a village,” may work to decrease crime rates, but in the case of the Parkway Gardens community, a low-income project that spans only three blocks yet has 694 units housing more than 3,000 people, it took Jennifer Maddox.
Jennifer knew she had to do something. As a Chicago police officer whose beat included Parkway Gardens, once home to a young Michelle Obama, she noticed that there was nothing for the area’s children and youth to do after school – which is when a majority of crimes were being committed and gang-related activities were taking place. Desiring to gain the trust of the residents so that she could be a change agent for this community, Jennifer took a second job as a security officer in Parkway and began her quest to forge relationships. During her security patrol one evening, she noticed an empty basement, and began formulating the idea to start an after-school safe-space program. The property management company agreed to her concept, so using her own resources for supplies and snacks, she started the venture in 2009.
Despite slow participation to start, her initiative soon began to grow. Young people came every afternoon, and at some point, Jennifer was asked to help with homework and academics. Again reaching into her own pocket, the single mother purchased computers, printers and other needed school supplies. As participation grew, she sought out Parkway parents to assist with chaperoning and tutoring. Soon, more than 100 young people were attending Jennifer’s program, and in 2011, she dubbed the program Future Ties.
Through the years, Future Ties has evolved to be much more than just an afterschool activity for children, thanks to Jennifer’s laser focus on what these young people and their families need. Five days a week, elementary, middle and high school students participate in life-skills training, mentoring, academic support, field trips, conflict resolution, résumé building, community volunteerism, workshops and more, with parents playing a key role in overseeing the activities. In addition, parents are able to participate in programs covering financial management, child rearing and mentorship. Recognizing a need to provide programs during the summer months, Jennifer instituted a summer camp for smaller children and a camp for teenagers that included recreational outlets for all. In all programs, Jennifer says she does her best to involve the whole family.
Her ultimate goal? “I want to reach all 1,200 children and youth in the Parkway community so that they can be the best version of themselves. And I want their parents to play a role so that they can be the best version of themselves, too,” said Jennifer.
Jennifer has a wide range of community support. Parkway Christian Church, a neighboring house of worship, provides additional space for Future Ties’ programs. She has received several grants and sponsorships through such groups and individuals as the Aigner Foundation, the University of Chicago, Chicago Cubs player, Jason Heyward, and the Urban League. Through it all, Jennifer says her greatest partnerships come from the Parkway families and parents who are helping to make a difference.
Since realizing her vision for the Parkway Garden community, Jennifer estimates that 800 children and youth have been served by Future Ties, but the residual effects are nothing short of amazing. Crime has decreased in the area within and around the neighborhood by an overwhelming 50 percent since Future Ties was founded. Six parents are now part-time employees of the venture, which means they are receiving minimal government assistance. Damage to the housing complex has greatly decreased, and so has gang activity. Several of the youngsters who participated in the program throughout the years are now attending college, planning to attend college or are gainfully employed.
Shaquita Wells was receiving government assistance and had a dream to provide a better life for herself and for her daughter. A Parkway parent, Shaquita began helping out at the Future Ties afterschool program, and today, she is a part-time supervisor who needs only minimal government assistance. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without Jennifer. She encouraged and pushed me to get my associate’s degree, and I’m looking forward to getting a bachelor’s degree next,” Shaquita said. “She is the very definition of strength, courage and ambition. She is a woman that stops at nothing to see that the world we live in is a better place. She’s victorious in all angles.”
Another parent volunteer-turned-employee is Tenesha Payne, who credits Jennifer’s mentorship of her four children. “She takes time with them to encourage and support them. She attends our young people’s graduations. She attends sporting events and tournaments of our children; she’s available for anything she can attend. We love her so much for that,” said Tenesha.