Expanding Programs on a Budget: Marillac 1980-2002

On January 20, 1981, Ronald Reagan delivered his first inaugural address to the people of this nation. He thanked outgoing president Jimmy Carter and then lambasted the government’s role in the country’s current economic woes. He linked the nation’s “present troubles” to an “unnecessary and excessive growth of government.”[1] Indeed, according to Reagan, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”[2] During his tenure as president, Ronald Reagan would slash government spending and places like Marillac Social Center, and the people it helped, would feel its impact the greatest.

In her September 1982 newsletter, Sister Julia Huiskamp, by now, director of Marillac, admitted that budget cuts had drastically affected Marillac and its neighbors. She wrote, “The Marillac child abuse outreach counseling program was cut in half; the child care feeding program dollars have been cut by 30%, and the summer feeding program has been eliminated for not-for-profit sponsors.”[3] Meanwhile, “High utility costs and rents coupled with dreadful unemployment and cuts in welfare programs have made life for the very poor in Chicago a kind of nightmare.”[4] In the spring of 1983, she chastised the administration claiming that despite “Desperate poverty, record unemployment, and hungry children…The administration sa[id] we must depend less on [the] government.[5] It was clear that Marillac would either have to find new sources of income, or would have to start cutting programs that their neighbors needed and perhaps even relied on, more and more.

In fact, against seemingly impossible odds, Marillac Social Center was able to grow. The Rockwell Gardens outpost reopened in 1985 as Rockwell Recreations, and “increased its involvement with gang prevention activities by offering after school recreation and homework support programs.”[6] Josephine Brown, a Rockwell Gardens occupant and single mother, along with her four children, utilized Marillac’s Rockwell Recreations to fulfill a variety of their needs. In the summer, the children participated in the summer program which offered “arts and crafts, sports, field trips, and other activities,” and the whole family benefitted from “home visits, school advocacy, and after-school activities,” that the outpost provided.[7] According to Brown, “Being involved in [the program] helped my children and me to realize that we are special and that I can be the person that I want to be.”[8]

To continue their program expansion, Marillac relied heavily on state funding, on charitable organizations such as Catholic Charities and the Community Trust (a precursor to the United Way), and on donations. The state of Illinois sponsored Marillac’s new Day Shelter, which opened in 1984. The shelter provided “extra food, clothing, counseling and social services to as many as 800” people a month.[9] Lonnie Tyus, a Day Shelter client, credited the staff there for believing in him and preventing him from giving up hope.[10] By 1990, Mr. Tyus was employed at Marillac, taking GED courses, and was well on his way to moving out of the shelter. Marillac’s Shelter was vital to Mr. Tyus’ livelihood, but the Marillac staff were the ones who really mended his broken soul. “When people care about you,” he commented, “you care about yourself.”[11]

Meanwhile, Marillac used monies from the Community Trust, starting in 1982, to begin their world-renown program for pregnant teenagers, Project Hope. This program was established to help “teens and their families nurture and bond with their children.”[12] Project Hope also offered teen mothers and their families resources and guidance so that they could remain, or in some cases, return to school. Ultimately, Project Hope aimed to provide enough resources and information so that these mothers could make systematic changes in their lives and be able to bring their children up in nurturing households. According to Kay Hallagan, the founder of Project Hope, teenage mothers often needed, “housing, medical care, and instruction in parenting,” all services that Project Hope helped them to attain.[13] Ellen Cannon, a 21-year-old with two children, had been a participant in the Project Hope program for three years when she commented, “There have been plenty of times that I needed some help or just someone to talk to, and Marillac staff have always been there for me. Like a family away from home.”[14] She continued, “I have never been disappointed [with Marillac].”[15]

Project Hope was so successful, in 1985 it branched out into Hope Junior, a service originally offered to the young sisters of pregnant teens in an effort to prevent them from walking in the footsteps of their sisters. Trevious Ellis, a former participant in Hope Junior, credited the program for helping her make the right decisions in her young life. She said, “Hope Junior helped me set future goals and high standards for life planning.”[16] She was a graduating senior in high school at the time. By 1987, over 150 “individuals [were] touched by the program[s] each month.”[17] The programs were wildly successful and both Project Hope and Hope Junior are, to this day, two of Marillac’s flagship programs.

Through its trials and tribulations the House has endured thanks to the heroic efforts of the Daughters of Charity, its staff, its volunteers, and the people of the community who enter its doors. Though times have changed and Marillac now shares its backroom operations with the sister Daughter of Charity ministry in Chicago, St. Vincent de Paul Center, in some respects Marillac Social Center faces similar challenges that it had in the past. Drugs, violence, gang activity, and funding woes are just some of the obstacles that a poor community, such as East Garfield Park is plagued with. Despite such trials, however, Marillac Social Center has and will continue to reach out to those in need to the best of its ability. But Marillac cannot do it alone. As Sister Andrea Orford made clear, in order for Marillac to reach its neighbors, its neighbors must put their arms out. At the dedication of the Anton C. Myles Place, Sister Andrea stated, “You know, when you reach for someone, you have to exert a little bit, even change your position.”[18] She continued, “and the person being reached for must grab and pull himself up, hold on tight until able to let go on his or her own.”[19] As long as there are those in the community who continue to hold their arms up high, the staff and volunteers of Marillac Social Center will be there reaching out to and for them.

Works Cited:
[1] Ronald Regan Inaugural Address, 1981 in Voices of Freedom: A Documentary History. Fourth ed., vol. II, edited by Eric Foner (W.W. Norton & Company, 2014), 322.
[2] Ibid., 322.
[3] September 1982 Newsletter; box 5, folder 2, MSCA.
[4] Christmas 1982 Newsletter; box 5, folder 2, MSCA.
[5] May 1983 Newsletter; box 5, folder 2, MSCA.
[6] Joan Costello and Jonathan Boyer, “Marillac House: A Sustaining Presence on Chicago’s Westside, A Report to the Chicago Community Trust and Marillac House,” pp. 4-5, April 1989; box 5, folder 9, MSCA.
[7] Marillac House Newsletter 1985 Fall; box 5, folder 1, MSCA.
[8] Marillac House Annual Report, for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1990; box 6, folder 7, MSCA.
[9] “New Program: A Day Shelter,” Mater Dei Provincialiate Newsletter, vol. 16, no. 5 May 1984; box 5, folder 6 MSCA.
[10] Marillac House Annual Report, 1990.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Funding letter from Marueen Hallagan, Executive Director of Marillac Social Center 13 July 1999; box 7, folder 4, MSCA.
[13] Jean Latz Griffen and Eleanor Nelson, “Teen Pregnancies Beget Cycle of Despair,” Chicago Tribune 20 May 1984.
[14] Marillac House Annual Report,1990.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Marillac House Annual Report, 1987.
[18] July 13 Dedication of Anton Myles Place-Talk given by Sister Andrea, box 4, folder 10, MH Archives, Chicago, IL.
[19] Ibid.

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