By Yusuph Masanja, Co-Facilitator, Global Alumni Network

The Chicago Peace Fellows have tirelessly continued to find ways in helping families survive COVID. In the stories below, our Fellows, Jamila Trimuel, Dawn Hodges, and David Gonzalez are making a huge difference in South Side Chicago.

Chicago Peace Fellow, Jamila Trimuel, is a founder of Ladies of Virtue, an award-winning mentoring and leadership program that has empowered over 1,000 girls, ages 9 to 18, to become confident and purpose-driven leaders.

In 2020, Ladies of Virtue served the community with the support needed to survive the pandemic. They served 4,000 meals to 1,220 people in the community, they gave out school supplies, financial stipends, PPE and laptops for families.

We are so proud that we are not only serving the 200 girls we are serving this year but also over 1,000 community members. – Jamila Trimuel, Founder of Ladies of Virtue

This summer, Ladies of Virtue held their very first summer STEM program called “STEMuTiful”. This program is a virtual summer experience promoting self-love, confidence, and beauty while increasing exposure to black women executives in the STEM and beauty industry. As a result, 84 percent of girls involved said the program increased their confidence and 100 percent of participants said that they learned more about STEM careers as a result of the program.

Jamila’s motivation to start Ladies of Virtue emanated from her own personal experience while in high school. She noticed some of the students, including her friends, were not planning for life after school. Having learned from constant encouragement from her parents to pursue her passion, Jamila knew that having positive role models in life to push you towards your dreams can really make a difference. So, while in college, she decided to become a mentor to help those students, to kind of push them along, and be a listening ear if needed. As she got older, Jamila realized that mentoring youth was her true passion, thus, she started Ladies of Virtue.

Go social with Ladies of Virtue this month to follow celebrations of the National Mentoring Month throughout January using #LOVChicago on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Dawn Hodges, Chicago Peace Fellow and the Executive Director at Imani Community Development Corporation is busy gathering and distributing as many resources as possible to neighbors in need. For over 40 years, the Imani community has been a pillar in the neighborhood, primarily focusing on mentoring, out-of-school programming, and food distribution.

Whatever is needed by the community we try to gather, that’s not our usual model but that’s what we do right now. We try to be of service to our community as much as we can. – Dawn Hodges

Dawn and her team provide monthly food distributions serving 200 families. COVID complicated their operations but they never stopped.  Dawn and her team didn’t miss a month in 2020, even with the pandemic. “We just kept going,” Dawn says.

As Dawn continues to gather and distribute resources, she is requesting any help that could be given to further support communities in need. More importantly, Dawn requests more and more prayers from us. The following quote from Marianne Williamson inspires Dawn and she shares it often with her peers:

Our deepest fear is not that we are weak. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?

Focus areas like, after school summer programs and mentorship for young men, are hugely affected. They recently conducted a virtual summer camp and continue to engage kids virtually, but it is challenging. Dawn says, “Now we do check-ins but it’s not the same, getting kids to focus on a call is a big problem.”

Chicago Peace Fellow, David Hommy Gonzalez, is the Executive director of Port Ministries, a non-profit in Chicago offering free clinic services, after school and food distribution programs. They also run art programs and the adult education program called the People’s School.

David and his team had no idea how to get sandwiches donated anymore when the pandemic hit. They reached out to individuals and so many were willing to make sandwiches in their houses and leave it at their doors for a driver to pick up and donate. David found this to be an interesting way to allow people to volunteer from a place they are comfortable, their houses!

Our food provision had to adjust during the pandemic. We had to partner more. – David Gonzalez

David owes the Port Ministries vision to his mother. He remembers being very poor in his hometown. His mother went hungry many times, buying food only for David but failing to provide for herself.

Now that I am educated and have a good position. It’s my responsibility to use that privilege to give our Mamas all the tools possible. I created that free clinic because I remember my medical struggle, I created the bread truck because I remember going hungry—you never forget what going hungry feels like. You never forget how it feels like to be homeless. – David Gonzalez

David manages expectations by surprising people with food during distribution. He is trying to avoid disappointment—in times when food is not available, but people still expect it to come. David says, “The one thing about hunger is that it comes back tomorrow, it is never fully solved. All we can do is keep throwing food at that problem and know that tomorrow it comes back. So, we spread out and go to different locations, it’s not like someone is surviving on us, we are trying to feed as many people as possible, and the moment they do survive on us there is a different program for that. Because that needs more attention.”

With his nonprofit, David is now collaborating with other Goldin Fellows in various programs, fitting in the puzzle pieces to really catch all the community needs. Using their truck, they assist in delivering food to elderly people in need. “If someone needs our help to deliver food, we got you,” David says.