Helping Moms Heal, Grow, and Thrive

They say a mother’s work is never done. For a mom trying to raise a family without the security of a home, that phrase takes on even more meaning. For a mother trying to raise a child in a community ravaged by violence, the work truly never ends. For a survivor of gender-based violence, healing is a critical factor in her family’s wellbeing.

At Heartland Alliance, the services we provide don’t just help individuals, they help families – and ultimately develop stronger communities. See how we’re helping Moms heal, grow, and thrive.

Black History Month Reflections: Nelson Mandela

Jackie Summerville-White
Austin/West Garfield Park Community Project Manager, READI Chicago

Jackie Summerville-White manages our day-to-day operations and participant outreach for READI Chicago within the Austin and West Garfield Park communities. The Austin community is one of the largest of Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods, yet has experienced housing disinvestment, and serious loss of jobs and of commerce over the past several decades – making Jackie’s work providing employment and therapy programs all the more critical. Jackie is dedicated to rebuilding Austin through opportunity and hope, which is why she chose to reflect on Nelson Mandela for this piece.

Why did you choose this person?

I went to the University of Illinois back in 1978 to the 80s, which was when Apartheid was very visible in South Africa. I love Nelson Mandela because he stood against systems and how he did it with quiet strength, with love, with understanding, and including all people against a system.

How do they inspire the work you do today?

In READI Chicago, working with the highest risk population, a population that people have basically written off, Nelson Mandela inspires me because this population didn’t just come up overnight. These systems and microaggressions have been around for years. Mandela inspires me to stay true to my passion about human rights and justice for all, and to not just looking at it individually, but to look at it largely. One person can make a difference for many, even when it seems insurmountable. It can sometimes seem like the things we do every day aren’t making a different, but when we step back from it, what our collective individual work is doing is standing up against a system. I believe we are creating a new system that is going to respect human rights.

What do you think it will take to get to the future that he fought for?

One of Nelson Mandela’s best quotes is, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” As we go through this journey, take it step-by-step and day-by-day, eventually we’ll say, “Wow, it’s done.” It’s the continued work, continuing being respectful, walking day-by-day and keeping our minds open to change. Not being afraid of hard conversations for those changes. It’s only impossible until it’s done.

Black History Month Reflections: Tupac Shakur

Eddie Bocanegra
Senior Director, READI Chicago

As a pioneer of Chicago’s anti-violence campaigns, Eddie Bocanegra brings years of experience in community-based organizing and programs created to address trauma and build resiliency among those most impacted by violence. Eddie Bocanegra joined Heartland Alliance in June 2017 as Senior Director of READI Chicago. In this role, he oversees the management and implementation of the evidence-based and trauma-informed program to reduce gun violence and promote safety and opportunity. Eddie chose to speak about rap legend Tupac Shakur as we reflect for Black History Month.

Why did you choose this person?

Through music, Tupac was able to inspire and educate and influence so many people, and his lyrics transcended beyond just one race or nationality. Part of why I chose Tupac is how he died—shot multiple times. His death impacted so many people across all nationalities and across several continents, and when I compare him with the men we serve in READI Chicago, who have the odds stacked against them, I think about how any of their deaths would impact their families and communities.

Unfortunately, these lives are often overlooked. Tupac was a celebrity, and a lot of people in Chicago are never going to receive that type of attention when they die. Tupac was advocating for this population. He captured just some of the oppression and some of the injustice they face, and he tried to inspire people to see themselves differently and see their neighbors differently.

How do they inspire the work you do today?

Tupac inspires me to think about how I’m making a difference in my own life and how I can translate that to our participants. Similar to Tupac’s legacy, we try to remind ourselves and our participants, ‘What is your legacy?’ I try to leverage the power of his lyrics and what he was trying to lift up in READI Chicago. Like one of my favorite Tupac lines, READI Chicago is an example of how we have to learn see each other “as a brother instead of two distant strangers,” creating change among ourselves and our communities.

What do you think it will take to get to the future that he fought for?

We have to see the world for what it is and help build a world we really want to live in. This idea of equity has been around forever, and it’s going to be a long, hard fight. We don’t take the opportunity as often as we should to sit down and try to understand each other and find a common interest. When we don’t take the time to invest in relationships, to push ourselves out of our comfort zone and try to better understand someone else without letting our own personal views or values get in the way, we miss the opportunity to be able to build for others and build a community of love, trust, and commitment.

Keith Lewis: READI Chicago

Keith Lewis has been helping young people in Chicago find opportunity for decades. From Public Allies and Mikva Challenge to the new READI Chicago Initiative that’s an innovative response to gun violence, Keith is dedicated to building hope where people once only saw dead ends. Today, as Director of Programs for READI Chicago, Keith is making sure our program works best for individuals who may have never been given a chance before.

What got you into this work?

I’ve been driven to see what I can do to help address violence in Chicago for sometime. Given my experience in Chicago’s social service agencies, and my experience with people in the space in which we serve, I think it just made a natural fit.

When did you realize that you were working in the right place?

The people I work with helped me realize that. It was early on, when we were just forming the team. With so many people from so many different backgrounds and experiences, the way we came together – you know, we really formed like Voltron. We put together a strong team to pull this initiative off

What’s the best part of your job?

Seeing people grow. I’m so invested in our participants development – it’s what I value most in this work. I take a lot of pride in seeing the young men we serve advance and succeed.

How can others help in your work?

READI Chicago is an unprecedented initiative. We are constantly learning and finding new ways to provide opportunities. Because this work has never been done before, we’re open to all valuable insights and knowledge. We’re ready to work with other insitutions and other colleagues to help this project grow – we’ve got an open door policy.

Being the Difference at the Heartland Alliance Annual Dinner


On October 11, Heartland Alliance celebrated the bold and courageous actions we are taking to create a future of equity and opportunity for all at our Annual Dinner.

A highlight of the evening was an amazing discussion with Mike Brady, Eddie Bocanegra, READI Chicago participant Mendai, and Evelyn Diaz. Our panelists shared personal stories about how access to opportunity has shaped their lives, inspiring us all to think about how each one of us has the potential to be the difference in the lives of others and in our communities. Learn more about how READI Chicago and Greyston are helping to remove barriers to employment for those who are marginalized, including people with criminal backgrounds.

Thanks to our generous sponsors and guests, more than $360,000 was raised to support the important work of Heartland Alliance! We demonstrated that–together–we can be the difference for those among us who are often overlooked!

Learn more about and get involved in our upcoming events.

The Annual Dinner was Presented By:

Thank you to our Premier, Platinum, and Gold Sponsors:

The Crown Family