2021 Fall Newsletter


“My name is Jocelyn. As a child, I attended Onward House when it was located at 600 N Leavitt. I’ve had family members who have worked for the agency and I currently have my two-year-old son attending Onward House. It has truly been a positive experience. Onward House has helped us in so many ways. They provide childcare for low-income families, they have support services that help with pretty much everything.

They have even helped us find a therapist for my daughter. Onward House has played a crucial role in my son’s development. The improvements that I’ve noticed in my child’s vocabulary and speech are significant. His social skills have also improved. The teachers, learning environment, and security are top-notch. Safety is a priority at Onward House, and that makes me comfortable leaving my child at school.

I’ve been impressed with the level of communication from the teachers and staff which makes this whole experience that much better. Onward House has given us the opportunity to have our children in a great learning environment. For that, I’ll forever be grateful!” – Jocelyn, Parent

“My family and I give thanks to Onward House. Also to our teacher Carmen, Santia, as well as the supervisor. Thank you for your help.

A month and a half ago we moved from Arizona, we arrived with a relative, my aunt, she helped us. She gave us a small room, we five slept in it, she also helped us financially and food for a month. Thank God we found an apartment where we had no furniture, no bed, no dining room. Thanks to you we were able to get help, we are very happy and happy we already have a place to sleep and eat, my children are super happy to get things. We thank you for helping families in need.”


Letter from the Executive Director


Thank you. Because of you, your support, connections, volunteerism, and donations, Onward House remains a resilient organization that continues to grow.

In my last newsletter, I outlined our plans to expand in the area of health. I am proud to say that we have made progress toward that goal. In August we worked with our new partner CommunityHealth to host a well-attended health fair that provided vaccinations and many health resources to community members.

We are continuing to strengthen our support for children with special needs. We recently hired Dr. Kimberly Thier as our Director of Special Education, with a goal to build a program that streamlines Special Education services for parents and teachers and ensures that children are provided support in a timely manner.

The Special Education initiative is one of many expansions coming to Onward House in the next few years. We are beginning to undergo a strategic plan that will lay a roadmap for the next 3 – 5 years. One thing we know is that we are running out of space! The expansion of our Early Childhood Education program, Immigrant and Refugee Welcoming Center, CommunityHealth clinic, and food pantry have pushed Onward House to use every square inch of our facilities to capacity.

We look forward to the exciting challenges that come with growth and hope that you will continue to support the Onward House staff as we expand. We invite you to come by for a tour, volunteer at our food pantry, make connections, and support our fundraising and awareness initiatives.

Thank you for your support,

Mario F. García
Executive Director
(773) 622-3215 |

3 Questions with Our Support Team

How did you choose to be a support worker at OH?

Roxana: I chose to be a Support Worker at ONH because I felt in love with its mission to help communities in need, especially Belmont Cragin which is a neighborhood with a growing Latino/Hispanic community that is looking for better opportunities and access to resources available for all; I believe I can contribute to the mission and make good social impact by supporting those in need and help them to achieve their personal and professional goals through the programs and services provided by the Illinois Welcoming Center at ONH.

Rosemary: I started working as a home visitor after college for 3 years. After 3 years I did a teen program with the state but decided my passion was working in Head Start. I applied to ONH as a family support worker to continue my passion in Head Start. My goal was to continue to service families in need and advocate a free program for the community.

How are you clients navigating the pandemic? what are their needs?

Rosemary: Families are slowing adjusting on returning back to work and enrolling their children to Head Start. Most of their needs are job resources such as resume building and job fairs. Overall, their needs are providing their children a more “normal” routine again but with health protocols.

Roxana: Most of my clients were impacted by this pandemic, their finances were affected, and their mental-emotional health was affected as well. Consequently, it has been hard for families to find the right resources they need especially when there is too much misleading information and SCAMS out there. Most of the needs presented in our clients are economical, educational and nutritional. Here is where ONH plays an essential role by providing those resources to families with children and people in need.  

What is something you’d like to do in the next year for your clients? How do you see your positive growing?

Roxana: I would like to expand the current Support Services department by bringing the Public Benefits program and adding more educational programs such as nutrition, family budget and personal finances, and GED in Spanish. I’m optimistic to see a huge expanding to my current department this upcoming year.

Rosemary: I hope to increase family engagement activities for our families especially male involvement. My position will continue to grow by learning from others interests, customs and cultures. Currently, I am in the process of looking for Latino Organizations to join so that I may network with others in Chicago. I hope this allows me to have further opportunities to bring back to Onward House.

Onward House Invests in Special Education with New Leadership Position

Onward Neighborhood House is pleased to announce that it has hired Dr. Kimberly Thier for a newly created position as Director of Special Education and Quality Assurance, focusing on special education and related services to preschoolers and school age children with disabilities. This position will work with the rest of Onward House’s early childhood education staff to continually improve the overall quality of the early childhood education and youth services.

Dr. Thier specializes in emotional and behavioral disorders, and she will bring a skill set that improves the delivery of services to families through inclusive instructional practices, data-based decision making, three-tiered prevention, coaching and systems change.

This position was created in response to the high number of children with suspected and diagnosed disabilities who come to Onward House for services. Each year 25% – 35% of children at Onward House have identified disabilities such as speech and developmental delay. A new report from the University of Illinois at Chicago shows that boys, Black children, and youngsters with disabilities continue to be overrepresented among children who are formally expelled from preschool programs in Illinois, as they are in national data. Onward House has seen this reflected in our own population, where many of the children with additional needs have been rejected from other child care centers.

Kimberly was connected to Onward House through her work as a Clinical Assistant Professor at Loyola University, where she linked graduate students in the teacher preparation program to Onward House classrooms for three weeks each summer. “I fell in love with everything Onward House does, including how teachers use a social emotional curriculum, so students can build positive relationships, make responsible decisions, and understand themselves and how they relate to the world.”

Dr. Kimberly Thier has supported students with disabilities and their families for more than 25 years. She earned her Ph.D. in Special Education from the University of Oregon in 2003. Dr. Thier has published a chapter on using a growth model to measure teacher dispositions, several articles on classroom and school-wide behavior support practices, and has conducted numerous presentations at national conferences across the U.S. Prior to joining the Onward Neighborhood House team, Kimberly served on the Onward House Board of Directors for 3 years.

Damaris Shares Her Story

We had worked with Univision and Pequenos y Valiosos to be a featured location in Damaris’s story describing how the Covid-19 changed their lives in a matter of days.

Damaris, who is a parent from Onward Neighborhood House, shares how difficult things were for her and her four daughters after losing Samuel her husband on May 13, 2020 due to COVID-19 complications. She describes Samuel as a spectacular man who went above and beyond for her and their children from always taking them to school and dropping them off at the daycare which he was always in charge of doing every morning until the pandemic began.

She also shares how Onward House took the necessary steps to help her with her youngest daughter Ariana who was having difficulties adapting to losing her father. “It was something difficult they would call me at work, and they would tell me that the baby would wake up screaming and scratching herself. The daycare searched for help and little by little she now does not hurt herself.”

Watch the full story here (Univision – Spanish):

Pequeños y Valiosos se unió al ejercito de MAC para acudir al llamado de ayuda de una madre viuda y sus hijas

Luego de escuchar la tragedia por la que atravesó la familia de Damaris, María Antonieta Collins puso manos a la obra y viajó a Chicago para ayudara esta madre y a sus hijas. La periodista las sorprendió en su casa y las llenó de regalos, además de asegurarse que continúen recibiendo apoyo a través del programa Pequeños y Valiosos de Univision.

También comparte cómo Onward Neighborhood House tomó las medidas necesarias para ayudarla con su hija menor, Ariana, que estaba teniendo dificultades para adaptarse a la pérdida de su padre. “Era algo difícil me llamaban al trabajo, y me decían que la bebé se despertaba gritando y rascándose. La guardería buscó ayuda y poco a poco han ayudado a Ariana que ahora no se lastima”.

Mira la historia completa aquí (Univision):

Spring 2021 Newsletter

Chromebook Distribution Thank You Notes

In partnership with the Illinois Department of Human Services, Office of Immigrants & Refugee Welcoming Centers, we provided ESL and digital literacy classes to students who had lost all or part of their income. Graduates of this initiative received Chromebooks to continue their job search and education efforts.

“I would like to give thanks to the people who donated the computers. Thank you for thinking of me because due to COVID I was unemployed. I am also taking care of my son with disabilities, he is taking remote classes at home and I am doing the computer classes that were offered to parents beforehand, I am grateful for your donation, thank you very much.” – Blanca

” I am very grateful for the Chromebook and for the help that you have gifted me in these difficult moments that we are experiencing due to Covid, for us to be able to continue to learn and study in my English classes. I am of very low resources, and that is the reason that I continue to seek help with your organization. Thank you for always supporting every person to continue moving forward with our goals and dreams, thank you may God continue to bless you.” -Rudy

Read More Thank You Notes

Note from The Executive Director

This past year has brought many new challenges and opportunities. We are fortunate that those who make up Onward House – our staff, boards, volunteers, funders, and donors have helped us remain financially strong. This has allowed us to be nimble in rapidly addressing the pressing needs of the Belmont Cragin community with in-person and online programming.

Whether it is running to the store for more food and diapers, adding new computer and ESL classes, or making calls for vaccination appointments, we appreciate your trust in our work.

In our last newsletter, we mentioned an increased focus on health – and I am proud to say that CommunityHealth is now a part of our home. In 2021 we will be looking into how we can support the health of the community at all levels:

  • Facilitating connections to health: from being a trusted resource for vaccine information, referrals, and on-site health care opportunities.
  • Provide education around health issues: We will provide more workshops, recipes, exercise classes, and health fairs that promote an active lifestyle.
  • Advocacy: We are known to be great health and disability advocates for children in our programs, and will extend our advocacy efforts to support the Belmont Cragin community.

We hope that you will continue to support us with your words of encouragement, connections to other organizations, donations, and volunteer time.

Thank you for your support,

Mario F. García

CommunityHealth at Onward House is now Open!

The first telehealth clinic of its kind in Chicago, CommunityHealth uses the power and accessibility of telehealth to link uninsured patients to CommunityHealth providers. At Onward House, patients can now receive an assisted virtual visit, access to lab services, medication distribution, referrals to Onward House education and support services, and access to CommunityHealth’s full comprehensive services.

Onward House and the Belmont Cragin neighborhood was specifically targeted to make health care more accessible to those who can benefit from CommunityHealth’s services. 27% of Belmont Cragin residents are uninsured, and 1 in 5 individuals reported using the emergency room as their primary source of health care. Belmont Cragin is ranked as one of the top 15 neighborhoods in the City of Chicago’s COVID Vulnerability Index. By adding on-site services, we are seeing many of our parents and adult learners sign up for this new initiative.

Food Pantry Update

Our Food Pantry has had quite a year. The Greater Chicago Food Depository reported a 175% increase in food distribution from our site. We jumped from 58,559 lbs to 160,851 lbs of food. This does not include the many food donations from our supporters. We appreciate everyone who has donated food, diapers, and supplies.

We’ve moved! Our Food Pantry is currently located in our adult education offices and classrooms while we search for a new permanent space. Stay tuned for opportunities to help us make this transition over the next year.

Teacher’s Corner: Notes from the Classroom

“I live work and thrive in the Belmont Cragin community I have been in this community for over 50 years. I enjoy helping kiddos learn a concept and applying what they learn to other things. I enjoy watching the kiddos become confident and independent.” – Rita

“Working at Onward house has been such an inspiration to me. It has encouraged me to think outside the box and try new ways of teaching to support every child in my care….I have become a confidant and an advocate for parents and children. I have become a voice for children and parents that are unable to articulate the needs that they experience in their day-to-day lives. I am proud and honored to be a part of such a wonderful and inviting organization that serves the community, parents, and the whole child.” – Marteen

Read More from Onward House Teachers

How Your Donation Can Help

$1,000: Quality supplies for a whole year for one classroom, including items that parents can take home to extend the learning experience.

$800: Provides one month of subsidized affordable low-risk space for business owners at The Bounce retail accelerator.

$500: One year of supplies for computer classes. Including: Laptop repairs, paper, printing.

$400: Supports one week of food pantry administration including ordering, deliveries, volunteer coordination, and distribution.

$260: Ten packages of diapers to hand out at the food pantry, our most requested non-food item.

$150: One hour of nurse service, including observations in classrooms and health training for teachers and parents.

$100: One hour of mental health consulting or speech therapy.

$50: One hour of support for small businesses with computer, website/marketing, licensing questions.

With 8 youth classrooms, and over 16 adult education classes, a food pantry, and retail accelerator, we impact 5,500 individuals, 950 families annually.

Teachers Corner

My name is Rita B. I have been at Onward House since August. I teach in the Blue Birds Classroom. Blue Birds 2 to be more specific.This is my second go-around here at Onward House. I worked at Onward House from 2007 to 2016 I was the school-age group worker from 2007 to 2012 after I received my BA in ECE; I went to work in the Blue Birds classroom. I left in 2016 to pursue my Masters. In ECE and spend some time working with infants. I also worked two years in Oak Park at a small Christian preschool. It had to close due to Covid. Which lead me back to working at ONH in my neighborhood. When I am not working at Onward House hanging out with my awesome kiddos I volunteer here in the Belmont Cragin community. I am vice president of the Blackhawk Park Advisory Council I have started my second year in this position. I am also on the Board of Directors for Las Damas, which is a group of moms in this community who are trying to do intentional things to raise the reading level of our youngest residents. I live work and thrive in the Belmont Cragin community I have been in this community for over 50 years. I enjoy helping kiddos learn a concept and applying what they learn to other things. I enjoy watching the kiddos become confident and independent. 

-Rita B.

My name is Rosita Feliciano. I have been working in Onward House for nine years and in that time I have been working with 3 to 5-year-olds at classroom as well as the two-year-old room and I have helped in school age. I made the transition to the two-year-old classroom in 2017. I enjoy working with creative curriculum studies because it reminds me of when I was working with the Reggio Amelia approach. I have 20 years in my background as a Reggio Amelia approach.

-Rosita F.

My experience at Onward House:  My experience at Onward House has been interesting. I have learned many things from many different children, coworkers and families. Onward House is home to many away from home. Thank you!

-Crystal Bell

Hi, my name is Marlene, I was part of the extended ONH family, I worked at ABC preschool and on my last day there, ONH invited me. I am loving Blue Birds.I have taught for a number of years. I took a break to work in a substance recovery program. My grandkids are under five and so much that I learned while working on my BA in Early childhood. I am applying here and at home with my grandkids. Right when I started here at Onward House my husband had a stroke and I am grateful for the management at Onward House for giving me time to get him back on his feet he has a long road of recovery ahead of him. One great thing about ONH are all the Kendall graduates at ONH!

-Marlene O.

Working at Onward house has been such an inspiration to me. It has encouraged me to think outside the box and try new ways of teaching to support every child in my care. Through the trainings and support of different coaches, I have grown as a teacher. I have learned to look at children individually, create math activities in the classroom, successfully prepare children for kindergarten, use We- Thinkers to support children’s social emotional development and most importantly I have learned how to get children extra support by creating teacher reports using observations and help from the Head Start Coordinator (Ms. Jenny) to help children receive services through CPS. I have become confidant and an advocate for parents and children. I have become a voice for children and parents that are unable to articulate the needs that they experience in their day-to-day lives. In my almost 8 years of working at Onward I have learned how to evaluate, observe, and teach children using strategies that I had never thought of before my decision to come to Onward. I have grown as a teacher, parent, and friend within my years here. Being a team member and problem solving for our day-to-day operation seems like second nature as I always have my colleagues on my mind. Although there has been struggles, the pandemic, and misunderstandings. The policies in place and the people inside these walls bring me back every day. I am proud and honored to be a part of such a wonderful and inviting organization that serves the community, parents, and the whole child.

Thank You for this Opportunity!


Marteen Wrencher