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

Thank You Notes (Welcoming Center 2020)

In partnership with the 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 keep so they could continue to navigate the online world through their devices.

“Thank you for giving us the main tool needed to continue learning. Due to the fact that we were affected due to COVID and it has been a bit difficult for me to purchase a computer thank you to the professor Tobar for giving us his time with out asking for anything.” – Adriana

“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

“…Thanks to Onward House, I have been taking advantage of time – instead of it being time lost, it has become a time of learning. My children and I express our most sincere gratefulness to all the team at Onward House who with the teacher do an excellent job. Being that without you, it would not have been possible a lot of the things that I have learned for the benefit of my children and myself….Thank you for being a professional team and for sowing knowledge in those we need the most.” – Cecilia

“I can affirm that there is a before and after the [Computer] course, because when the pandemic started and the virtual broadcasts began, my working days were more difficult. I really feel very grateful that there are people or institutions that care about the adult community, that for different reasons we have been left behind with technology. This is a wonderful opportunity, from the moment I found out that Onward Neighborhood House was offering computer classes for adult, do not hesitate to call and ask for information to register. In Fact, this computer will help me continue studying and keep updated on the daily changes that are happening in technology. Thank you very much for all the support in general the program offers, to the administrative staff, to the excellent teachers who teach the courses, for the patience they have with us and for the human quality, they possess. Thank you very much also for supporting people who like me believe in constant personal improvement.” – Elda

“I am a mother of 5 and now that everyone is taking remote classes at home, I had no idea how to help them and how to communicate with the teachers… Thanks to this laptop that I received I will be able to do my work better, since I did not have a computer and I did it with my cell phone, with more difficulties but with all the desire to learn. And now with my laptop I will be able to do my work and take my class more comfortably and easier. Thank you for your generosity and support.” – Anon

“I am grateful to the Onward House Organization for giving me this support at this time. Onward House is giving me computer classes, and it is a great help because at the moment that we are going through. That now it is all about technology and the classes that they are giving me a laptop to continue to take my classes is very helpful, and I am grateful for having an excellent teacher of the computer classes. Brandon is very patient, excellent person, because I work in cleaning and cleaning houses and right now with COVID people do not want me to clean their houses, for that I give thanks, Thank you for providing this support. God bless you so that you continue to support the community. Thank you.” – Elvia

“Due to the fact that the children are not going to school and I have to be at home for my daughter with special needs to be present in the Online classes I have stopped working, helping my husband with the payments of the light, water, and rent. The Online classes have helped me a lot; at the beginning, I did not know how to open the page for CP, but thanks to the classes and the teacher who explains very well and is very patient with the people who are learning I have learned to be up to date with the things of my daughter’s school. In addition, in communication with the school.” – Anon

“I thank Onward House for offering this resource to Latinos to continue moving forward in this country. I wish that in the future that you may continue offering English classes and computer classes, being that many Latinos need this to grow to continue to move forward and reach the American dream.” – Guillermo

“Through this letter I would like to give thanks to the Organization Onward House, located in 5413 W. Diversey Ave. Chicago IL. For the opportunity of being able to take the computer classes. Being that sadly due to the pandemic, I have stayed without any finances and I have no employment, In actuality these classes are of great importance for me and my children, being that I have little knowledge of computer and I know that these classes will help me for me to be more updated and like that be able to help my children in the future of technology.
Finally, thank you very much for gifting me this computer for my benefit and the one of my children.” – Iliana

“I was affected by COVID-19 and I lost my employment of 12 years and I was sick from the virus, I was sick with bone pain, headaches, flu, teary eyes, dry cough, sore throat and fever. I thank God that I am recovering. I went to go get tested for covid and I was positive, I thank you a lot for your help. Thank you for the laptop it will help me in my computer classes online that I am taking right now. In these moments, I am not working and I am helping my kids during their virtual classes.” – J

“My name is Juanita, and I want to give thanks to Onward House for gifting me a computer. The truth is that I do need it to be able to take my English classes. I would like to share with you that I was born here, but my parents took me to Mexico when I was small, I lost all the opportunities from this beautiful country. There are times that when I travel and they see my documents and they ask me why don’t I speak English. The truth is I want to learn the language, and sometimes I reproach my parents, why did they take me to Mexico, I lost my chances of studying, but I know its never to late to learn. I am very happy that I have been gifted the computer, right now the truth is I do not work my husband sometimes has a job and sometimes he does not. And the truth is we do not have the budget for a computer. I am grateful with Onward House and I am excited with a lot of desire to continue studying and preparing myself. May God bless you all always, to all the people that put their little grain of sand to help all the people that are in need.” – Juanita

“Through this letter I would like to give thanks to Onward House and everyone that makes it possible that we are able to benefit from these free computer classes in the comfort of [our] own home. I am immunocompromised so that is good. This time has been difficult for everyone but with programs like yours make it bearable, I am a mother of 5 students and it has been overwhelming being that many don’t know a lot about technology . Now I can help my children and have a good job from my home. Also I was facilitated a Chromebook” – Karina

“I want to give a warm thanks to Onward House for the wonderful advanced computer course they are giving us, which will finish at the end of the year. Not only is it being a very up-to-date course to the work needs of our time, but we have also had digital resources, such as recording of classes to be able to be able to study later at home; help from our teachers at all times, even on days when we don’t have classes; and at all times, the correct answer to our questions, which clearly showed the professional level of our professor Brandon. I learned a lot, in this course and I am invited in the future for another, I will be happy to keep in touch with Onward House. Thank you so much.” – Louisa

“I give many thanks to Onward Neighborhood House for the computer classes that I have been taking with you because this way I am going to be able to compete In this new world of technology to be able to work in the future.” – Maria

“Good Morning through this letter I would like to give thanks to Onward House. For all of the support that has been given to me during this time of Covid-19 for me personally it has been a great help over everything in being able to take my English classes from home for personal development, and this I owe it all to you who make it possible for us to continue moving on. For me it has not been easy with the pandemic I was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and I was in the hospital for 3 weeks without working for about 4 months. But I thank God I was able to return to work even though it is a small amount of hours, but I still have a job. No it has not been easy I am a single mother and my children depend on me.” – Maricela

“A special greeting: To Onward House and at the same time to thank you for all your work and your services at the same time thanking you for the English classes that are of great help to me for a better communication and a better job because due to the pandemic we are out of work and family members including my husband. My son is the only one that works. Always trusting in God and everything will pass and return to normal.” – Miriam

“My name is Rosa, this letter is to give thanks to all the people who are giving us support with this program, being that it is very important during this time for us to be able to be able to communicate virtually with people now being that many families are being affected in one way or another because of the pandemic that we are living. The computer classes are making it easy for me to understand and support my children’s education.” – Rosa

“It is a pleasure to greet you and wish you many blessings in every single one of your projects that you realize in the community. 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 and 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

“Thanks to you for the gift. I am going to be able to take my computer classes…I was using my children’s tablet and I was not able to download any programs, neither was I able to do my homework because of the tablet. I am also taking English classes and it is going to be useful to me and it will help me feel more comfortable in my classes. Again thank you for the computer, which is going to help me so much in my future and be able to be successful and more prepared I will be able to find a better Job.” – Maricela

“I want to thank the people who make this program to help us as people. To me personally, it has helped me be able to help my children to enter them in school programs. In the future, it will help my children that I have that [computer] knowledge, so I can help them in their homework, and it can help us a lot to generate income for our families.” – Mireya

  • *These thank you notes have been translated and edited slightly for clarity.

A 2020 Note from the Great Depression: Marion’s Story

We are working on a final push to bring holiday cheer (and funds!) to our programs before taking a much-needed break to close out 2020. It has been a challenging year. Receiving this letter about Marion’s family, who went to Onward House for help during the Great Depression, is a reminder that our Good work has a lasting impact on the families that we serve.

The full story is shared with permission from the author, Marion’s daughter Bobette:

December 17, 2020

Dear Onward House,

I’m writing this letter in memory of our loving mother Marion Tummillo Varsalona.

She grew up on Ohio & Leavitt during the depression and was 1 of 7 girls in their family. She passed away in July of this year at the age of 90.

All my life she talked about her loving Onward House and what they did for her & her family.

Five of her sisters were named after women that worked at the House. She called it her safe place when things at home were not safe. The Ridge Farm she went to as a child to help her gain weight, oddly she moved within 1 mile of the farm later in life and took us there to show us the property.

No story was ever told without tears. Every year on her birthday I would take her to the old neighborhood to see Holy Rosary Church where they were married, their old apartment, and the last stop was always Onward House.

Our last visit was special. It was the July before it was torn down but luckily we were able to go inside to see the place. Mom’s dementia was getting worse but she knew exactly where we were. Again tears were rolling down her beautiful face.

This picture was taken on our last visit.

Please accept this donation knowing the impact it had on her family’s life and the memories I will always treasure.

Keep up the Good work,

Bobette & Kathy Varsalona
In Memory of Marion Tummillo-Varsalona

Ms. Varsalona referenced our history post, and asked if we could find any additional information on her mother in our archives at UIC or The Chicago History Museum. If you know your way through Chicago’s history archives and want to help uncover more about this story – please contact us.

Help us continue our work:

COVID Update: JCK Boutique Moves to The Bounce

Many businesses and industries that have been impacted by COVID-19 like shops catering to Quinceañeras, a cultural staple.  Estella, an Onward House student, opened JCK Boutique 5 years ago, and has taken Onward House digital literacy classes, including e-commerce and one-one on one technical assistance. Most recently, she graduated from The Lab, Onward House’s entrepreneurship program. COVID-19 and the shelter in place order severely impacted her business. She reached out to Onward House, and as a graduate of The Lab, was able to move in to The Bounce, our affordable retail accelerator, and reduce her rent 78% until her business recovers.

Watch the full story here (Telemundo – Spanish): https://www.telemundochicago.com/videos/videos-noticias/se-viene-abajo-el-negocio-de-las-quinceaneras-en-chicago/2109907/

Notes of Thanks (COVID-19)

From Karla’s Family:

Mi nombre es Karla y mediante este correo quiero agradecer a todo el personal de Onward House y los donadores que apoyan a esta escuela por el apoyo dado a nuestra familia en momentos tan difíciles . Sus llamadas para saber como seguía la salud de mi esposo, sus palabras de ánimo ,las despensas , y la ayuda económica con la renta son cosas que nunca vamos a olvidar , de la angustia tan grande que teníamos Dios y ustedes nos hicieron más liviana la carga ahora mi esposo está recuperándose en casa y deseamos lo mismo para todos lo que están sufriendo por este virus y esperamos que ustedes estén bien .

(Translated) My name is Karla and through this email I would like to thank all of the employees of Onward House and the Donors who support this school for the support given to our family in such difficult times. Your calls to know how my husband’s health was going, the word of encouragement, the food pantries, and the financial help with the rent are the things that we will never forget the anguish that we had. God and you made our load lighter now my husband is recovering at home and we wish the same for all who are suffering from this virus and we hope you all are well.

Melba’s Family:

“Estamos muy agradecidos con Onward House por todo el apoyo que nos han brindado en estos momentos de dificultad durante la pandemia,  pese a no tener familia ni conocidos en este pais, sentimos en ustedes una mano amiga.”

(Translated) We’re very grateful to Onward House for all the support they have given us in these difficult times during the pandemic, despite having no family in this country, we feel in you a helping hand.

From a student of The Lab (entrepreneurship class):

“I want to thank you for continuing these classes and doing the one-on-ones. Every night after class I think this is too hard, I should quit and let someone else have the resources because this is a depressing time…but with the weekly check-in scheduled, I push myself to complete the work before I talk to you and after check-in, I always have clarity and I can make it to the next class.

It’s nice to know that we are still a priority and you guys didn’t forget about our progress or what we needed in this crazy time.”

Enviar una nota de agradecimiento al personal de Onward House / Send a Thank You Note to Onward House Staff