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

A Thank You from David

Dear Supporter,

Being a part of Onward House has been a great experience for my family and me. The staff is very nice and very helpful. Onward has plenty of information for low-income families to find the services we need to help our families. Growing up is very tough when you’re poor. I still remember standing in church lines for food. Still to this day, I take part in receiving food from the churches, [which] really helps since I’m on disability.

Onward is amazing and still helping my family to get by every week of the year and I feel truly blessed to be a part of this family. Thank you for the opportunity to express my gratitude.

– David

David’s Story

Sitting in the park each day, David noticed that his son’s peers were babbling and using words, but his son still wasn’t speaking. An online search for resources was overwhelming, and David put a lot of pressure on himself to help his son talk. David was aware of Onward House, but believed that his son’s delay would keep him out of the program.

(Onward House works with a high number of children with disabilities, some of whom have been denied or turned away from private childcare centers because of their additional needs.)

Now David receives speech therapy to help him learn to make new sounds. Both David and his son have a family support worker to help them navigate special education resources. Because David is on disability, the staff have welcomed David as a classroom volunteer, and also encouraged him to join the Parent Policy Committee.

“Without Onward House, I wouldn’t have known these services were available, I’d still be watching YouTube videos to help him ,” David said. Together, David and his son practice the speech exercises they learn at Onward House when they go home. “He’s improving and I’m very excited to hear him – even when he says no,” David joked.

When David is ready to transition to Kindergarten, our staff will work with the new school to ensure that he is enrolled in services that support his needs. And of course, both will be welcomed into Onward House’s School Age program, which offers continued family support, and academic support for elementary school students.

Support our Annual Fund

Our programs are fine-tuned to address obstacles including: lack of access to affordable early childhood education, food insecurity, digital illiteracy, citizenship and language barriers. Many participants take advantage of more than one class or service.

Our doors have been open for over a century because of generous individuals who believe in our work and show their support by making a donation to Onward House.


Mr & Mrs. C Become American Citizens

We would recommend other people to come to Onward because all of the people were very nice.

“We were passing by one day and decided to go in and asked if there were classes for citizenship…We benefited from Onward House because it didn’t cost us anything and we were provided with all the material needed in order to pass the exam. We loved the activities it was a pleasure coming to the cultural events that were held there they were great experiences. We would recommend other people to come to Onward because all of the people were very nice. We would like to thank the institution, teacher and employees.”