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Homeless but not hopeless

Submitted on Tue, 06/05/2007 – 07:00.
Story by Keri Lynch

Homeless by choice for nearly 10 years, Harry Madix says he wasn’t ready for help, even though a lot of services were available. Struggling with addiction, he walked in 1995 into an Uptown homeless organization and got the support he needed to get his life back together.

“I got a second chance,” he says. “It’s like a miracle.”

Madix and 30 others involved with Inspiration Café shared their stories with Karen Skalitzky, who cooked up a book, A Recipe for Hope, Stories of Transformation by People Struggling with Homelessness, which recently won a merit award from the Midwest Independent Publishers Association. The book combines recipes and stories to reveal what makes this Chicago non-profit organization unique: hospitality and relationships.

Although the Northside organization serves homeless and at-risk individuals, guests receive menus and get served table-side by volunteers such as Skalitzky, who has helped with breakfast on Friday mornings for four years. The emphasis on dignity and mutual respect stands out the most, she says.

“I just sat down to talk to people,” Skalitzky said. “And I felt such warmth in that community.”

Skalitzky found the café stories compelling and decided to write them down. To her surprise, several dozen guests and a number of volunteers and staff members agreed to share their stories for A Recipe for Hope.

Skalitzky and Madix will read from the book at the Printer’s Row Book Fair on June 9 at 3 p.m. Joining them on the “Good Eating Stage” will be Chef Dominique Tougne of Bistro 110, who is a member of Inspiration’s board and provided several recipes for the book.

In September 2005, Inspiration opened Café Too, a full-service restaurant in Uptown that’s open to the public seven days a week and serves as a training site. The organization also runs The Living Room Café in Woodlawn and plans to buy an apartment building to provide housing for homeless families in the South Side neighborhood.

“It will be a way for us to help revitalize Woodlawn and create a social service satellite within walking distance of that café,” said John Pfeiffer, the newly promoted executive director of Inspiration Corp., the official name of the non-profit organization.

Arnell Dupree Leggs, kitchen coordinator at The Living Room Café, proudly shows off his food-service license and resume. Leggs says he enjoys cooking and learned a lot in the program, which he completed in 2002. Leggs, who stays with his sister or at a friend’s on the South Side, often visits the Uptown café to reconnect and get additional job placement assistance.

To help individuals like Leggs, Inspiration merged with The Employment Project, a city-wide job training and placement program, in 2006.

To manage the expansion in services that now includes housing and life skills, Inspiration quadrupled its staff to 65 people and its annual budget to nearly $3 million. Inspiration serves about 2,000 individuals each year, Pfeiffer said, and many of them have stay involved with the café.

Madix and Leggs say they found a community that is like family. Madix even met his wife Tasha at Inspiration. The couple, who have two children, were nearly separated because most homeless shelters are not designed for families. The staff helped keep them together, and on June 18, the couple will purchase a home in Rockford, where Madix will retire and spend more time with his children.

“I was honored to be part of Inspiration Café on the ground floor,” Madix said. “I came in hopeless. I had no goals. I was spiritually broken. I’ve seen them change people’s lives here.”

At Home At Work North Side Public Social Issues
homelessness housing inspiration cafe job unemployment uptown

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