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Mercy AfterCare program focuses on helping homeless youth

Nora Bondi, therapeutic supervisor in the AfterCare program at Mercy Home for Boys and Girls is just one of the many staff members at Mercy Home, a non-profit organization that helps at risk youth in the city of Chicago and the surrounding suburbs.

Their goal is to help youth succeed in life.  Bondi wants to be a constant source of help and guidance for these kids.

Bondi has been working at Mercy Home for over 10 years, with the first five years being in the girl’s home in the residence program and the last five years being in the therapy section of the AfterCare program. They help youth who may be homeless or unable to live at home.

“Mercy Home is very unique in that we have a lifelong, supportive program and that connection in many other social service agencies has to end at the age of 18 or 24 but we don’t have to end our relationship with folks who come here for help,” Bondi said.

There are many events that take place throughout the year for former residents and their families to help keep these relationships strong.

“Like our summer picnic or our Christmas party, where literally hundreds of people who used to live at Mercy Home come back.  It’s like a big family reunion when we have those things,” said Bondi.

While waiting in The Mercy Home for Boys and Girls waiting area, a young woman sat with her newborn baby. As employees from the home walked by, they each stopped to see say hello to her and her baby girl and to catch up on this woman’s life.  It was like everyone knew each other and was one, big, happy family.

The staff at Mercy Home develops very close bonds to each person who walks through their door and keeps that bond throughout their lives.

“We don’t just close the door and say goodbye, we keep the door open, and we keep inviting them back and we keep making sure that we’re there for them for whatever they need,” said Mark Schmeltzer, the communications director at Mercy Home.

Mercy Home has been helping and housing youth and their families in Chicago for the past 125 years. According to Mercy Home’s website, the home first was started in 1887 by a group of Catholic priests as a small home for homeless children in the city. The organization began as an all boys home but in 1987 opened up to housing girls as well.  Today, there is a separate boys and girls campus.  The boys campus is located in Chicago’s West Loop and houses around 100 young men.  The girl’s campus is located in Chicago’s South Side Beverly neighborhood and houses only about 40 young women.

Mercy Home for Boys.

Mercy Home prides themselves on their statistics displayed on their website. They say that  100 percent of their youth graduate from High School and 98 percent of them advance a grade level in their time at Mercy Home.

“We do encourage people to come through our admissions process because even if a child is not exactly a right candidate to enter Mercy Home, we will make sure that they find the help that they need.  We have a network of more than 200 other organizations that we feel confident about that we can direct that child to,” Schmeltzer said.

The home provides children who are dealing with crisis with the support and guidance they need to realize their potential and make positive decisions so they can stay off of the streets, graduate from high school and live successful lives. Homeless youth has been a topic of discussion in Chicago for many years and there are only so many programs and organizations that can help these kids.

According to the Chicago Homeless Coalition’s website, as of 2012, more than 10,000 youth (ages 14-21) were homeless in the city of Chicago.  Mercy Home is just one of many organizations helping to try to reduce this number.

 “These young people do exist, they are just not being recognized and have slipped through the cracks,” said Mary Coy, Chief Development Officer at Teen Living Programs.

The AfterCare program and Mercy Home at large is one organization that does recognize these youth who are in crisis.  The program has been expanding tremendously since its formation 20 years ago and has many supports that it offers.

 “We have therapy to help that transition back home or to college or whatever it may be. We have a scholarship program and right now there are about 30 folks on scholarships. We just partner with folks to do what we call “passion planning”, so setting up any goal that they’re working on. We partner with people to help them along their way,” Bondi said.

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