Corazón Community Services: Building Leadership from Within

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Corazón Community Services: Building Leadership from Within

Miguel was a gang member when his friend was shot. He wanted vengeance but he also wanted a better life.  He and his girlfriend had a one year old child.  Most gang members in his situation continue the life no matter what, but Miguel did not. He’d heard of the Intervention program at Corazón Community Services. He contacted them and began working toward a different future for himself and his child.

Authorities list 29 gangs in Cicero, Illinois. The gangs compete, often violently, for territory within the 6.5 square mile area. Police list 4,000 confirmed gang members in a population that has only 30,000 kids under the age of 19. Eighty percent of these kids are Latino. Virtually every child interacts with a gang at one time or another on the street, in the hallways at school, even in the classroom.

Many can’t put gang life aside. With the help of people like Andre McElroy, Youth Intervention Specialist, and the mentorship of Danielle Espinoza, the Youth Center Director, and others on staff, Miguel was able to move on. It wasn’t easy. He has gone through tattoo removal. He helps to raise his daughter while going to college and holding down a job. Danielle is very proud of what Miguel has accomplished. “Miguel is a great role model for some of the younger men. He deserves recognition.”

Corazón Community Services provides leadership in Cicero. Approximately 1.4 million immigrants live in metropolitan Chicago. Latino immigrants are the largest and fastest growing ethnic group in the area and across the nation. Corazón is proud to offer prevention, intervention, education, and health services.

• The Cease Fire program reduces shootings in Cicero among high-risk youth ages 13-25.  Corazón works with faith-based leaders and the criminal justice system to provide youth outreach, community mobilization activities, and school and job placement.  

• The FUERZA Youth Program serves young people ages 13-21 with after school, holiday, and summer programs in everything from help with homework to finding internships.

• The Community Technology Center offers Basic Computing 101, Advanced Computing, College and Career Exploration and Preparation. They give lab time to community residents and can even help expelled students get back on track.

• Corazón Community Services is a hub for health information. They provide health education and run a health ambassador program ready to provide peer-to-peer communication and other services.

Adam Alonso, MSW is the Executive Director. Adam, and the team of managers he works with, is responsible for daily operations and preparing for the future of Corazón. He participates in the Latino Nonprofit Leadership Academy, a program of The Center for Leadership Innovation.

Alonso reports that their organization’s leadership and program capacity is greater than ever. With the assistance of programs like the Latino Nonprofit Leadership Academy, they are building upon strengths grown in their own community.

TCLI and the Latino Nonprofit Leadership Academy have connected Alonso to a growing network of Latino leaders. “I’ve been brought into the fold with colleagues that I knew of but hadn’t met or engaged.” As a direct result of the Academy, Alonso now has trusted leaders with whom he can discuss any issue. “I appreciate that other leaders in the greater Chicago area hear me out and come back with great suggestions.”

“We’re excited to hone our internal leadership skills.” says Alonso. “Our management team is reading the Leadership Challenge by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, a recommended reading of the Academy.  Through their support we’ve solidified efforts for the next phase of our growth, which includes a new building. We’re now working with a great architect whom we discovered through contacts made at the Academy.”

In 2004, when Adam and two volunteers got started in a church basement, they couldn’t have predicted that many of the high school kids they served then would be employed by Corazón today. Some of these kids are now young adults running programs. “We build leadership from within,” Alonso says. “The Academy has helped us bring cutting-edge skills to the streets of Cicero. As the kids we’ve helped prepare to graduate we ask them to think of themselves as leaders, not just for us, but for the community, the city, the state, everywhere they go.”