FaithXperimental Spotlight: Breakthrough, Chicago, IL


In our travels around the U.S., both digitally and physically, we at FaithX like keep our eyes open for examples of people, programs, communities, or ministries doing creative, innovative, and experimental things in the area of faith. And when we do find one, we like to shine a spotlight on them in a FaithXperimental blog post.

Today’s Spotlight article is about Breakthrough Ministries, based in Chicago, IL. We first learned of Breakthrough from a local news story by Chicago’s WGN 9, discussing their Broadcast Camp where they expose public school children to the life of public broadcasting. Because of Breakthrough’s repeated outreach and activities with local youth, it’s no surprise that they were involved with the summer camp. Naturally, of course, we wanted to learn more about Breakthrough and their other programs.

Breakthrough is a nonprofit organization that partners with those affected by poverty on Chicago’s West Side. Since its founding in 1992, Breakthrough has remained grounded in its mission to partner with those affected by poverty to build connections, develop skills, and open doors of opportunity. The organization currently has four locations in the East Garfield Park neighborhood, providing wraparound services such as housing, workforce development, health and wellness, and education. Breakthrough intentionally serves a diverse group of individuals, targeting those living within a 40-block zone in East Garfield Park, one of the most underserved neighborhoods on the West Side of Chicago. Each year, Breakthrough serves over 5,000 children, teens, and adults through these ministries with a dedicated staff of 100 people and 3,000 annual volunteers who increase the impact of their programs.

For Research Director and FaithX Co-Founder, Darren Slade, whose passion centers on social justice for the marginalized and oppressed of society, one Breakthrough program stood out in particular: their Permanent Supportive Housing initiative, which intends to address the housing crisis in East Garfield Park by investing back into the families of those who have been left behind by the system. What is most powerful about Breakthrough is that they saw a need in their local community and have taken creative steps to meet that need. In this case, the need is a lack of affordable housing, especially for black and brown families. The problem is that already impoverished families become trapped in a systemic cycle of violence, incarceration, unemployment, drugs, and homelessness. The lack of affordable housing all but guarantees that this cycle will continue unabated as adults and young children become increasingly dependent on state-funded shelters or detention centers for housing.

This is where Breakthrough’s Housing First model comes into play. The organization zeros in on the chronically homeless, as well as families who are the most difficult to house because of mental, physical, or other health and abuse-related issues. What Breakthrough does is get these families connected to some form of permanent housing without any precondition or obstruction. In other words, Breakthrough recognizes that in order for a community and a family to become stable, they must first have a safe place to live. The people in their sphere of influence experience numerous barriers to achieving self-sufficiency. For some it’s a lack of options for high-quality education. For others, it’s a history of incarceration and/or criminal activity, mental health illnesses or disabilities, homelessness, past trauma, and substance abuse. Only after the housing issue is addressed can things like sobriety and employment fall into place.

Part of their process is to liaise directly with landlords and convince them of the need for affordable housing, helping them to understand how everyone benefits (landlords, tenants, and businesses alike) when people are stabilized through a dignifying place to live. The result so far has been encouraging. Breakthrough has helped 42 participants and 11 families secure permanent housing where, by the end of 2018, 100% have remained housed and 51% have increased or maintained their income.

What we at FaithX love about Breakthrough is that throughout all its services, the organization is committed to partnering with individuals to create stability and transformation, leading to an eventual contribution to a thriving and vibrant East Garfield Park. They have seen a need in their local community and are actively taking steps to address those needs through collaboration and engagement.

We encourage anyone living in the Chicago area to volunteer with Breakthrough in order to help them expand their impact and sphere of influence. And we encourage everyone to find a way to give back to Breakthrough by supporting their programs and initiatives.

FaithX is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and Ken’s faith-based consulting practice at FaithX is done under an extension of ministry from the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.

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