Breakthrough History and Stories by Arloa

Breakthrough was incorporated in 1992 in the Edgewater community of Chicago by members of the First Evangelical Free Church to meet the growing need of the homeless population who were coming to the church looking for assistance. The focus was primarily on meeting the basic survival needs of homeless persons. Breakthrough began its operations by serving coffee and a daily lunch in a church owned storefront room. In 1993 Breakthrough established “Cleanstreet”, a street cleaning service in partnership with the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce and began to provide employment opportunities for the homeless. In 1995 Breakthrough opened an overnight shelter for thirty men on the church gymnasium floor. In 1996, Breakthrough began working with a small group of “at risk” youth in the Edgewater community. In 1997, Breakthrough hired its first full-time case manager.


In 1998 Breakthrough expanded into East Garfield Park on Chicago’s west side and renovated a dilapidated former brake shoe factory which Breakthrough leased from the Joshua Missionary Baptist Church. 2000 Breakthrough began to offer services for homeless women and a street outreach to women in prostitution. At the same time Breakthrough expanded its youth program to meet the expressed needs of East Garfield Park community members for safety and academic activities for their children. The Breakthrough Youth Network grew to provide sports opportunities and after school academic assistance. The Nettie Bailey Student Achievement Program, was named in honor of Nettie Bailey, a local educator who lived out Breakthrough’s values. The Breakthrough Beginners program was added to provide a solid foundation for a small group of three and four year olds. In 2002, a Summer Studies program was added. In 2005, Breakthrough began to offer arts and science classes to youth in the community.


In 2004 Breakthrough purchased a 24,000 square foot industrial building near the women’s center at 402 N. St. Louis, and conducted its first capital campaign to raise funds for a six million dollar renovation of the facility. In 2008 Breakthrough moved its men’s services, employment services and administrative offices into the building and began to focus all programs and services on forty square blocks in East Garfield Park. Both the women’s and men’s services expanded to 24/7 operation.


Also in 2008 Breakthrough formalized plans to build the Breakthrough FamilyPlex at the corner of Carroll and Kedzie to accommodate the rapidly growing Breakthrough Youth Network, and kicked off another capital campaign. Over the next four years Breakthrough raised sixteen million dollars with a combination of public and private funds and broke ground on the FamilyPlex construction in the fall of 2013.


In an effort to provide employment opportunities for residents of East Garfield Park, Breakthrough established a partnership with Garfield Produce, a hydroponic produce company, in 2013. In 2014, Breakthrough founded Breakthrough Enterprises, a wholly owned for-profit subsidiary of Breakthrough Urban Ministries, seeded with startup funding from KeHE Food Distributors. In February, 2015, Breakthrough Enterprises hired a General Manager and a few months later five graduates of Breakthrough Epic Living Employment Readiness Program were hired.


In 2014, Breakthrough completed renovations of the women’s center and an adjoining storefront for the Breakthrough Fresh Market Food Pantry which had grown to serve 1,000 households each month.


In 2015, Breakthrough opened its long awaited FamilyPlex, a newly constructed 43,000 square foot building, designed to be a place where families can come together to support one another in raising their children. The FamilyPlex includes a four room preschool, a ten exam room health center, a double court gymnasium, a café, fitness center, six classrooms and an arts and science academy. The FamilyPlex was opened on January 17, 2015 with a great celebration that included hundreds of community residents as well as the governor, mayor, a senator and several aldermen and other officials. Lawndale Christian Health Centers opened a ten exam room clinic in the FamilyPlex a few weeks later and the Breakthrough Beginners staff began the licensing process for the four room preschool that would accommodate one hundred children.

Stories of Breakthrough 

For me(Arloa), the past 25 years has been a journey up the river. There is a story of standing down river when we see a baby floundering and drowning. We do what we know is the compassionate thing to do and we reach out to bring the baby into a place of warmth and security and then we see another baby, and another one. We get really great at running a rescue outpost downstream. Finally someone makes the suggestion, “Maybe we should go upstream and find out how these babies are getting tossed into the river. Going upstream has led us to begin with the babies before they are lost to the shipwreck of the streets.


As we listen to the heartbreaking stories of homeless adults every day, we realized that most have grown up with the overwhelming trauma of poverty. So we began to focus more on early childhood education. In 2015 we will open a licensed preschool in our new FamilyPlex facility expanding our capacity from 20 to 100. The FamilyPlex building also houses a ten exam room health clinic, a double court gymnasium, 6 classrooms for our after school program, a fitness center and a café. It is a new center of hope for the residents of East Garfield Park.


Today, babies who were enrolled in our preschool in 2000 are in high school and college and doing well. Others who came into our after school program as grade school students are now adults and are enrolling their own children in Breakthrough’s programs, paying it forward for generations.  Otis and Christine met in our after school program and have now enrolled their daughter, Honesty, in the Breakthrough Beginners Program.


Cortez Hixson, now 27 has grown into a hard working husband and father of three. Cortez and his wife Tomeka, are already sacrificing for the dreams of their three small children


Cortez’s brother, Martell, now 28, grew into an adult who loves to study and teach the Bible. He now lives and works in Memphis, TN, where he teaches Bible studies and is investing in the lives of children and families.


London Johnson came to Breakthrough in 2001 when she was 12.  Today she is a band instructor in a Chicago Public High School.


JJ, now 24, graduated from Grace College in Indiana and now works as a youth counselor with victims of sexual abuse and is aggressively pursuing his master’s degree in counseling.  James has a passion for his faith and for serving others.


These adults are living for Christ, building strong families, valuing education and the faith development of their children. To see our work affecting families for generations is so very gratifying. To God be the glory.



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