Chicago church, city partner to improve lives of women, children
In a poverty-stricken area of Chicago, many women and children have fled from the streets or abusive homes to River of Life, a shelter operated by Palestine Christian Temple (Assemblies of God). But according to Wilfredo De Jesus, pastor of the church, many have found much more than refuge.
"Since we have been running this shelter many women and children have come to our church, accepted Christ and been baptized," he says. "They come to know Christ because of the way many of our workers and volunteers live their lives."
Seven years ago the church purchased the abandoned building next door. Members of the congregation renovated the first floor and began serving food and providing shelter. Eventually city officials offered to complete the renovation of the building, if the church would allow the shelter to become a warming center where residents could stay a maximum of two months.
"The city spent $150,000 renovating the entire building," says De Jesus. "Now we are able to provide shelter for up to 35 women and children at a time."
Lisa Gonzalez recently came to the shelter with her two children.
"We dont have a good relationship in the family," she says. "But here my life has changed a lot. Everyone has problems, but there are many people here to help us."
Gonzalez says shelter workers assist residents by helping them figure paperwork that qualifies some for government subsidies. River of Life also partners with local agencies to provide counseling and classes where residents can earn their general equivalency diploma or receive job training that provides valuable skills.
Donations from churches, food pantries and foundations, as well as stipends from the city, all keep the shelter running, De Jesus says. Recently the shelter became a transitional center, which means the residents can stay up to six months.
Gonzales, who is expecting her third child, is excited about moving to the new apartment, which she will be able to afford thanks to assistance from shelter workers.
"The shelter has been good to me," she says. "Now I know if anything goes wrong I have somewhere to go."
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