Above and Beyond: meeting people where they’re at
Mismanaged government structures and systemic racism are just two factors in Chicago’s complicated makeup. Where there’s wealth on Michigan Avenue, there’s hunger in nearby East Garfield Park and North Lawndale community areas. Hunger for basics like food and shelter. But there’s also hunger for connection and community.
Enter Above and Beyond’s Family Recovery Center and Food Pantry. When you step inside Above and Beyond Family Recovery Center, the atmosphere is bright and welcoming—music is playing and there’s an energy that makes you feel like you’ve entered the family room of a home. “Welcome Home” signage greets you. It’s far from a traditional clinical space with sterile waiting areas surrounded by magazines and brochures. The environment almost catches you off guard; it's that welcoming. Take a tour for yourself.
We arrive just in time to join one of Above and Beyond’s classes offered to its members in recovery, Soul Train Group Fundance. Leader Octavio Campos invites us all to check in, offering our names, how we’re feeling and our favorite dance move—in the meantime, scenes from Soul Train, the African-American focused music-dance television program that aired on TV for 35 years, play on a TV behind him. Some check in tired, angry, agitated, a couple are worried about bills. As people share their favorite dance moves, we hear two-step, footwork and the Electric Slide.
Octavio Campos prepares the space for Soul Train Group Fundance. Photo: Above and Beyond Facebook page
Octavio invites us to get comfortable in our chairs, to wake up our bodies through movement. He guides us while music from singer and rapper Lizzo starts moving into our soul. Small movements become big movements. We stand. We move gently around our chairs. Then, the chairs are pushed to the side and we begin to dance in community.
Octavio is a gifted facilitator. He’s not only encouraging us to move our bodies, but he’s connecting all of us through music and dance. He connects how we store trauma in our bodies—deep in our bones. How our nervous and endocrine systems can get stuck, unable to feel calm.
It is in this hour that Above and Beyond’s phrases painted on the walls and in its literature really come to life. One whimsical sign reads “Welcome to the Hokey Pokey where you can turn yourself around.” It’s this sentiment that you’re able to understand on a deeper level: “In the relationships of our shared humanity and responsibility for each other … we find healing.”
The vision of Above and Beyond is to build an individualized treatment experience that is available to anyone in need regardless of their economic status. The clients and clinicians create therapeutic alliances that design and execute personalized programs of recovery that co-exist side-by-side personal development and growth goals. The belief is that recovery is a process that requires meeting individuals where they’re at as well as addressing their environmental life circumstances, such as: education, employment readiness, housing, interpersonal relationships, and social re-integrative abilities and activities. As Daniel Hostetler, a leader with Above and Beyond, puts it, “We are connected by positivity and we will overwhelm all negativity by it.” Dan explains the evolution of the organization, and how it is constantly evolving. “We are a walk-in facility only; appointments did not work. We’re listening. We’re teaching. We’re honoring each other. We know that you heal in community; you’re sick in isolation. We strive to be that healing community.”
Bringing Sustenance to the Neighborhood
Not far from Above and Beyond’s Recovery Center is the food pantry, a partnership with HoJo Family Assistance Program and Greater Chicago Food Depository. "Our goal is to get the low-income areas a little bit more in tune with healthier foods, organic foods as opposed to the conventional, corner store and quick stop market foods," said Timothy Hooper, founder of HoJo Family Assistance Program. He explained that you have to drive miles from the food pantry just to get a decent salad. While we’re there, about 80 people come to the pantry. Volunteers had just unloaded a truck and guests filled bags with meat, bread, milk and because it’s a Thursday, ready-to-eat meals donated by Factor, a boxed meal delivery company.
Unpacking and organizing deliveries is a regular activity at Above and Beyond Food Pantry. Photo: Above and Beyond Food Pantry Facebook page
Above and Beyond is learning how to offer classes at the food pantry, including a Wednesday women’s group, WOW, which stands for Women on their Way, a men’s group and educational classes offered by Loyola University nursing students. “This space is turning into an oasis of hope for the neighborhood; it’s very inspiring,” said Octavio Campos. “There will be many more stories to tell as the partnership among Above & Beyond, HoJo Family Assistance Program and Greater Chicago Food Depository continues to evolve. We’re starting to see the great impact of collaboration.”
HoJo Family Assistance Program and Above and Beyond self-describe this project as bringing together two 501(c)(3) organizations in a way that they would not otherwise unite. HoJo resides within the neighborhood and supplies Above and Beyond with high-quality, high-volume, sustainable fresh food that is not available anywhere else. “Our collaborative mission is to bring healing to a large population of people who have been traumatized, ignored, and socially deprived of their birth rights as human beings.” The two groups accomplish this by collaborating with other organizations and with the community itself through the provision of goods and services of the highest quality available anywhere and always for free, never with any fee or charges attached.
These organizations are very different in most ways and would not naturally coexist. As FSPA Seeding a Legacy of Healing grant recipients, they share that “...we have, in fact, had many skirmishes, ups-and-downs, separations and logistical problems which we have already overcome for the purpose and wellbeing of the primary goal. We have been through it and have survived stronger and more united than ever, which is a testimony to our sustainability over the long run.”
As we continue acting as a nation to build a future free from poverty and racism, it’s partnerships exactly like these that help us build community now.
About our visit to Chicago
The FSPA Communications Team visited Above and Beyond Family Recovery Center and Food Pantry in Chicago with Kristin Peters, FSPA, pictured above. She volunteers offering supportive presence at both the center and pantry and introduced FSPA to the organization. “I’m trying to be in relationship with the people in the neighborhood; I like being part of that. It is in building relationships that we build trust.”