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Safe Haven program teaching a lesson in finances

Finances, interest rates and spending are usually grown-up business, but children in the Chicago Public Schools Safe Haven program this spring break are learning about this and more.

“The overlay of the week is teaching them financial literacy. How do you count money. How do you make money. How do we understand saving,” said Carol Hill, pastor at Epworth United Methodist Church in Edgewater.

“In addition to that, we have ‘Safe Haven bucks’ that the kids get for going to an activity. At the end of the day they can choose to spend money or put it in the bank and gain interest,” Hill said. “Most kids don’t have any idea of what interest is or what it means, but this week they’re learning that if they put in $25 one night, they have more money the next day.”

Safe Haven is a program through which Chicago churches take in CPS students and put together educational activities for them while school is not in session. No faith doctrine is taught.

CPS says the program’s overall goal is combating youth violence and bullying.

Safe Haven sign at Epworth United Methodist Church

Epworth United Methodist Church is a Safe Haven center this week. | Esther Castillejo/Sun-Times

“There’s a lot of danger out there, there’s a lot of different things coming at the kids,” said Roslyn Steele, a volunteer at Epworth who has lived in Edgewater for 35 years. “There’s gangs out there, drugs, guns — a lot of things. This program is for the youth to make good decisions.”

At Epworth, the children come in at 10 a.m. and cook, dance, play and learn about money through games.

“It’s always good for them to be with other children,” said Bose Okusanye, whose 8-year-old daughter, Timi, is in the program. “We just started coming here and [the program] is good. It teaches them the value of money. [Timi] told me she loves it.”

At the end of the day, a speaker comes to talk to the children. They’ve heard from Ald. Harry Osterman’s office and the Chicago Fire Department and gotten an up-close look at a fire truck.

“Part of our other objective is to really build these kids up, to shower them with love and attention and positive affirmation that they’re making good choices and citizens,” Hill said. “We want to affirm them.”

CPS provides breakfast and lunch to all safe havens and children usually leave around 2 p.m. The children range from kindergartners to eighth-graders.

This is the first year Epworth has participated, and it’s still a few students short of reaching the minimum number of students required to be a full program. About 15 community members volunteered to help.

The church is one of 120 safe havens active around the city this week, up from 100 last year. CPS’ Office of Faith Based Initiatives is in charge of the program.