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Brown: ‘Small’ Parkway Gardens kids program must get a bit bigger

Jennifer Maddox (center), founder of the Future Ties after school and summer camp program at Parkway Gardens, with parent volunteer Tenesha Payne (left) and program director Shaquita Wells. Photo by Mark Brown

There’s nothing fancy about the basement community center in Parkway Gardens where Jennifer Maddox operates her “Future Ties” after-school program.

Some tables and chairs for small children. A bathroom, kitchenette and couch. Bulletin boards and terrarium featuring “Mr. Future,” the turtle.

Yet simple as it is, there is no doubt this room is a very special place for the kindergarteners through fifth graders who come here weekday evenings to learn and play, and most important, stay out of harm’s way.

We’re all looking for big answers for Chicago’s violence: “bring in the feds,” take away the guns, hold the judges accountable.

But in the process we sometimes fail to properly support the people who in small ways already do what they can to provide real solutions.


Maddox is a Chicago police officer who more than a decade ago was working a side job as a security guard at Parkway, 64th and King Drive, when she saw the need for a safe space like this to give kids somewhere to go to keep out of trouble.

She convinced the management at the time to give her keys to one of the basements in the 35-building complex that is home to some 2,400 residents. It became the community center.

Maddox no longer works security at Parkway, but with the help of mothers who live in the apartment complex, she has continued her program, working a second job elsewhere so she can fund it out of her own pocket as necessary.

I’ve written about Maddox previously, most recently last June when we successfully prevailed upon Chicago Public Schools to allow her to reach more kids by operating Future Ties’ summer camp out of nearby Dulles Elementary School.

But Maddox and her moms network want to be able to help more kids year round, not just in the summer, and for that they need a second basement at Parkway Gardens. I’d like to help them get it.

Some of them sat down with me the other morning around the children’s table to talk about their concept for another after-school space for older kids, grades 6-10 at least, and possibly through high school.

They told me in the early years they tried to take care of all the kids in the one room, but the space was too small to accommodate the chaotic crowd, and they had to limit the program to the younger children.

Some older kids work in the program, but the need is far greater. The result is that the number one pastime at Parkway seems to be loitering outdoors, which leads to a lot of problems.

“If there is something for them to do, they won’t be out there,” said Tenesha Barner. “If you’re not out there as a target, no one can shoot you.”

The big hurdle is that the basement space they are eyeing is unfinished and needs some work. There is a cost to that, not much in the grand scheme of things, but a major roadblock for a tiny non-profit operating on a shoestring.

I’m not dumping on Related Midwest, current owners of Parkway Gardens, which the women told me has been an improvement over past managements. But this effort requires the company’s cooperation, if not leadership.

Maddox said it also will require more Parkway parents stepping up as volunteers.

I confessed to the women that I don’t write about Chicago’s violence problems as often as I should because I don’t have the answers.

Barner, whose 22-year-old son is now in college and whose high school age daughter tutors at Future Ties, suggested I was looking at it wrong.

“The thing is you don’t look for big solutions. You start small,” she advised. “Each one, reach one. You’ve got to start like that.”

Each one, reach one.

It’s a start.