Maria Kaupas Chicago Center Mentors At-Risk Youth

Published December 1, 2014

As their legacy in the Chicago Lawn neighborhood, the Sisters of St. Casimir established the Maria Kaupas Center, named after Mother Maria Kaupas. The Sisters saw it fitting to name the Center after the strong, forward-thinking woman who in 1907 founded their order dedicated to teaching youth of their community in a religious setting. Their work over the decades illustrates how a highly dedicated private organization can well serve a noble purpose of providing help to urban students in difficult circumstances.

The Sisters created the Kaupas Center to continue their mission of serving at-risk children of the Chicago Lawn area. Housed in the Sisters’ former convent, the Center welcomes children mostly from single-parent households living in poverty from crime-ridden areas. The Center has become their home away from home, where they come every day after school to engage in academic and other constructive experiences. Most would otherwise lack responsible adult supervision in the late afternoon and evening.  

At the Center, the students engage in constructive social service projects. In the sewing program, for example, they make hats and scarves to donate to the homeless. They make pillows to donate to families hit by illness. Some of the teens become Center team leaders to help organize the activities.

The students participate in programs such as creative writing, cooking, art, music, and tutoring. They enjoy playing basketball, ping-pong, and football. The Center sponsors games tournaments and field trips, and it is introducing a book club and restorative justice circles as a means of conflict resolution.

About 80 elementary students participate in the programs, as do from 50 to 75 high school students. To meet the needs of the adult community, the center offers English Language Learning classes, a diabetes education program, and a particularly popular sewing class. Thanks to its growing reputation, a variety of programming is planned for the future. The Center staff estimates close to 1,000 students and adults will benefit from services by 2015.

The Maria Kaupas Center is a place where youth can be affirmed, valued, and loved. It responds to Maya Angelou’s poignant observation about “the ache for home that lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” The boys and girls want to succeed and belong, and they know the Maria Kaupas Center provides opportunities for success and a home away from home.

Carmen Ontiveros ([email protected]) is executive director of the Maria Kaupas Center.

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