Blair, Madigan and the Rhinos
On May 10, 2014, Ron Holt’s son Blair would have been 25. Like any father, Holt grieves for his son who was on his way to help his grandparents at their store in Roseland. The 16-year-old honor student stepped in the line of fire to shield his friend while riding a CTA bus.
Today, Holt serves as Commander Special Activities Section/Citywide Coordinator for the Crime Victim Assistance Program for the Chicago Police Department. Each morning, he reviews a 24-hour incident detail report identifying homicide victims, their age, gender, location and family members. He then connects those families with support services, talks to them about their grief, and even helps them find financial help to assist with funeral costs.
Soon after former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley appointed Holt asCAPS director in June 2010, Holt met up with SAD. “They have worked hard these last four years,” he said. “It (homicide) is even more traumatic for young people because they have delayed reactions to it (and that can lead to) anti-social behavior.”
Holt has connected more than 25 new families with the foundation’s programs during recent months. In 2014, he volunteered as a group assistant during SAD’s free, annual camp for children ages 7 to 17 who have experienced loss by homicide.
According to SAD Executive Director Kevin Doyle, Holt gets it.“He knew we needed male volunteers last year,” said Doyle, “so he volunteered. That’s the type of hands-on guy he is.”
Male volunteers for the foundation’s camp are scarce. Campers are matched with Buddies who share similar interests. Because there are a lot of boys, the need for male volunteers is particularly high.
“From the discussion Kevin and I have had over the years, Kevin is all-inclusive and open-minded and progressive,” said Holt. “He noticed as well as I did that a lot of the kids are young, African American males. He said, ‘I would like to try and match them up with male buddies, but we don’t get enough.’ In our minds, there was a missing link, an important link.”
In the summer of 2013, the office of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan hosted the Illinois Victims Assistance Academy at Illinois State University. Holt was the only male among the audience of 55. He said it taught him to be more sensitive with survivors while further underscoring the need for men to step up and help.
According to Holt, male volunteers bring a level of comfort and a mirror image for boys. “Guys can talk to guys about certain things just like girls with girls. A father can talk to a son in ways that he may not be able to talk to a mom,” he said. “When Blair was alive, we could have conversations heart-to-heart. His mom didn’t have an issue with that. I believe the conversation becomes different and more relaxed. It comes down to how our boys and girls are programmed to show emotion.”
Holt points out, “Boys, for whatever reason, have been told to not cry out loud. Girls have no problem showing emotion. Sometimes, girls become better communicators over time because they have been encouraged to speak their mind and be emotional. The stereotype is outdated.”
As someone who works with teens and families impacted by homicide, Holt says identifying problems is job one.“We need to say: ‘Tell me if someone at school is bothering you or trying to join a gang or sell drugs.’ It is a very stark reality that teenagers, for the mere sake of survival, are selling drugs in high school or joining gangs. There’s a very consistent percentage of juvenile offenders in gun violence, younger to adult male.”
As an assistant for the Rhinos (each group at the SAD camp has a unique name), Holt was the only adult male volunteer in the group. While there were two boys in the group, their Buddies were in other groups. “I noticed that the girls, they really talk about how their tragedies impact their lives,” Holt said. “I was like the uncle or big brother watching over his sisters while mom and dad are away at work. We laughed about me being the only guy there.”
Next volunteer training session is July 18. For all you guys out there, sign up and find out how you can make a difference. Like Ron Holt, you’ll be glad you did.
Want to learn more about volunteer training and positions? Contact Lisa London at the Sheilah A. Doyle Foundation at (312) 961-8090 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
How Vulnerable Are You?
Every time I tell the story of how I lost my mom, I bump elbows with that 17-year-old boy waking up from a deep summer sleep on July 3, 1993. He faces me, that young, innocent teenager buried deep inside me, screaming to make sense of why something bad happened to someone who did so much good for people. Every measure of that night we lost my mom returns like a song that repeats again and again in the background of my mind. My heart swallows hard against the hurt.
With that, I used to think telling your story was the greatest gift you could give. Whether in conversation or a speech to a crowded room, I really thought sharing your story was the ultimate sacrifice. But I was wrong. The greatest gift is not telling your story, but, rather, to recognize what your story gives to other people.
I learned this recently from a man in his late thirties, typically dressed in a blue hoodie named Paul Magsombol. Paul pushes people hard. Short in stature, he is a business owner; he’s married with two kids and can probably lift three times his body weight. He meets me every Thursday and Saturday morning at 6 a.m. to do all types of exercises that leave me panting. Paul is my fitness coach.
Between bench presses, lat pull downs and the treadmill, we talk. One day, I brought up the Sheilah A. Doyle Foundation, in passing, nothing more. But Paul would not let it go. During that same visit, I told him about my mom’s death, our upcoming Cheers for Change event and how he could get involved. I never saw it coming, the reason he needed more.
Then, later that day, on January 30 of this year, I got his email. And I understood.
He first thanked me for talking business with him as he grows his fitness center, Tenacity Performance Training. Then, he wrote that his mom worked the same shift as my mom at a different hospital around the same time. He remembered the story in the news. He wrote, “time can’t fill that void your mom’s death created. I, too, have experienced a loss of a loved one.” He said that, after learning about my mom, he felt like sharing his story because, “… we probably went through the same struggle of trying to make sense of everything and still not truly understanding why it happened to us.”
After this, the Sheilah A. Doyle Foundation looked different to me. I realized that growth continues far beyond the camp weekend—it’s what we carry with us every day of our life that gives us, and others, healing, peace, strength.
And it all starts from a place of vulnerability. Being vulnerable clears the way for awareness and growth. It’s amazing what you get when you open up, when you hold nothing back.
Fast forward to Cheers for Change held March of 2014. We invited the Day and Washington families to share their camp experiences. In a moving speech, 14-year-old Bryan Washington said, “It’s lifted the shadow that’s been on me.” After speaking this, he bowed his head, and let the tears go. Bryan gave from a place of vulnerability. Cheers for Change Master of Ceremonies Garrard McClendon repeated Bryan’s phrase four times, recognizing its significance. For a brief moment, everyone felt connected.
Before the night was over, I got to see one last great thing happen. Twelve-year-old Paul Day, a three-time camp veteran and featured speaker, perused the raffle items, his eyes settling on the Xbox One. He put his raffle tickets in, wishing hard that his name would be pulled. And it was! Congratulations, Paul!
Time to be honest: How vulnerable are you? What stops people from opening up? The fear of being judged? Do you have a story to share? Will you leave others changed because of it?
And what will their world look like when you do?
Founder and Executive Director
Sheilah A. Doyle Foundation
P: (708) 546-4932
Change of Heart
Today, I have a story about all of us. It’s a story centered around the longing for understanding found deep within our hearts.
Picture this. A melee of kids tangled with welcoming volunteers, dusty cars, and the sharp slap of high fives exchanged between friends who first met the previous September. Sound bites rise like bubbles in the air. Hey, girlfriend, I missed you, how are you? Don’t be afraid, this will be good for you, I promise. Mom, I’ll be fine, come meet my Buddy from last year. Blue Nike duffel bags and bright pink backpacks are tossed like salad fixings along sidewalks lined with grass as ten-year-old girls skip ahead of their moms and sons say goodbye to their grandmothers and teenagers catch up in conversation.
It’s Friday, around 4:00 p.m., the first day of the 2013 Sheilah A. Doyle Foundation weekend at Camp Manitoqua in Frankfort, Illinois.
I’m walking along, breathing in the scene, drawing strength from my mom who I know is always near me. The newness of the camp is gone for me now. Already, the weekend feels mature. Like a relationship that moves to another, more meaningful, level. We are in year three. Little did I know an epiphany bigger than I could ever have imagined was about to unfold.
The man was short, wearing glasses, his hands stuffed in his pockets. He looked like a hard worker who cared about his family. I recognized the boy walking beside him. Paul came the previous year. His two siblings, who by now had aged out, had been attending since we founded the S.A.D. Foundation. I asked the man, “So, how do you know Paul?”
“I’m his father,” he said in a quiet, steely voice. He was guarded at first, a bit nervous, his brow creased as his searching eyes surveyed the comings and goings of campers checking in.
You see, his college-bound, teenage son was shot on his grandmother’s porch. The bright, promising young man then stumbled to the back of that house in the North Lawndale area and took his last breath while in his uncle’s arms.
Now, here we were. Three years of this man’s children talking about their experiences brought him to camp. “I wanted to check it out,” he said. For me, his curiosity was significant. I shared my story. Suddenly, he was no longer a world apart from me, but right there with me. I could see a door to his feelings had opened and a very thin, slant of light fell into a very dark room. Then he told me his story, from the parent perspective.
So, here’s something you hear all the time: a lot of violence occurs because fathers are not part of their children’s lives. I am a father and so was this man. We love our children. We are grown men, but we still wake up in the middle of the night and pine for what could have been. Still, we cry for the people we lost and how we lost them.
And, now, the epiphany: Paul’s father asked me if there was a camp for parents.
We always thought a parent program would be a good idea, but, in that moment, I knew it beyond all doubt. And a young adult program, too. There’s a lot of clinical research I could share, like the brain is not fully developed until age 25, but I’m not a doctor. I am a son who lost his mother to homicide when he was 17 years old. Trust me when I say young adults need guidance to handle grief too.
After talking a bit, I asked Paul’s father to stay for Friday night’s parent dinner with the kids and invited him back on Sunday for the closing memorial service. He punctuated our conversation with, “I know we’re in the right place.” I will never forget those words.
This past September was the first time our camp had a waiting list. That’s one of those double-edged swords: It tells me people need our services, but also that violence continues in the everyday lives of children. The camp was special in that campers who were three-year veterans talked to us about their futures. They told us how they were doing in school. They were excited about the weekend, but even more importantly, they were excited about the possibilities in their lives. We had never heard this before, but it is exactly the reason we exist: to establish lifelong relationships with these kids and their families so they can lead happy, satisfying lives.
Together, we own this story because each of us has the ability to flood the darkness with light. On that September day, I witnessed the transformation of a man’s heart. That’s what I hope our foundation will continue doing … for kids, parents, young adults, volunteers, community members, everyone affected by homicide. Think of the brilliance there could be.
And it all starts with a little understanding.
Founder and Executive Director
Sheilah A. Doyle Foundation
P: (708) 546-4932
Roseland Community Hospital Hosts S.A.D.’s First Ever “Chicago Needs You” Orientation
On August 8 of this year, S.A.D. Founder and Executive Director Kevin Doyle addressed an audience of medical professionals and administration staff at Roseland Community Hospital. The far south side Chicago medical facility, led by newly named hospital Vice-President and Executive Director Timothy Egan, wanted its staff to learn more about families affected by homicide so it could further serve residents.
The orientation, part of the foundation’s 2014 Chicago Needs You outreach effort, created awareness about the unique challenges experienced by children ages 7 to 17 who lose a parent, caregiver or sibling to homicide. In addition to the orientation, Roseland Community Hospital now educates families who may be candidates for S.A.D.’s free grief counseling camp held each September at Camp Manitoqua in Frankfort, Illinois. A poster, highlighting S.A.D.’s mission, will be displayed in the hospital’s emergency room.
Thank you, Mr. Egan and everyone at Roseland Community Hospital, for spreading the word about the Sheilah A. Doyle Foundation. Chicago needs you!
Ron Holt Joins S.A.D. Foundation
As Board Member
Ronald Holt is a 20-plus year veteran with the Chicago Police Department and Commander/Deputy-Director of the CAPS Implementation Division (Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy). Currently Ronald is Commander of the Special Activities Unit and Citywide Coordinator of the Crime Victim Assistance Program at the Chicago Police Department.
On May 10, 2007, Ronald’s 16-year-old son Blair became an innocent victim to a senseless act of gun violence while riding a CTA bus from school. After the horrible tragedy Ronald was inspired to honor his son and make the argument to youth about the dangers of gangs, guns, drugs and the culture of violence verses the positive impact of education, family values and spiritual enrichment.
In 2009 Ronald was selected as one of six recipients by Chicago magazine as “Chicagoans of The Year Making A Difference in 2009” and beginning in 2010 Ronald was selected by the Mayor’s Office of Chicago to be a part of the Chicago Team to craft a city plan to reduce and end youth violence.
Ronald received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Eastern Illinois University. He is currently a student-at-large studying towards a Master’s Degree in Criminal Social Justice.
Welcome, Ronald, from all of us at the Sheilah A. Doyle Foundation.
Meet Sara Shotsberger
- S.A.D. Foundation Camp Volunteer, 2011 and 2012
- Social Worker with LEEDA Services, focusing on Chicago’s Howard community
- Chicago native
- Southern Illinois University undergraduate, Rehabilitation Services
- Loyola University Chicago, Masters in Social Work
Sara Shotsberger is a doer. A social worker by trade, she helps people tackle difficult issues every day: financial struggle, lack of education, dysfunctional families and violence. Sara attended a volunteer training session hosted by the Sheilah A. Doyle Foundation because she thought it would strengthen her expertise in bereavement, possibly even giving her new light on loss that she herself has experienced.
What she got was much, much more.
“The camp selection process matches an adult volunteer with a buddy who shares similar experiences, personality and otherwise,” said Sara. “Receiving the confirmation email of my ‘Buddy-ness’ confirmed for me what I already knew: that I was supposed to be at this camp because I knew my energy matched the energy I got from camp training and, more personally, the Doyle family. Throughout the months leading up to camp, the entire Doyle family and their supporters enriched my life and have inspired me to enrich others.”
Since volunteering for her first camp in September of 2011, Sara has since become more involved with the Sheilah A Doyle. Sara is a liaison to community partnership programs such as the Mothers of Murdered Sons Mother’s Day Bruncheon and helps with Cheers for Change, the annual fundraiser event for the S.A.D Foundation.
Sara says, “I talk to community leaders across Chicago about what we can actually do for these children. Through our outreach with community members who share similar messages, we know that there is a debilitating and developmental effect on children who experience violence around them and the loss of their parent or sibling to homicide. It has been more than eye opening.”
So, what is it like to experience camp as a volunteer? She describes the before and after by saying, “We all walk in vulnerable and raw. We leave camp knowing something special just occurred and it is only the beginning of our journey. Even the 16-year-old high school junior counselor and my wise-beyond-her-years, ten-year-old buddy brought a lifetime of knowledge with them and laid it out for us in a way only a child could bring to tragedy.” A homicide-related camp, she says, offers common ground and deeply rooted expectations that everyone will be accepted, regardless of where they are in their journey. “At camp, we automatically saw everyone as an equal - children and adults alike.”
Sarah describes camp as a group of people who have traveled down many different roads coming together to see what possible good can be had from their situations. “This is a rare commodity in the world!” she says. “You see a group of children and teens who have courageously opened themselves up to a possible experience of helping themselves by making this life-changing choice. This is how I believe we are setting the child up for success.”
She adds, “So many people carry their pain and suffering throughout their life and well into adulthood, never knowing the incredible power of taking care of yourself, talking, listening, therapy, expression, mental health and sharing burden. Through camp and other resources provided by the Sheilah A Doyle foundation, we have now begun setting these children up for success.”
For many people, it is not easy to ask for help. But for those who have experienced a loss due to homicide, this critical skill can be even more elusive. “These children now know to seek out enriching experiences that will help heal them and change their path,” says Sara. “These children now know that something like camp and caring people - who live in and out of their communities - exist. The greatest lesson that I saw these children leave camp with is that their present does not predict their future and everyone can choose exactly who they want to be, regardless of their surroundings.”
In reflecting about her work on behalf of the foundation, Sara thoughtfully says, “I have dedicated my career and beyond to non-profits and have been continuously crushed by the politics involved and the constant disparity all around. I am happy to find a family, community-based organization that shares the same values and love for what I do. The Sheilah A. Doyle Foundation exists solely to reach people in a positive way and change lives person by person.”
Strategic Partner: The Black Star Project
“Kids are just waiting for someone to allow them to speak about the violence around them. When you say, ‘Hey this is not o.k. or how are you feeling about this?’ … it is like they were holding their breath and are just ready to let it go.”
- Jami Becka, Program Director
The Blackstar Project
What is the goal of the Black Star Project?
We seek to improve the quality of life in the Black American and Latino communities of Chicago by eliminating the racial academic achievement gap. In so doing, many other quality-of-life gaps improve. We work to help preschool through college students succeed academically by providing educational services while supporting parents, families and communities to effectively provide educational supports for their children and students.
How do you think the S.A.D. Foundation relates to Chicago’s youth?
It’s a much-needed service in the community. We work with a lot of students who see violence. Recently, nine people were shot and killed in Chicago in one week. A lot of schools just go about their business after that. This is a detriment to the kids. When someone dies due to violence, we need to stop and say “this is not ok” and ask them how they are feeling about it and see what is going on with them. It’s a big deal. The kids in the schools have been desensitized to it. We do all kinds of mentoring with the kids, and it’s really horrible when kids die or family members die so often due to violence. No one recognizes what the kids are going through. It’s treated like they need to just go on, and that’s a huge disservice to the kids. I think it’s great what the S.A.D. Foundation is doing.
How did The Black Star Project start?
The Black Star Project began as a small mentoring program in two Chicago public schools in 1996. Today, we are an organization of 11 staff people serving 125 schools – public, private and charter schools. We have about 300 volunteers. We have gained national recognition for our innovative programs that engage and inspire students, parents and communities to improve educational outcomes.
What types of initiatives do you get behind?
The Black Star Project's multiple initiatives address parent development, student engagement and educational advocacy. For example, two programs are now in their fourteenth year. The Student Motivation Program provides classroom-based mentoring. The Barbara Ann Sizemore Communiversity for Educational Excellence is a series of community meetings to help close the academic achievement gap.
We helped start the Million Father March, inviting fathers to take their children to school on the first day. It’s now in 767 cities nationwide. Also, we started the Black Male Achievement Mentoring Initiative in January of 2013. Throughout the month, people are mentoring black males in 195 cities. We started it with the help of Susan Taylor, head of the national mentoring movement and the Open Society Foundation.
How did you connect with the Sheilah A. Doyle Foundation?
The Sheilah A. Doyle Foundation contacted us in July of 2012 because we facilitate Chicago Congress of Parents, a resource program for parents. We have an e-blast that reaches about 50,000 and used it to send out information for S.A.D. volunteers and campers. They also helped us send out information about our Saturday University – a free tutoring program.
Does helping youth cope with loss lead to breaking the cycle of violence?
The S.A.D. Foundation is right on this. The only way that the violent cycle is broken is if kids can express what they are going through and recognize that violence is wrong. No one is giving a voice to kids’ feelings and the kids begin to normalize it. They can think of different life options for themselves if they stop to recognize that.
Did any of the students you work with attend the September 7-9, 2012 camp?
I know the foundation had interest from a few volunteers and several calls from families we serve. Going forward with our mentoring program, the foundation is something we will refer kids to more often. It is definitely on our radar now.
As you work with kids directly, are they hungry to share their story?
I go to the schools and see what is going on. They are hungry for that kind of attention. I liken it to a conspiracy because they all know how they feel and know what’s going on. The kids are just waiting for someone to allow them to speak about the violence around them. When you say, “Hey this is not o.k. or how are you feeling about this?” … it is like they were holding their breath and are just ready to let it go.
Spread the News
Black Star Project’s Saturday University
Free tutoring program throughout Chicago and suburban locations including
Westchester (in the offices of Senator Kimberly A. Lightford), Blue Island, Richton Park,
and South Bend Indiana.
- Serves 250+ people five years old to adults preparing for the GED.
- All sites are donated and accommodate small group sessions staffed by 70 volunteers.
- Covers math, reading and writing instruction.
- Call (773) 285-9600 to register or visit www.blackstarproject.org.
Strategic Partner: Purpose Over Pain - An Interview with Annette Holt, Director of Purpose Over Pain
When Annette Holt lost her only son to gun violence, she had a choice: embrace bitterness or be an agent for change. She chose to make a difference. Purpose Over Pain was launched in 2007 to give hope and support to people like herself. The group’s mantra: “While violence chose us without notice, we consciously choose to band together and turn our profound and collective pain into a sense of purpose to prevent future violence.” The following is an interview with Annette about Purpose Over Pain, a strategic partner instrumental in helping the S.A.D. Foundation raise awareness.
What is Purpose Over Pain?
Our mission is to end gun violence OVER living with the pain. We want to move the public conversation from the sensational of "what” happened to a more productive dialogue of "how" the community can actively care and find solutions.
What do you do?
We go out to schools and community groups to encourage parents to be an active part in their children’s life because if they aren’t, others will take that place and influence their children. There’s a lot of pressure on these young people. There are too many funerals, Teddy Bear memorials and friend’s faces on pictures --- we’re trying to change that. We also promote violence prevention educational programs for at-risk youth and promote a safe environment by advocating common-sense gun laws.
What did you think about the S.A.D. Foundation’s recent camp?
We thought it was great that they (the Doyle family) would take the time to honor their mother’s life by helping kids out. They are wonderful young people. I know their mother is so proud of them because they have the spirit to reach out. They could have chosen to be bitter and feel self-pity, but they are like us – reaching out to help others and in the process healing themselves. Nobody can understand how this feels unless you’ve gone through it. There is nothing on this earth that can replace my son. It’s painful every day, but to just know that there are other people who understand helps. Your heart hurts so much, like you’re having a heart attack … no, your heart is broken. That’s how I feel. That’s how we all feel.
What was your “aha” moment while you were there?
To see all those young people who had lost siblings and parents open up and to see them joyful, smiling and playing games – the things we take for granted every day. They gave from their hearts. It took courage to stand up and open up. I was blessed to be there. When you are around people who are like you, you can live again, you can make it. This was a snapshot for the world – Hispanic, white, African American, Asian, different social classes, all together. If the world looked like that, we wouldn’t have this violence. I want the day to come when we don’t have to have S.A.D. or Purpose Over Pain.
Are there any upcoming events you would like people to know about?
On Mother’s Day in 2012, we’ll be putting the killing of children with guns in the national spotlight. It’s one of the hardest days of the year when you’ve lost a child.
Any parting thoughts?
We’ve all lost our children so what greater gift can we give them but to help others.
For more information, visit www.purposeoverpain.org or email Annette at email@example.com.