Amid a flurry of activity, Club 252 Program Coordinator Chuck Harris patiently interacts with a seven-year-old who is having a rough day. Ever positive and affirming, Chuck helps the boy calm himself down until he is able to return to the group. This is how many days go for Chuck, multitasking with all the children while also seeking to be present with them individually.
Chuck started working with youth when he was just 17. Now at 26, he acts as a major component for Sunshine’s rapidly growing Youth Outreach programs. The SummerBlast Program alone has 60 children enrolled (ages 6-11). Chuck describes the dynamic between him and Co-Coordinator Lauren Hamernick as very complementary. “Lauren runs the nuts and bolts while I am the hands and muscle of the programming.”
Chuck was raised on the south side of Chicago by his mother, who worked hard to meet the family’s needs. Her determination and resilience gave him empathy for the challenges the parents in our community face. He affirms “Our parents love their children and want what’s best for them. We are only a small part of helping to raise them, but it’s a privilege I don’t take lightly.” Chuck has been able to forge deeper relationships and build trust with many parents; this is something he credits to focusing on their children’s’ strengths instead of behavioral challenges. He often calls parents to compliment them on their child’s behavior and tell them what a great job they are doing as a parent.
In recent months, the staff has been focusing on trauma-informed care practices and implementing certain strategies with all the children. Chuck has had a particular focus on a group of nearly 30 boys in fourth grade. During the school year, he collaborates with teachers at Fiske Elementary to assist in helping youth reach their academic goals, noting the connection between academics and behavioral health. “We are really learning a lot about how trauma affects behavior. Behavior is just a way to communicate what’s really going on. You have to get to the deeper issue.”
Chuck embodies the joy and struggle of being in youth ministry. He will often be seen after work hours playing football with the neighborhood kids, attending one of their birthday parties, or spending one-on-one time with a child that needs it. He has visions for growing the program even larger and reaching more children in Woodlawn. “The need for mentoring the kids at a young age is huge. It’s humbling at times to realize the need is so big.” Still, Chuck remains optimistic, praising the staff he works with as very caring, going above-and-beyond, and knows they are doing their part to further show the love of Christ to the community.