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Amid debris, violence and blight Breakthrough springs eternal

It's an unseasonal, warm sunny day in East Garfield Park.  A handful of boys play basketball at a small court. They laugh, throw the ball back and forth, testing each other’s skills.  One child lets out a victory cry as his ball flies over the other kid’s and lands in the hoop. Down the street is an empty park with playground equipment:  monkey bars and climbable obstacles. Not far away, decaying garbage is scattered around a rusty, brown tire.  Used cups, cigarettes, plastic containers and papers blow around the field with the wind. 
This is the neighborhood where Breakthrough Urban Ministries is headquartered.  Located at 402 N. St. Louis Ave., and run by Arloa Sutter, executive director and founder, Breakthrough was originally established as a shelter for the homeless. In 2005, their services branched out to provide services for women and the youth.
           Sutter knows East Garfield Park can be a dangerous neighborhood.
          “A bullet went through my living room window after I moved into the neighborhood,” she said.  “They weren’t after me.” 
It was simply one of the facts of life in the neighborhood, a reflection of the conditions in her adopted community. 
           After Sutter started Breakthrough, she knew she wanted to help reform her neighborhood.  So, she initiated youth and family programs to encourage safety. Sutter said she feels passionately about the youth in her community.  “They are precious,” she says.
         And yet, there is evidence all around of the obstacles faced by many here, even the young. She said some of the kids have “tear-drop shaped tattoos” that mean death. These tattoos also symbolize the violence and brokenness young men and women face in their homes, Sutter said. 
“These are lost kids,” Sutter said. “Isn’t it tragic?”
               Breakthrough’s hope is to help them find their way, safely navigating a difficult path, whether it is dilemmas they face in their homes, such as domestic violence or fathers walking out on their families, or the gang-ridden, crime laced streets. 
“It used to be you smack someone in the face when you disagree with them,” Sutter said. “Now, you pull out your gun and kill them.”
            Sutter said in light of all the violence and tragedy, there is a core value for every individual in her community.  She said she wants to help the kids fulfill their ultimate destinies and believes the Breakthrough staff helps children unlock their true potential when they “show them love” and educate them.   
              The executive director said her destiny is to help the children find theirs, a calling that she believes is not without reward.
 “It’s always reciprocal,” Sutter said. “I feel like we get what we give.”
              Keeping kids away from the violence and the bleak conditions in their community is only step one. To help them succeed, Marcie Curry, director of youth and family services, said Breakthrough has to prepare them for the future. 
“The goals of our programs are to keep the children safe, to give them hope for their futures so that when the future does get here, they will be able to compete with those kids who didn’t have to grow up like this,” Curry said.
              Breakthrough also teams with local support groups for kids, such as Ceasefire and Lawndale Community Center.  These organizations work to bring together communities and to promote peace.
      Phil Jackson, youth pastor at Lawndale Community Church, said his organization works on solving interpersonal problems between the West Side communities.
      “The kids come together to build a bridge between African American and Latino issues,” said Jackson who contends that uniting these communities helps to prevent conflict, which may lead to violence.
        Violence historically has led some who grew up in West Side communities, like East Garfield to flee them. But Sutter and Curry as well as other Breakthrough staff choose to live in East Garfield Park, where they say they are quite content.
       Breakthrough’s chief operating officer is Bill Curry, who is Marcie Curry’s husband.  He sees problems within the neighborhood that he wants to help solve, like cleaning up some areas, including debris-strewn vacant lots, which he says would help to greatly improve living conditions. 
       Sutter’s plans for improving the area include setting up a new family center, which is currently under development.  This center will assist over 1,000 children and will offer athletic programs through its fitness center, a health clinic and an administration center with ample office
space for staff.  Breakthrough Urban Ministries is also initiating “spiritual growth activities” that help children develop their faith. 
       Breakthrough’s current youth center holds about 300 children. After their afterschool activities, the children may go out back to play in the courtyard, where “Inspiration” is painted on the back wall in big, bold blue letters.  Surrounding the courtyard are murals, including one of Harold Washington, the city’s first black mayor. Another picture displays baseball icon Hank Aaron in brilliant colors. 
       Another mural quotes Luke 2:40. It reads:  “And the child grew and became strong.  He was filled with wisdom and the grace of God was upon him.”      
      It is a statement that Sutter and others here embodies the mission of Breakthrough. Still, Marcie Curry said it’s not always a rosy picture at Breakthrough. She knows that some of the children will transgress or become criminals; and that some of them will likely be subjected to acts of violence in the neighborhood. That is just the cold truth. But because of programs like Breakthrough, many around here say, there’s at least hope.
By Benjamin Scott
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