Celebrating a 25-Year Partnership for People on Chicago’s West Side

As a teenager living in Chicago’s Cabrini-Green public housing development, Leslie Hunter’s life was full of challenges. But his circumstances never defined him. Members of Holy Family Lutheran Church remember Hunter speaking eloquently from the pulpit and daring to carry his Bible through Chicago’s West Side. Former teachers at Holy Family Lutheran School (later renamed Holy Family Ministries) describe him as full of integrity with a desire to help others.

In 1999, Wheat Ridge provided a grant for the school’s new youth ministry, Hope Alive!, an ambitious program to provide after-school, weekend, and summer programming for low-income children and teens from Cabrini-Green and the near north side. The individual tapped to be the Hope Alive! Youth Director was none other than Leslie Hunter.

Dr. Ciunial Lewis, former CEO for Holy Family Ministries, notes that Wheat Ridge’s first grant still resonates in the community through the work of Hunter, who now serves as school chaplain. “The grant helped Leslie come on board with Holy Family—it was his first real job, his first real opportunity to impact his community,” she says. “That’s what Wheat Ridge has meant to Holy Family.”

Other Wheat Ridge grants followed. In 2004, Holy Family’s Stronger than the Street program received a $1,700 grant. An outreach of the men’s group targeting men of Cabrini-Green, the program cultivated a sense of optimism in the community. “Through Wheat Ridge’s support, this program produced men and women of God who grew stronger together despite the dangers in their own community,” Lewis says.

In 2006, Holy Family was ready to expand their ministry—and Wheat Ridge was ready to help. A $2,500 grant supported the development of a comprehensive business plan that qualified Holy Family for a loan to build a new 45,000-square-foot school and service center.

Another Wheat Ridge grant of $10,000 followed in 2007 to support the Neighborhood Partners program, allowing Holy Family to add preschool classrooms, Saturday algebra enrichment classes, an after-school program, and summer camp. It also paved the way for connections with local organizations to support adults in the community and expose them to broader economic opportunities.

The partnership continued with a 2010 grant for a Martial Arts program designed to keep kids safe during out-of-school hours and provide youth with the tools to choose non-violent responses to stresses. Finally, in 2013, the Peace Exchange, a youth group sponsored by Holy Family, raised more than $10,000 on Wheat Ridge’s WeRaise crowdfunding platform for a transformational trip to Taiwan. In addition to honing students’ leadership skills, students brought the lessons of Eastern peace activists to youth back home.

In February, Wheat Ridge President Paul Miles and Director of Programs Joanne Otte visited Holy Family and had a chance to attend chapel with the students. Chaplain Leslie Hunter had the opportunity to thank Wheat Ridge for the support that shaped his life so many years ago. A few weeks later, several members of the Wheat Ridge staff and board of directors had a chance to tour the building that had once been just a dream.

Lewis felt the visits were incredibly inspiring. “Wheat Ridge is not just an email address that we send a request to. They’ve become real friends in the fight to get these kids what they need and what they deserve in this community,” she says. “We would just like to say ‘thank you’.”

Through your faithful generosity and caring, Wheat Ridge’s 25-year partnership with Holy Family Ministries helped create life-changing programs and services in their community. Your support continues to bring light and hope to the men, women, and children living on Chicago’s West Side.

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