College sophomore Alexis Sanders admits she knew little about the West Side of Chicago when she entered high school. One thing that resonated with her rather quickly was its familial culture. She said getting involved with community treasures like Breakthrough, down the street from her alma mater, has helped her expand her network of support and positioned her for success in college.  

“As compared to everything around it, I feel like [Breakthrough] is like a golden nugget. I feel like its a golden part of East Garfield Park. Everyone here is so friendly and you can come and talk to anyone with any of your problems. I wish more people were able to see or experience a Breakthrough in their neighborhood.”

During her transition to high school, Alexis found community in sports and athletic clubs at school and in the community. She joined the Westinghouse girls basketball team and trained in Breakthrough’s athletic programs after school and on the weekends. At Breakthrough, she met adults that were able to supplement what she learned in the classroom with real life experiences, like Chief Program Officer Bill Curry. 

“Bill Curry is a really cool person to talk to, and he always goes on these rants about academics where he teaches a lot through the advice he gives,” Alexis said. “Also, I talk to coach Curry about being a political science-economics major and he’s really good to have because he’s done a lot to change the community and I feel like that’s a big part of what I want to do in policy.”

As a first generation college student, Alexis said she needed to lean on the experience of her supporters to navigate transitioning to college. Her friends and teammates told her about Breakthrough’s inaugural community-wide Trunk Party last summer. 

Trunk parties are celebratory events where the network of a graduating student showers the student with gifts, donations, words of affirmation, and sound advice before they head off to college. It was the type of party Alexis didn’t know she needed. 

“I didn’t have a personal trunk party and I had no idea what I really needed. I thought that I had a bed, and school supplies and that would be enough. There were so many things available at the Trunk Party, that at the time, I didn’t think I’d need all of it. And then I get to school and I realize how much I needed. ‘Oh I need a shower caddy, I have that,’ or ‘I need new sheets, wait, I have that too.’”

“I feel like if I didn’t do the trunk party, I have no idea what would actually be in my room. I don’t have a full-ride to my school, so it would have been hard for me to furnish my dorm. There were plenty of small things like shampoo and stuff, but even the laundry baskets proved to be useful because I lived on the third floor.”

At the trunk party, students and their families packed the Breakthrough FamilyPlex for a day of celebrating local students’ academic success. A panel of college students and recent grads opened the event. Then, the students were ushered to the back of the gymnasium, where they were able to experience the free shopping-style gift drive and pick up college necessities like trash cans, carpets, and toiletries.

The event space was set up to mimic the design of a networking event so that the students would be encouraged to mingle with guests and get some experience networking outside of their comfort zone.

Aside from the feeling of pride she got from being supported by her growing community, Alexis said the thing she values most from the trunk party is the coat rack she has found plenty of use for in her dorm.

“Didn’t think I needed somewhere to hang my coats or my friends’ coats. It’s the smallest thing but I would have never thought to buy that for my room,” she said. “Also, the tide pods. Because you know how laundry can be.”

This summer, Alexis has returned to work at the Bridge Cafe in the FamilyPlex before returning for her second year at Calvin College. The 19-year-old would like to use her passion for local communities to influence policy reform but recognizes that she needs to build skills and connections. She feels safe doing that with her Breakthrough family. 

“Working at the café in Breakthrough… I feel like it’s helping me develop a lot of soft skills and helping me learn how to communicate with people,” Alexis said. I’ve realized, from working here, just how close knit the Breakthrough family is. I just love Breakthrough and everything they do in this community.”