The Night Ministry at North Lawndale College Prep

By Jenny Merritt, Night Ministry Liason

My role with the Night Ministry started when I was hired in 2015 to manage the project coordination specifically for Phoenix Hall, a dorm-like residence available for students from North Lawndale College Prep who are homeless or have housing instability.  A student advisory board helped create the program name and continues to meet today. Community members helped in our search for a building and I then met with neighbors to gather support for the program, needed to apply for zoning for the property.

North Lawndale College Preparatory Charter High School (NLCP) has a rich history of supporting students and their families, and recognized that many of their students struggled with housing insecurity. Chicago Public Schools identified more than 18,000 students as homeless in 2016–17, and NLCP estimates that 8 to 10% of their student body, around 100 students, experience housing instability.  In an effort to better support these students, NLCP reached out to the Old St. Patrick’s Church Kinship Initiative. The North Lawndale Kinship Initiative is a collaboration between the people of Old St. Patrick’s Church and those who live in and work on behalf of the North Lawndale community. Old St Patrick’s Church eagerly began fundraising for this effort, and created Empower to Succeed, a nonprofit organization, to oversee the development of housing supports.  

Phoenix Hall is a year-round residence serving NLCP students by providing safe, stable dorm-like housing and support for the achievement of their educational goals.  Residents of the eight-bedroom home, which is located within close proximity to both NLCP campuses, receive a comprehensive range of opportunities, including individualized case management, life skills development,  and a focus on educational support and job and college readiness training. Students and families are also connected to community-based resources such as health care, counseling, parenting support and recreation. In addition, families of students are connected to a supportive network of community services.

Phoenix Hall is staffed around the clock with experienced adult professionals trained in positive youth development.  Staff will also facilitate relationship building and connections within residents’ families.

Potential residents may qualify and apply for Phoenix Hall if they attend NLCP, often recommended by their teachers or counselors.  If placement is appropriate, students will have the opportunity to visit the home, meet the staff, learn about the program, and agree to its expectations before making the decision to enter. Phoenix Hall staff will also meet with the student to develop a plan to move through the program to achieve their educational goals and secure permanent housing. If the student is younger than 18 years of age, The Night Ministry requires permission from the parent or guardian for the student to live in the house.

Since opening in August 2017, we have served eleven students.  We were welcomed to the community by our neighbors, elected officials and community partners, who continue to support out students and their families. Students also participate actively in their community, involved in the many efforts that make North Lawndale a healthy and vibrant community.  

Last June, we proudly watched our first graduate collect her high school diploma.  When she moved to Phoenix Hall she had concerns of completing her senior project and graduating.  After moving into Phoenix Hall and working closely with staff, her teachers and YOS case manager, she went on to win the NLCP Colloquium, as a top presenter and scholarship receipt.  She stays engaged with The Night Ministry and currently takes college classes. She also had her prom send off party from Phoenix Hall, a wonderful gathering of friends and family, and delicious homemade cheesecake and chocolate covered strawberries prepared by the other students living at Phoenix Hall.  Students have bonded staying together in Phoenix Hall, supporting one another and helping raise awareness of the program at NLCP. A past resident of Phoenix Hall serves as President of the Student Housing Council, our advisory board at NLCP. The council has presented throughout the school, often welcoming students to attend open houses to tour Phoenix Hall and learn more about the opportunities with The Night Ministry.