One Community – One Solution 

By Madraigos Midest

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The Chicagoland Jewish community is internationally renowned for being unique in the amount of programs, level of care, and general approach to chessed, tzedakah, and taking care of one another. This is evident in the throngs of people that come to collect over Purim, the numerous campaigns that ensured everyone had what they needed to make a beautiful Pesach, or the multitude of events happening each week that cater to the needs of every person across every spectrum of our city. This practice of seeking to fulfill the needs of every person in our city was put into motion nearly ten years ago when a few local lay leaders got together to start what became Madraigos Midwest. These community oriented people saw a gap in our city to meet the needs of the city’s youth and along with Yankie Greenberger, LCSW and Rachie Karesh, LCSW, they answered the call. What started then to ensure the ‘teens at risk’ had a safe space they could call home, morphed into the thriving organization we have today. The organization does not just provide a service for the neediest of youth and families in our city, but is providing the solution to ensuring every child in Chicago has what they need to become an emotionally healthy and secure adult. That may seem like a tall order, but the dedicated board members and team at Madraigos Midwest are doing their very best to make sure that order can be filled. 

Madraigos Midwest is unlike any other organization, nationally, in that they address the needs of adolescents from every single angle. The Lounge that was started so many years ago in order that teens should have a safe space with adults they can trust and look to for guidance was seen as just the start in helping facilitate the changes these kids needed in their lives. So The Lounge and youth programming created a basketball league, one for both boys and girls, so that the teens had a healthy outlet during the winter where kids could learn important life skills such a teamwork and competition. That spurred on the summer program for local youth in the city to have a positive way to spend their summer evenings. And still, the teens needed more. So the Madraigos Midwest team again went to the drawing board to see how they could answer the call. The solution was providing a multitude of prevention programs so that these teens would be getting everything they needed to grow into the adults they wanted to become. Prevention programs that was a solution for little Chani, a part of the Big Sibling program, who is in seventh grade and no longer has any friends due to her ‘awkwardness’ doubled by her scholastic hardships can have a fun, cool, positive role model that takes her out each week and makes her feel like a star – so she then has the confidence and ability to do better in school socially and with her work. The solution was creating the Esformes Family Parent Support Center so that the parents who had questions on how to approach things with their children had a place to get the answers. The solution was various local publications and community events that hosted internationally acclaimed speakers to help guide the city’s parents, teachers, Rabbanim, and professionals on how to help build our youth. The solution was the Barry and Harriet Steps to Healthy Living Education Initiative, which features a 2,000+ page curriculum of workshops that address the life skills our children need to be successful in today’s society. Under the guidance of Shira Berkowitz, LCSW who developed this program for an organization in New York which is featured in over 35 schools on 3 continents, Chicago itself is lucky to have the program in over 10 schools with over 1500 students receiving these workshops each year. Workshops that provide students with skills they may not be learning in their regular school classes, but may need so much more – such as cyber safety, healthy friendships, dating red flags, peer pressure and dozens more.  

All of this is just the public side of the life changing solutions that Madraigos Midwest provides – but behind the scenes is the work that Chicago can truly boast about. Years ago Madraigos Midwest, under the leadership of two incredibly professional and sensitive clinicians, began to provide assessments and referrals to youth in need and their parents. Anyone could call up Madraigos Midwest to come speak out what is troubling them, to discuss the symptoms that are limiting them from living the life they want to be living. In return they would receive the guidance they needed to find a solution, therapist, or treatment center that would work for them. These assessments and referral drop-ins were not just for the teens themselves, but Madraigos Midwest would also field dozens of calls each week from parents, teachers, principals, Rabbis, and friends, concerned about someone they knew, and looking for answers from a skilled professional that understood their culture.  The vast number of calls and in person referrals taking place each week led the team at Madraigos Midwest to again go back to the drawing board and look for more solutions, more ways to directly impact and improve the lives of the people in need who were reaching out to them. And with that, the Counseling Center was born. 

The Counseling Center opened around 16 months ago not only as a service for the community, but truly as a solution. A solution that creates a place for all the youth in our city to receive the help that they need, in a culturally sensitive and highly professional manner. In the past, having to refer out the dozens of teens looking to the Madraigos Midwest staff for solutions was no longer good enough. The number of teens asking was on the rise, and the level of case management needed to facilitate the teen to truly get the appropriate type of care was too intensive. For this reason, the board and staff at Madraigos Midwest went through the tedious process of opening the only exclusively frum, adolescent mental health clinic in the Midwest. Mr. and Mrs. Joey and Suri Stern believed in this mission and generously supported the Center to allow Madraigos Midwest to make this dream a reality. 

As with all the programs and solutions executed by the Madraigos Midwest team, just to open up the Center was not enough. The Counseling Center needed to be visually appealing, comfortable, local, completely confidential, sensitive to privacy, have an array of therapists for both young men and women, have different therapists to suite different personalities, have therapists with only the highest regard for compassion, culture, and care, have a sliding scale option to make the services available to those who may not be able to afford it, have insurance reimbursement options to help offset the cost, to take on additional staff to be able to offer evening hours, and so much more.  

The Counseling Center is THE place, youth ages 12-20, from across the spectrum of the community, with a variety of mental health needs, have come to call upon. The Center has serviced over 80 clients since opening with 8 clinicians, and 3 social work interns. With the biggest referrals source being our principals, this too speaks to the greatness of Chicago, where our school leaders can recognize and fill the needs of our children. The clients of the Counseling Center come from literally every school in the city, as mental health does not discriminate. The clients come from two parent homes, single parent home, no parent homes. They come from having experienced physical trauma and/or emotional trauma. They come from suicide attempts and drug misuse. They come from suffering with ADHD, anxiety, depression, secondary trauma, OCD, anorexia. They come from difficult transitions and inter/intrapersonal challenges. They come for answers, they come for solutions – and the Madraigos Midwest team provides them, 24/7, night or day, rain or shine. 

This noble and magnanimous work cannot have happened due to good intention alone. Mr. & Mrs. Joey and Suri Stern, being the community-centered activists that they are, realized the tremendous need in the city and committed to enable the Madraigos Midwest team to create this solution. Without a proper name for the Counseling Center, one that speaks to all that the Center is accomplishing, Madraigos Midwest wanted to host the community in a proper dedication ceremony. Madraigos Midwest invites you to a dinner of recognition and dedication on May 10th at the Hilton Orrington. Recognizing the tremendous efforts of Mr. Yoni Bellows, board co-chair, and dedicating the Counseling Center by Mr. & Mrs. Joey and Suri Stern. A counseling center that is truly a feather in the cap of the internationally renowned, benevolent city of Chicago.