A dream comes true at Parkway Gardens

Youth finally go to Great America after donations pour in

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PARKWAY GARDENS YOUTH smile during a day at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Maddox)

Crusader staff report

After six years, it finally happened. On Monday, August 7, 35 youths and six adults from Parkway Gardens boarded a yellow school bus and traveled 52 miles north to Six Flags Great America. They spent an entire day at the popular amusement park riding roller coasters, eating funnel cakes and dancing to live music.

It was a dream that finally came true for Parkway Gardens youth after the Chicago Crusader published a story that kicked off a fundraising campaign that drew donations from across the city.

The young people were from Future Ties, a summer program founded and run by Chicago Police Officer Jennifer Maddox. The program couldn’t afford the high costs of sending 35 youths to Great America, where admission tickets are nearly $75.00 per person. With the additional expenses of renting a bus, parking, food and souvenirs, a summer trip to Gurnee for Parkway youth would cost Maddox’s program over $3,000.

SHIRRELLE NICKERSON POSES with Bugs Bunny at Six Flags Great America.(Photo courtesy of Jennifer Maddox)

So for years Great America became an elusive destination and an annual disappointment.

Many households in Parkway Gardens are headed by low income single women who can’t afford to send their children to Great America, or other places. Maddox created the Future Ties program in 2011 to expose children at Parkway Gardens to experiences outside of their neighborhood.

The program always included pre-teens, but for the first time this year, the program included 17- to 18-year-olds as part of an expanded, paid One Summer Chicago program at Parkway Gardens.

At the beginning of summer, many of the participants expressed a desire to go to Great America, but Maddox feared that the youths’ wish would once again go unfulfilled.

But after the Crusader story ran, donors began sending contributions.  The campaign gained momentum after radio station WVON and the Chicago Sun Times’ Mary Mitchell picked up the story. Mitchell herself gave to the campaign and Great America sent Maddox 16 free admission tickets to its park.

An anonymous donor gave refrigerators, bed comforters and dormitory supplies to two Parkway Gardens youth who are heading to college this fall.

“I’m so grateful to all those who have made this possible,” Maddox said.

Future Ties’ summer program concluded its season the following day, Tuesday, August 8 with a block party and a fashion show at the Woodlawn complex. Called “Swag the Runway,” the show featured young people in the Future Ties summer program.

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