By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader
The email from Six Flags Great America came at 12:57 p.m. on Tuesday, July 11. It was bad news. There won’t be any help to pay for the big trip to the splashy amusement theme park. For 35 youths at Parkway Gardens Homes, it was one of a string of letdowns. And if the setbacks continue in the next several weeks, it will be another disappointing summer with a wish gone unfulfilled.
For the past several weeks, it’s been a roller coaster ride for Chicago Police Officer Jennifer Maddox. A beloved figure among youth in Parkway, Maddox saw her hopes constantly rise and fall as she failed to find funds to send bright, but low-income, students to a place many of them have never been: Six Flags Great America in Gurnee.
Some 52 miles north of Parkway Gardens lies the popular summer attraction that Maddox and her kids believe would provide the perfect, climatic ending to her Future Summer Ties program in the sprawling complex in Woodlawn. But year after year, her hopes and the wishes of dozens of kids have been dashed because of the bottom line: the high costs of sending 35 kids to Great America has kept that trip out of reach. This summer, another bus ride to downtown may end up being the replacement once again.
With its thrilling rides and breathtaking rollercoasters, Great America is a high-profile amusement park that draws fans from Illinois, Wisconsin and the Midwest. To experience that adrenalin rush, many snatch up season passes just to ride the mega rollercoasters Goliath and Raging Bull over and over again.
Over the years, many middle-class and affluent families have brought their children to the popular theme park many times with some making multiple trips during the summer months. It’s part of a lifestyle that many youth in Maddox’s Future Ties program aspire to have. But for a program that aims to inspire youth to dream big, the promised trip to Six Flags Great America has become an annual disappointment to disadvantaged kids who rarely get to experience life outside their troubled neighborhood.
For Maddox, it’s her versus reality. So far, reality is on a six-year winning streak and the score may soon be 7-0.
Six Flags Great America nowadays is expensive. It costs $72.99 for just one ticket to get into the park. After parking costs, gas, food and souvenirs, a trip to Six Flags Great America could cost a family of four close to $600 dollars.
Maddox has figured out ways to control expenses, but the costs are still unaffordable for her. As a police officer, Maddox can purchase the tickets for just $40, for a total of $1,400. Then there are costs for food ($525) and a bus for $350. A staff of six adult supervisors will cost $330. The grand total: $2,605.
So far, Maddox has raised $400 on her Future Ties Facebook Page. She has reached out to people in the community, hoping they would donate funds to make the wishes of her youth a reality. Dozens of messages have been left. Few have been returned. Some promised they would help, but never did. Time is running out for Maddox. Her Future Ties summer program ends August 11.
On July 11, the Chicago Crusader contacted Six Flags Great America corporate office, inquiring about benevolence admission programs for low-income youth. Abbey K. Bobzin, a spokesperson for the theme park, emailed a statement that reads, “Unfortunately, at this time, it is too short of a notice and we have never made a donation of this type before to be able to process your request. We donate approximately 350,000 tickets through our youth literacy program and 1,000 for non-profit organization fundraising efforts.”
Bobzin said the park has a $22 discount promotional with Coke, but the $51 ticket amount after the discount would still be higher than what Maddox would receive at her credit union.
Many households in Parkway Gardens are headed by single, low-income women who can’t afford to send their children to Great America and other places.
“Most of these people have zero income, and they sell their Link card for soap and other necessities,” Maddox said
Maddox created the Future Ties program in 2011 to expose youth at Parkway Gardens to places outside of their neighborhood. The programs 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.
On July 10, participants went bowling at the University of Chicago at Illinois (UIC). Several weeks ago, the group took a trolley to downtown and Navy Pier. That trip cost Maddox $600 of her own money. While she receives funds from One Summer Chicago, she still must cover a chunk of Future Ties’ program expenses. Despite the little resources, Maddox still has big dreams.
“I want to provide that for these kids. They go through so much on a daily basis. Most of our trips are free trips. It’s a different environment and change of scenery. Many of our young people had not been downtown before. When we did the trolley ride and we actually took them on the North Side to see the other communities, they were amazed. They were like, ‘Wow, this is Chicago still’ because it’s such a difference from what they see over here versus what they see on the North Side.”
Alice Randale, 17, was one of three people who was shot last weekend across the street from her Parkway Gardens apartment. She was shot in the knee, but still went bowling with the group two days later. She will attend Central State University in Ohio in the fall. A three-year resident at Parkway Gardens, Randale has never been to Six Flags Great America and looks forward to riding the rollercoasters.
“I would be upset because it’s a trip that we all hope to get, so I’m not going to be the only [one] who’s disappointed,” stated Randale.
For those who want to make a contribution to the trip to Six Flags Great America, go to www.futureties.org.