By TONIA HILL
Jennifer Maddox, a Chicago Police officer and graduate of the University of Chicago’s Civic Leadership Academy was honored as one of top “Heroes of 2017” by CNN (Cable News Network). The award ceremony for the show was held on Sunday, Dec. 17. CNN Heroes is in its 11th year and it honors everyday people who have dedicated their lives to change the world.
Maddox was of ten people who were nominated this year. Each person will receive a $10,000 cash prize and training from the Annenberg Foundation.
One of the 10 will receive an additional 10,000 for his or her cause. The top honor was given to Amy Wright who is an advocate for disabled people that is based in North Carolina.
“It feels good,” she said when asked about receiving the nomination. Her youngest son wrote a letter to CNN to nominate her.
Common, award-winning hip-hop artist and Chicago native presented Maddox with the award on Sunday. She received $10,000 in funding for her cause.
Presently she works out of the Chicago Police Department (CPD) Public Safety Building, formerly known as its headquarters, 3510 S. Michigan Ave. She is a 21-year CPD veteran police officer that has worked in various positions, from patrol officer to Community Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) officer serving as a liaison for the youth, seniors, and schools.
Maddox received the nomination based on her work done through her afterschool program, Future Ties, a nonprofit afterschool and summer program that is operated inside Parkway Gardens, an apartment complex in the Woodlawn neighborhood.
She had the idea to start Future Ties, years ago when she started on the police force. She was assigned to the area surrounding Parkway Gardens. Maddox and her partner received calls for service routinely from residents in the patrol area and the majority of the calls she said were youth related.
“We would start trying to talk to the kids to see why they were outside hanging out, or running through the buildings,” Maddox said. “We discovered that there wasn’t anywhere else for them to go.”
In 2007, she launched Future Ties while serving as a security officer at Parkway Gardens during her off hours. She convinced the building manager to open the basement in the apartment complex so she could provide activities for young people after school.
Initially the program began as a drop in center. Young people trickled in and out of the facility at first then gradually more started to appear regularly. It was a safe space for them to come and socialize with one another, Maddox said.
“The calls for service between the times that we were open went down, Maddox said. “It became really huge I was getting a hundred plus kids through the door.”
After children came in to the drop off with homework she shifted focus of the program to be an afterschool program.
The University of Chicago’s Office of Civic Engagement assisted Maddox in structuring Future Ties and she received a 501c3 non-profit status in 2011.
The program has since expanded to operate year round. Currently she works with 40 children between the grades (K-6) during the school year and she works with teenagers during the summer months.
Teens during the summer months are able to decide what they want to focus on in the past they’ve worked with them on budgeting, credit, CPR training and resume writing. They’ve also taken field trips to Great America.
Maddox is a graduate of the Office of Civic Engagement’s Civic Leadership Academy, which is a development program for leaders in nonprofit organizations and local government agencies within the City of Chicago and Cook County.
Future Ties is a part of the Office of Civic Engagement’s Community Accelerator Program, the office provides technical support to community based organizations over a period of three to six months.
Ryan Priester, associate director for community programs at the Office of Civic Engagement at U. of C., has known Maddox for many years and met her before he joined the university. He worked as a community organizer in Woodlawn.
“She’s one of the most selfless and giving people that I ever known,” Priester said. “She is totally dedicated to this inner generational approach to help moms and caregivers in the Parkway Gardens housing complex. At the same time that she’s doing academic enrichments and excursions with the youth she’s working with the moms.”
“We kind of framed it as a one stop shop where kids could get the services [they need] and then it opened it up to include families,” Maddox said. She was able to assist parents who live in the complex with job training programming and part-time employment through Future Ties.
“It was a like a work experience program to advance them to do other things to get their feet wet working,” Maddox said.
Chicago’s gun violence continues to be an issue that the city grapples with, President Donald Trump has made mention of it numerous times over the first year of his presidency.
Trump during a speech on Friday, Dec. 15, at FBI headquarters said ‘What the hell is going on in Chicago? What the hell is happening there?’ “For the second year in a row, a person was shot in Chicago every three hours. You don’t think these people in this room can stop that? They’d stop that.”
This year shooting incidents have reached over the 3,000 mark, but there are 700 fewer people shot this year than in 2016, according to the Chicago Tribune.
“When you think about violence and crime you have to think about what the root causes of those issues are and the majority of them stem from social issues that people are experiencing,” Maddox said.
She said some are unable to provide basic needs for themselves or their families. “Sometimes it forces them to do things that they shouldn’t do. We have to realize that people want to be able to eat, have shelter, food and clothes just like everyone else.”
Maddox does not see this a justification for violence but believes society at large has to recognize what factors are at play like unemployment or the lack of resources in neighborhoods across the city.
Maddox said is looking to expand the program to reach all 1,200 kids that live in the complex and move their operations from the basement to a facility in the area. She already has her eye on an open space within walking distance of the complex.