CHICAGO (WLS) -- Metropolitan Family Services got its start 164 years ago. Back then, the organization was named the "Chicago Relief and Aid Society."
A few years later, it was tasked with administering all relief to victims of the Great Chicago Fire. Since then, the name has changed and the organization has expanded into eight centers across the Chicago area.
"The reality is that not much has changed," said Ric Estrada, president and CEO of Metropolitan Family Services. "I think the city has grown. Our people have moved from community to community, but we're still focused on what you said when we started, to learn, to earn, to heal, to thrive, which means we provide everything from early childhood, to workforce readiness programs, to legal aid, to mental health and then we just want to make sure people are owners of their own destiny by helping them achieve empowerment."
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During the pandemic, Metropolitan Family Services helped families get food, internet access and transportation. Audrena Spence, the executive director of Metropolitan Family Services Calumet Center on the city's far South Side, said more than 18 months later some families are still struggling with some of those same issues, including food insecurity.
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In 2016, Metropolitan Family Services convened "Communities Partnering 4 Peace" in an effort to break the cycle of violence and gangs.
"In 2016, we were experiencing a historic spike in gun violence," said Estrada. "It was at that moment that eight of our partners together with Metropolitan Family Services came together to develop Communities Partnering 4 Peace, and it's our effort to help stem this violence and bring peace to the communities. We were seeing double digit drops in violence in 2017, 2018 and 2019. And then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and now we've seen the opposite happen and violence is going up. But it is now that we have to redouble our efforts in this initiative. But we can't do that alone. It's the combination of efforts that will help bring peace to this city."
Metropolitan Family Services also helps invest in young people and their futures, through Upward Bound.
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"Upward Bound is an awesome program that prepares young people to go to college and especially focuses on first generation," said Spence.
They partner with local high schools, starting during a student's freshman year.
"Not just preparing them through tutorial services but life coaching and life services and also helping those families, if you have not experienced college as an adult, it's really hard for you to help your young person understand the importance and how to access college," she said.
Metropolitan Family Services will host its 40th Annual Mpower the Night event on Nov. 16, sharing stories of the impact the organization has had on people and their communities. It's a virtual event.
For more information, visit metrofamily.org.