This guest blog was provided by Respect 90, Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon’s charity which provides children and families opportunities to develop championship attitudes through sports, academics and community involvement.
As a little girl in the seventies in Northwest Chicago, Carol Valentino-Barry used to love to look at things upside down.
“There are pictures of me as a little girl hanging upside down,” she laughs. “My father told me I always did that. He said it was my thing.”
That may help explain why today, she could be a copywriter for the messaging on Joe Maddon’s brilliantly inspiring T-shirts with a slightly different point of view.
Like the one that says it is OK to be uncomfortable.
“A lot of times we back away from what is uncomfortable,” opines the petite, energetic, community leader. “When you are uncomfortable, that’s when growth happens.”
And Valentino-Barry knows about growth. As the communications and community outreach director at Ridgewood High School, located less than 10 miles from Wrigley Field, her conversations are dominated by words like transition and understanding.
It’s her mentorship and leadership program at Ridgewood that has been recognized nationally. In 2015, the program won the Points of Light Award, an honor established under President George H. W. Bush. The award was no accident.
“We wrote a dual credit college class for seniors in the mentoring program using Harvard Business cases at a graduate school level,” says Valentino-Barry. “Was it uncomfortable for them? You bet it was.”.
The centerpiece of that program is her partnership with The Salvation Army’s Harbor Light Center, located in one of Chicago’s most troubled areas.
“The Salvation Army was already mentoring our students and I asked them ‘How can we work more with you guys?” she recalls.
At first, she arranged for her students to help Salvation Army staff and volunteers make sandwiches for distribution in underserved communities.
“But then,” Carol realized, “I didn’t want the students just making sandwiches, I wanted them to be out on the streets, to have the full experience of the project. I wanted it to be scaffolded. Salvation Army felt comfortable with that and allows us to go with them. Now we also include the mentors and parents. It has been really beautiful.
“Before we go, we explain why we are doing this, who is out on the street and why they are out there.”
Says Linda Reiter, the Salvation Army’s Volunteer Resource Manager: “Carol and her students are truly making a difference in the lives of those they have helped. Her students have a better understanding of homelessness and what they can do to help because of her passion for volunteering with us. We are grateful to Carol and her students for being part The Salvation Army’s mission to Do the Most Good.”
She also has her Ridgewood students involved with Sarah’s Circle (a Chicago refuge for homeless women) and Project Happiness (a national program to help children find their own lasting happiness). And, she returns to volunteer at Salvation Army on her own time.
Valentino-Barry’s motivation isn’t complicated.
“It’s really all about giving them love. That’s all it is. It’s pretty simple. When I see someone living under a viaduct, I feel no separation, I don’t feel like oh, the poor thing. Instead, I feel like that is me. I’m you. If you’re suffering, I’m suffering. There’s not a feeling of judgement. There are no levels.”
“No matter who it is, we keep reflecting each other, she summarizes. “I know this world can’t be limited to what we see. We have so much greatness in ourselves, so much greatness in these students.”
If you’d like to volunteer your time to Doing The Most Good with The Salvation Army, please reach out to us.