By Gordon Nary
Gordon: When and why did you join Assumption ?
Jacqueline: I lived downtown off and on since I was 18 years old and had attended both Holy Name and St. Peter’s and, while both are beautiful churches, neither of them felt particularly inviting. I started going to Assumption in 1977 for the 7:30 am Mass on Sundays. At that time, it was me, a cop, a fireman, a medic and maybe a few other people. That was when the neighborhood was mostly light industrial and few lived in the area.
Since 1977, the neighborhood has changed dramatically and, once again, Assumption is an active parish with a very healthy diverse population of parishioners.
Gordon: Can you list the three leading features of Assumption that you would mention in recommending Assumption as a potential parish to your friends?
Jacqueline: (1) Assumption fosters interaction among its parishioners and brings a sense of not only a religious community but one of everyday commonality; (2) As noted in the Gospels, Assumption sponsors good causes and promotes those causes to the participation of its parishioners; and (3) It is a lovely, welcoming edifice and the sermons and writings in the bulletins are meaningful and thought-provoking.
Gordon: You have been in the commercial real estate brokerage business since 1983 with your organization Jacqueline Hayes & Associates, Ltd. where you specialize in retail leasing with a particular focus in working high end retailers seeking locations on Michigan Avenue and Oak Street. What is the current state of the commercial real estate market on downtown Chicago?
Jacqueline: There are so many facets in place with regard to commercial real estate at the present time. Retail itself is changing with the advent of online shopping and it is affecting the shopping habits of the consumers. Since money is so cheap, there are many buyers of commercial properties who compete to buy now and they outbid each other. In doing so, the purchase prices are high and, subsequently, the rents need to be higher in order to cover the mortgages. With some retailers repackaging themselves and the higher rents, there is more movement. Some retailers are closing and new ones are arriving.
Gordon: When were you appointed to the Board of Directors of the Magnificent Mile Association ?
Jacqueline: I have been a Board member of The Greater North Michigan Avenue Association (now known as The Magnificent Mile Association) since 1983 and held many roles over the years in protecting and promoting the area as one the great streets of the world.
Gordon: In your opinion, what is the current outlook for long-term investment in commercial real estate in Chicago?
Jacqueline: While others may disagree, I have some concerns that the competitive purchases of properties in the greater downtown area will reach a point where it could bring about another recession. Record prices for property purchases, developing too many residential high rises, rising rents for not only retail spaces but apartments, and more. The profile of the retailer is changing; the profile of the office user is changing; the profile of the City dweller is changing.
Gordon: Some might find it somewhat unusual for a highly successful commercial real estate moguless (I'm not sure if that is the appropriate word) to be interested in the challenges of being poor and hungry in Chicago. When and how did you first becomes aware of these growing challenges?
Jacqueline: In late 1999, the City closed lower Wacker Drive to the homeless who were living there. A lot of those individuals started to find alternative places to sleep and they were found in the doorways of the unleased retail spaces along Michigan Avenue. As a real estate broker representing those properties for lease, I had to ask the homeless to leave the doorways so they wouldn’t interfere with my marketing of the property. That was my first reaction to the situation. I then thought that it was unattractive for tourists to see, but then I came to the realization that these were human beings who were sleeping in doorways on Michigan Avenue because they felt safe and I wanted to get them to a better place.
Gordon: Could you give us some background on how you went about organizing The Chicago HELP Initiative?
Jacqueline: Since I was on the board of the GNMAA at the time, I suggested that we had to do something, but, unfortunately, I was told that there wasn’t enough staff to take on the homeless as a project but that if I did anything, GNMAA would back me. I also happened to be on the board of the Lawson House YMCA (the supportive housing facility at Chicago and Dearborn) at that time and talked with them. They were very willing to help since they were getting calls to get their people off the street and it wasn’t their residents. Another board member of Lawson, was the pastor of Holy Name Cathedral, who indicated they would work with me as they always had homeless knocking at their door for assistance. Fourth Presbyterian Church also indicated they were interested in joining in the effort to address the homeless issue. The River North Association, Streeterville Organization of Active Residents (SOAR), Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Catholic Charities were invited and joined.
Starting in November, 1999, we worked together, meeting once a month, to establish a plan. We created a 2-sided card that could be shared with the respective members of the various organizations advising how to assist the homeless and that card could also be given to a homeless person letting them know where to get assistance. We incorporated as a 501(c)(3) on August 16, 2000.
It took us a full year to design the card and agree on the language and, after we printed over 25,000 cards and distributed them (the cost of which was fronted by the GNMAA), it was suggested that we next tackle housing, but that was an absolutely daunting thought since it took us so long to do the card. Fortunately, Monsignor Boland, the President of Catholic Charities offered me his dining hall at their facilities at 721 North La Salle Street, and suggested we should feed those in need and, since feeding the homeless was more easily achievable, we agreed.
Gordon: When did you begin serving your first dinners at Catholic Charities?
Jacqueline: Now I had to find food. Since I was so active with GNMAA and knew many of the restaurant owners and hotel operators, I decided to call upon my fellow board members for help in providing the meals. The first person I called was Marc Schulman who was still operating Eli’s Place for Steak at the time (where Lurie Children’s Hospital is now) and asked him for a meal for 150 people. Marc is one of the most generous entrepreneurs in Chicago and he readily agreed that he would provide the first meal on March 7, 2001. I explained that I was going to be calling others active with GNMAA and asked if it was okay to share that he was willing. He said it was okay with him. The next person I called indicated that he wasn’t too sure he would be willing to provide a meal but when I shared that Marc was going to provide a meal, he and then the others followed suit. Marc still provides a meal every year on the anniversary of his first meal and provides desserts at other times during the year, including at our annual fundraiser. He brings his staff and the chef from Eli’s Cheesecake each time he sponsor the meal.
Gordon: How are the weekly menus planned?
Jacqueline: We feed every Wednesday and we proceed to fill up the meals calendar for each year ahead of time. We advise the meal provider that we want an entrée, vegetable, salad, bread and butter and dessert and they provide us with their menu. Some of the providers not only prepare the meal but they also bring it to the dining hall facilities and serve it. They use it as an outreach program for their staff. Otherwise, we have volunteers who will pick up the meal and bring it to the facilities. While it is not a commercial kitchen, there is a kitchen where we can keep the food hot or cold until the meal is served.
Gordon: Please detail some of the other services provides through The Chicago HELP Initiative
Jacqueline: We serve food, but we also serve information, compassion and guidance. CHI has served over 156,000 meals since its inception and is pleased to report that, in addition to providing healthy meals, we have been successful in assisting many of those in need in securing housing and jobs and becoming contributing members of the community once again for which we are extremely grateful. By helping those in need today, we are able to allow them to experience a better tomorrow.
Before dinner, a speaker from a local organization gives a brief presentation, typically on resources on finding temporary shelter, housing, medical care or job training. During the meal, guests share fellowship and, when possible, enjoy the sounds of a local piano player, singer or musical ensemble.
While at the meal with CHI, guests also have an opportunity to visit resource tables staffed with volunteers who maintain listings on a wide variety of services, including shelter, legal aid, medical care and job opportunities. CHI partners with local service agencies to provide the needed information. Furthermore, guests are given an opportunity to participate with several ongoing programs after dinner, including literacy, gardening, art classes, smoking cessation and bicycle repair.
Every night we have an overflow crowd for the meal. To accommodate the overflow or those guests who, for their own reason, choose not to dine with others, we provide 65 bag meals to take away. The bag meals are donated and prepared by volunteers and offer a full healthy meal.
Gordon: What is the average cost to The Chicago HELP Initiative to sponsor a weekly dinner?
Jacqueline: There are individual donors who have come and volunteered at a meal who indicate that they would like to sponsor a meal themselves. We have several restaurants who have agreed to supply a meal for those donors for a cost of between $600 and $750 to feed 150 individuals. CHI provides an acknowledgment letter to the individual donor for their donation and for the restaurant for the difference between the amount they receive and the actual cost of the meal as the actual cost is usually more than what they are being paid.
Gordon: When and why did Assumption begin to help sponsor the dinners?
Jacqueline: Father Dowd was the pastor at Assumption when CHI was started and he began Assumption’s sponsorship almost at the very beginning. After his passing, Father Doyle continued Assumption’s sponsorship. Now, with Father Chamblain, Assumption sponsors 4 meals a year and collects knit hats from the parishioners for the holiday gift bags. In addition, CHI’s literacy program is the beneficiary of funds from Assumption through the To Teach Who Christ Is campaign.
Gordon: Feeding the hungry is a corporal work of mercy and truly defines Christ's commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. How can our readers donate to help support The Chicago HELP Initiative?
Jacqueline: They can certainly volunteer to serve the meal when Assumption is sponsor, or at any other time. We can always use tutors to assist in our Literacy Program. They can sponsor a meal, or sponsor a gift (we distribute an item to each of our guests as they leave the meal). They could volunteer to help at the Bike Fair. We could always use help in picking up the meals. We have various committees where we can use the expertise of a volunteer (PR/Marketing, Programs, Fundraising, Grant Writing
Those who wish to donate funds can use The Chicago HELP Initiative donate feature
Gordon: Please explain Chicago Help’s need for tutors and the specific tutors that you need.
Jacqueline: The Chicago Help Initiative (“CHI”) has been providing Adult Learning Programs for the homeless and disadvantaged individuals we feed every Wednesday for the last 15 years. The attendance in these programs (which currently include reading, writing, math, computers, creative writing and photography and soon art classes) has grown exponentially while we lag behind with tutors. See that attached definition of what is expected of a CHI tutor and contact Cecelia Burokas, the Adult Learning Coordinator to sign up if you are able to join CHI in its mission to help those in need.
Gordon: I know than you have invested thousands of hours of your time in helping address the needs of some of Chicago's poorest residents and that it has detracted from the time spent in your real estate business. Now that you have turned over the responsibilities of serving as Executive Director of The Chicago HELP Initiative to Douglas Fraser, I assume that the commercial real estate values on Michigan Avenue and Oak Street will rise more exponentially with you devoting more time and your exceptional talent to this important market.
Jacqueline: Since we are a volunteer based non-profit and we only have the one full time employee (and that is Doug) and one part-time employee, my overall involvement in the day-to-day operations, while less, still takes up a great deal of time and so I am working on bringing a better balance to my day’s activities between real estate and CHI.
Gordon: I know that our readers will appreciate the great documentary by students of Loyola University have produced on The Chicago HELP Initiative You have redefined the term role-model for all of us and possibly the definition of what a Catholic can and should be. Thank you for your leadership in Chicago in reminding all of us what Christ truly mean when he commanded us to love our neighbor.