Navarro says, “This area of town has a stigma.” She remembers taking a group of Good Sam students to visit a nearby college. “I won’t say where, but it was close — and the tour guide said, ‘This neighborhood is bad. If you are going to live here, have your phone with you all the time with 911 on speed dial like it’s Chicago.’ We laughed and the tour guide said, ‘You don’t understand. It’s so bad. I wouldn’t live here.’”
This to a group of students who do live here.
“They bring us together…”
The Perez family is finding it hard to escape the stigma of the West Side, but they moved out of the neighborhood when domestic violence left their mother with a broken ankle. She now has two screws and a rod in her foot. Even more than the surgery, Good Sam helped her get back on her feet. “If it wasn’t for Good Sam,” says Perez. “I wouldn’t be able to have my job. I would be a mother living on the West Side, with my kids at home.” Support from the center allowed Perez to attend additional schooling that led to her current position at a health care agency.
Bianca Perez remembers her mom wearing a boot during her freshman year at Lanier High School, but she has trouble talking about that time.
“The kids were very well aware of that happening,” Navarro explains for her. “It was right in front of them. Bianca was a freshman in high school, and she was taking on everything at home basically.” Her mom went back to work and school as quickly as possible and relied on her daughter to take care of the family.
“It was a bad spot,” says Bianca Perez. “My mom said, ‘We’re a family, and we have to stick together. We’re a team.’ A lot happened. I think everything happens for a reason, and it was good that we got out of the situation we were in.”
The Perez family now lives about 20 minutes away from Good Sam, but they still come because it is free and because it is their community. Navarro, Reyna and Jordan all refer to the students as their kids.
Bianca Perez says they feel like family. “I like the people here. Everyone is nice to each other. If there is a problem, you settle it the right way — you know — talk. They bring us together even if we don’t want to until we resolve it.”
When a problem arises amongst the third-graders, Jordan disappears for about 10 minutes, and we can see him talking with the students, then walking them one by one to the bathroom and back. He tells us later, “They are painting today and thought it would be funny to paint each other’s clothes. Until it wasn’t funny anymore.”