Lee Finds Success Through the Visions Program


The day you walk out of prison on early release from a ten-year sentence, you feel free. That’s what Lee thought. Not just free of prison, but of some of the other problems that had plagued him – cocaine, marijuana, alcohol. He had spent years in the prison’s Alcoholics Anonymous program and even become a peer educator teaching fellow inmates about HIV AIDS and Hepatitis.

But once freedom settled in, so did some old habits. That’s when Lee’s parole officer referred him to Association House and the VISIONS Substance Abuse program.

The first few months were tough. Lee just couldn’t open up. But the program director gave him some good advice: “He told me that whatever happens, just keep coming back,” Lee says. And he did for three months; even though he was convinced he didn’t really have a problem. Then one day something clicked. “I realized they made me feel like family here,” he remembers.

Lee never forgot the program director’s advice. For the next nine months of the program, his attendance was near perfect.

Lee graduated from the VISIONS in June. Not only is he committed to helping others in the program, he’s finding other ways to help his neighborhood. As a volunteer with Cease Fire, he serves as an Interrupter. When violence happens, he’s there – often before the police arrive – talking to the victim’s family and convincing them that retaliation won’t solve anything. Among Chicago’s gangs, Lee was seen as a leader before he went to prison. Now, his leadership is being felt across the entire community.

Youth Find a Second Home with Loving Foster Parents

Zaida Nicolas and Enrique_0

Zaida and Nicolas are born parents. And foster parents. When a child comes into their home there’s one message to both the child and the natural parent: We’re here to help. “That mama’s got to know I’m not here to take her baby away, I’m just going to make life better for both of them,” is always Zaida’s message.

What is amazing is the level of love, care and energy the couple puts into “help”. Take the foster child who came into their home as a four-month-old infant and stayed until she was nearly four-years-old. Reunited with her natural mother and two younger siblings, she went with her family to visit relatives in Mexico. The children were citizens, but their mother was not. They were detained at the border on the way back to Chicago. Zaida’s solution to the problem: get a passport and airplane tickets and head to Mexico to bring all three kids back to Chicago. And then care for them for four months until their mother could return. It’s no wonder that this foster child, now nine years old, continues to spend vacations and holidays with Zaida, Nicolas, their three grown children and their newly adopted six-year-old.

Nicolas’ role in the couple’s long string of foster parenting success stories is also deceptively simple: “I just keep talking to them.” Pretty soon, they start talking back – in a good way. “Of course, I spoil ‘em a little bit too. They need that.”

The results are clear: Foster children are not only nurtured, but also encouraged to excel. Some are honor students with high school diplomas and others have plans for college. All have lives made better by Zaida and Nicolas.