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As the holidays are approaching and colder weather has arrived, Onward Neighborhood House is one of many Greater West Side nonprofits helping out with the influx of refugees Chicago is seeing. 

Onward Neighborhood House is a nonprofit organization located on Diversey Avenue in the Belmont Cragin neighborhood of Chicago. 

The mission of this organization is to open doors to improve lives and uplift communities through educational, economic and support services. 

Emilio Araujo is the head of development and communications at Onward Neighborhood House and has been in his role for six months. Araujo is in charge of community fundraising, creating and maintaining external partnerships and building relationships with other organizations and people across the city. 

When asked how this mission is focusing on specific efforts to help the current migrant challenges in Chicago, Araujo looked to the history of Onward Neighborhood House. 

“In 1893 Onward Neighborhood House was founded as a community service organization where we served immigrants and honored and supported new immigrants and found their new place in Chicago,” Araujo said.

The nonprofit provides its clients and refugees with many different resources. In the education sector, early childhood education opportunities are provided as well as childcare and tutoring. For adults ESL, computer classes and GED classes are offered. 

Other resources the organization offers are citizenship classes, a healthcare clinic called Community Health and a food pantry. 

“Over the years when immigrants have come, we find resources where they are needed and we are able to grow. We do the basic steps of people who need food and medical services and understanding how the laws and asylum process works,” Araujo said. 

Araujo says there is a lot of activity going on since this organization is responding directly to the influx of immigrants. 

The organization is working on bringing refugees basic household items and hygiene products. As the holiday season is coming up, Araujo urges the community to donate. 

“We also know people have a wish list so providing something that they want. It might be their first winter here and giving them a jacket or new toy is a major step in recognizing humanity and dignity to welcome them into the city. Those kinds of gifts for the holiday are things that we do,” Araujo said.

Araujo says Onward Neighborhood House listens to people and recognizes the circumstances that the refugees are facing.

“Texas is not listening to them as a person when they send them on the bus to Chicago. We have compassion for the refugees,” Araujo said.

When asked how the community is reacting and responding to how Onward Neighborhood House is helping out the refugees, Araujo says there has been a lot of support in the community. 

“I think on the news we see a lot of people that are anti the new immigrants. Thankfully we have had a lot of great support. People who we have no previous connection to are making donations and people are researching and looking for a way to support people and we have been seeing wonderful support from our elected officials, community members and people across the city to make a positive impact. We have been really blessed,” says Araujo. 

A compelling story Araujo likes to share with how immigrants can make a difference in Chicago started 10 years ago. 

Araujo says the organization saw someone come to Chicago more than 10 years as an immigrant who attended Onward Neighborhood House’s free computer class. He enjoyed the computer class and while he was working at Pizza Hut, he would deliver the flyers to the organization’s computer class. 

“He later moved on to attending college and he is now completing a masters in cybersecurity from being a computer expert and he teaches a computer class now with our organization,” says Araujo.

Araujo says the story makes clear that Chicago has welcomed immigrants for a long time and with this current influx of refugees Chicago is experiencing the organization is able to handle this influx. 

Araujo and the staff at Onward Neighborhood House are working on a new building for the organization since they are seeing more demand for their services.

The Reva and David Logan Foundation granted Onward Neighborhood House a 21,000 square foot building on North Central Avenue in June 2022, just two blocks from its Belmont Cragin facilities.

The new space is in line with the foundation’s campaign to increase access to essential goods and services in underserved communities.

This space will not only allow the organization to expand its food pantry but will also provide additional space for the organization’s welcoming center for immigrants and refugees, their health care clinic, a multipurpose community center space and additional community programming.

When Lyle Allen, a program officer at the Logan Foundation, came to one of the organization’s Thursday food distributions, he noticed the pantry’s size limits, but he also saw the potential that appropriate capacity could bring to our participants.

“We currently have three buildings on the 5400 block of Diversey. We will expand in the Belmont Cragin community and we will start renovations in the community. It will be a community center for the Belmont Cragin community,” Araujo said.

According to Araujo, Onward Neighborhood House is running out of space at its current location.

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