When he was in middle school, Teena Hendrick’s son began acting out. Neeco, just 12, would curse at his teachers and refused to do his homework. 

Teena didn’t think much of it at first, passing it off as pre-teen angst. But when Teena learned he physically lashed out at his older sister, she knew his behavior was a deeper problem. 

“I didn’t recognize him. It broke my heart,” Teena said. “I knew right then and there that it had to stop.” 

As she fretted about how to discipline her son, Teena scoured a resource handbook from Neeco’s school. In it, she found the phone number for Bright Star Community Outreach (BSCO), a United Way of Metro Chicago partner that offers free counseling programs. She immediately called. 

On the other line, Chris, an advocate working at BSCO’s Turn Center, picked up. 

Over the course of the next three years, Teena would work with Chris to navigate her and Neeco’s challenges, foremost his father’s absence. 

At the TURN Center, advocates are building a movement of compassion and trust to help Bronzeville residents address and heal from all kinds of traumas. Through a crisis helpline and counseling programs, BSCO is ensuring the neighborhood is a place where people are healthy and cared for.

Faith leaders and community members run the crisis helpline three days a week from morning to evening. Neighbors can call in and talk to the advocates about issues such as abuse, stress or the loss of a loved one. 

Helpline advocates counsel whoever is on the line, then follow up with them week-to-week for as long as they need. They also provide referrals to other resources, like job training or financial coaching. 

Running this program has been transformative for Elaine Smith, Assistant Clinical Director of the TURN Center. She’s seen the program grow to serve nearly 500 of her Bronzeville neighbors since it opened in 2017. 

“I think what puts us on the map is that we understand there are a lot of hurt people walking around doing the hurting [in our community],” Elaine said. “Our objective is to get them and find ways to help them realize it’s okay to not feel and be okay.”

That was a lesson that was hard for Teena and Neeco to learn. 

With support from her advocate, Teena confronted her own struggles — the challenging dynamics of a marriage to someone who serves overseas in the military and fears for her son, a young black boy growing up in Chicago. 

“When I first called, the advocate immediately assigned Neeco a counselor and said ‘And I’m going to be yours,” Teena reflected. “‘He said: ‘Because guess what? This affects the whole family. And I’m listening to you and I’m hearing what you’re going through and you don’t have the support to deal with it.’” 

For three years, Teena has talked to Chris regularly, learning how to cope and respond to her challenges and be a support to her children. 

In this time, Neeco also confronted his feelings about his father’s absence. “He felt like his dad was taking care of everybody else in the world except for him,” Teena said. “Having grown up in that situation, I never thought it would be something Neeco would become resentful of. But he did.” 

As Neeco grew older and worked with his advocate, his behavior improved, he went back to earning As and his relationship with his mom was much stronger. 

“Why?” Teena said. “Because they validated his feelings. Because he had someone to hear him.” 

You can support your neighbors in their time of crisis when you support United Way of Metro Chicago. These resources are especially important during the current coronavirus pandemic when people are facing additional mental stress. Make a difference in our community, donate today.