Newsmakers Making A Difference: Felice Schlessinger, StandUp For Kids

Lisa Fielding
April 24, 2018 - 7:17 am

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- There are 18,000 homeless teens in Chicago alone. 

Many are LGBT, who have been kicked out of their homes or are struggling with drug abuse.

"It's an invisible problem. People have no idea what a big problem this is," said Felice Schlessinger, Board President, StandUp For Kids, a small shelter in West Lakeview.

"Our mission is really simple. We're a drop in center that caters to youth between 17 and 25," she said. "They're struggling with poverty, homelessness. They might be couch surfing. Some of these teens live on the beach. I have one teen living behind a church right now."

Schlessinger and 40 other volunteers spends three hours, three nights a week inside a small storefront with people she calls her "kids."

"We're open Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 6:30 p.m. until 9 p.m. Thursday is student night, students only," she said.

About 100 teens and young people spend a few hours each day where they can eat, keep warm, watch television, hang out, pick up clothes and get emotional support.

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

"We are 90 percent LGBT, we have kids with kids here, I have kids that come from Indiana, come from the South Side, North Side, West Side. I have kids who will take four trains to get here. I have kids from jail, I have kids who are on drugs, from the DCFS system. I have kids who are in school who are completely homeless. It's unbelievable." 

"I used to be homeless and I used to go from place to place, from shelter to shelter," said Tiffany Bailey, 27.  "All the volunteers always helped me with food and with emotional support. I loved the help."

Bailey was 15 when she first came to StandUp For Kids.

"I live on the West Side of Chicago now, but I came back here to help others. I want to help out StandUp for Kids now. I want to let them know that they don't have to be homeless no more. They helped me when I was at my lowest," Bailey said.  

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

For Schlessinger, her work can be tragic. In the last 12 weeks, she's lost six kids, lost to the streets, lost to drug overdoses.

"We go through a lot of death in this community. We've lost six people total in the last 12 weeks. This is what meth does, this is what drugs do. One of my kids committed suicide, he was a meth addict. He was found on Montrose Beach. Kid number two, overdosed, kid number three overdosed, another had kidney failure," Schlessinger said.

But she said her job is also about triumph, and that she said makes her life's work all worth it.

"We have a lot of success stories. I have a kid who's now a school teacher, a nurse, one is a recording artist. These are kids who got out. For every tragedy, I have something successful. That's what fuels me to keep going."

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

For those who utilize the service, it's a life saver.

"It can make a lot of people change. It saved my life," Bailey said. 

"I enjoy my time here. It's a place to chill. It's amazing, especially this woman right here," said Antonio Jackson, referencing Schlessinger. "I found an apartment, a job and I'm doing so much better."

"They are not bullied here. They don't feel judged here. I have kids who've made it out and still come back to help motivate others to get out," Schlessinger said. "Our goal is to get these kids back on their feet and back into stable, healthy homes." 

StandUp For Kids is a non profit and relies on donations for funding.

As WBBM celebrates its 50th anniversary as Newsradio, this year we’ll be honoring 50 Newsmakers making a difference in the community.  Listen for reports each Tuesday.

READ MORE: Newsmakers Making A Difference: Chris Baker, Owner Of INK 180 MinistryNewsmakers Making A Difference: Carrie Capes, Founder Of HorsePower Therapeutic Riding | Newsmakers Making A Difference: Ryan Dowd, Hesed House