A couple finds divine purpose in serving and safeguarding the children in their neighborhood
Victoria and Daniel Allen have a classic love story: 25 years ago they met in church as young adults, became best friends, got married and grew their family. But their desire to build a loving home for children didn't stop at their doorstep — it extended to their Garfield Park community, where for the past 18 years, they've led Divine Purpose Youth Performing Arts Center (DPYPAC), a 501c3 organization.
DPYPAC's mission is to support young people who have dreams related to the arts, dance and music; the organization positions participants to realize those dreams through academic tutoring and character-building education that emphasizes strong relationships with peers and family. The Allens are unique because they tap into the students' creativity and energy to shape DPYPAC offerings; being connected to children lives in their souls.
"I've always had a passion for children, even when I was a child. I always brought kids home, combed hair and gave away clothes, doing anything that I could do to try to help someone else. My husband has such a big heart for youth, too, and so we just shared our dreams and our ideas," Victoria says. "When it came to forming DPYPAC, he said we need to go for it."
Each weekday during the school year, DPYPAC picks up 45-50 students from five elementary schools, provides snacks, and then sends the kids to performing arts classes or helps with their homework. Older students receive support, too. Three days a week, Daniel Allen, a music teacher and Chicago Police Department 11th District sergeant, manages Beyond Rhythm and Rhyme, an initiative for boys (14–18 years old) established through After School Matters. It taps into the teens' interest in rapping and affords Daniel a platform to talk with them about their broader dreams and goals.
Other weekdays, DPYPAC is running Safe Haven After School Program, where enrollees play video games, or write and listen to music in a studio, letting the teens interface with the recording equipment and learn engineering skills
"We just let them 'do them.' If it's going to keep them safe and off the street, it's no problem," Victoria says.
Nestled in a Garfield Park building (shared with two other nonprofits: United for Better Living, who collaborates with DPYPAC to run the Safe Haven After School Program, and Fathers Who Care), DPYPAC is in its 10th year of year-round programming. It recently opened summer camp registration, giving working parents five weeks of daylong, structured and engaging activities for $150 per child — Victoria acknowledges that the rate is well below market yet affirms that DPYPAC intentionally set it to be as affordable as possible for Garfield Park families.
"(This is) one of the best jobs that I've ever had, but the hardest job (too). It's such a struggle financially, sometimes you just want to throw your hands up and say, 'Lord, I tried,'" Victoria confides."But then, when I look back at them (the children), I keep fighting. I keep going when I see them come through the doors and (receive) the little hugs, all that. I say, 'OK, God, something has got to happen.'"
May 5th, something is happening: The organization will host a pre-Mother's Day fashion show and luncheon fundraiser : open to the public, $15 donation, and guests will see DPYPAC youth perform, model and dance with their moms.
"We started off doing this at the local park, before we moved to our own facility — we have young people who are now college students, married and have children," Victoria triumphs."I must say that it's just a blessing to see all of these young people doing well: working, taking care of families…it's good to see that we had a big part in that."
This is a story about the Community Safety and Peace strategy of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities.