By Clara Kirk’s estimation, her organization has served more than 10,000 women and children in Chicago. Clara’s House opened as a shelter almost 30 years ago to provide refuge for homeless women and children in the city’s Englewood community, offering them safety, nutrition and steps to get back on their feet. Kirk later opened a second organization, Clara’s Place, to provide a more permanent housing option for families living in abandoned structures without light or heat.
When Lowe’s of Schererville, Indiana, part of the Chicago metropolitan area, began brainstorming ideas for its 2016 Lowe’s Heroes employee volunteer project Clara’s House was an idea. But when Lowe’s initially reached out, Clara’s House asked for only paint. The store manager did a site visit and realized so much more could be done.
Chicago-area Market Director Dale Kelley realized more had to be done, especially after he made a site visit and was able to meet Kirk, who has earned the moniker “the mother of Englewood.”
“She’s an incredible, incredible woman. Serving people in the Chicago community for the past 30 to 40 years,” Kelley said. “We saw there was a bigger opportunity here and said, ‘What if we did a market-wide event?’”
Seven stores in the Chicago area partnered together on what started as a great project, and quickly became a life-changing event.
Projects took place at both Clara’s House and Clara’s Place. Work ranged from renovating the kids’ afterschool room and installing an outdoor playground and picnic tables to redoing a kitchen, replacing tile, painting and repurposing additional space.
In a large day of service in August, nearly 100 Lowe’s Heroes employee volunteers partnered to complete that work. Thirty-four of those Lowe’s volunteers were female store managers who were in Chicago for the week attending a company women’s leadership event. The conference paused while the women from five states installed a fence, pressure washed, landscaped and added eight vegetable gardens to Clara’s House.
“This really ties in with women taking a lead and making a difference. That’s what Clara did,” said Lowe’s Indianapolis-area Market Director Priscilla Woodrum, who organized the female leadership’s participation.
When the Chicago Police Department found out about the project, it sent nine female police officers to work alongside Lowe’s Heroes.
“This really gives Clara’s House some momentum to make sure that this becomes a legacy that contributes to the community for many years to come,” said Robin Robinson, spokesperson and special adviser for the Chicago Police Department. “We’re changing lives here, and Lowe’s has changed our ability to do that.”