In the Midst of Tragedy, Hope is More Than a Coat
As children passed through the school’s metal detectors and shuffled off to class, the heavy mood hung like a dark cloud. Just a few weeks earlier, one of the best and brightest children of Jensen Scholastic Academy was slain in an act of violence that should never have happened.
“He was one of the special scholars to all of the teachers—and we lost him from violence,” Principal Chinyere Okafor-Conley says. “He was on the honor roll. He probably would have been introducing himself as the president of the student council that day, and unfortunately he was killed. It has hit our school community hard.”
Jensen Scholastic Academy serves 451 scholars ages three to 14, kindergarten through eighth grade in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Chicago. “The scholars have a lot of obstacles outside of just learning to read and write,” she says. “The majority of our students experience poverty.”
Recently, Operation Warm and Hollister partnered to bring these children a gift of warmth, self-esteem and hope. “My job, and my vision, and my mission is to ensure that when scholars walk in these doors, when they walk through these walls, there is a safe environment, and Operation Warm did that,” Principal Okafor-Conley says, adding that she enjoyed talking with the volunteers. “I wanted them to fully understand that this was a lot more than just a coat.”
“It just looks like the world as a whole is divided, and here you have people who don’t know our scholars come in and genuinely and authentically do something, and it is almost like giving a piece of hope,” she says. “They are telling them, ‘Okay, you guys are still in the running, keep working, keep working hard. There are people who care about you all, who are cheerleading for your success. That is what those coats meant to the Jensen population.”
The coat-giving event featured holiday music and activities. “It made the gift day really feel festive—there was a lot of laughing, just a lot of joy. It means a lot.”
“I want to share a story that happened yesterday,” she says. “I was watching one of my scholars who is in the sixth grade, and I know that he received a coat, and the next day I saw him without his coat, and I said, ‘Well, what happened to your coat? You know you only have on a hoodie today.’” The boy gave his brand new coat to his father, whom he knew would be outside working in the cold. “He said to his dad, ‘Here, you are going to be outside longer than I am, so you take the coat, and I’ll just wear my hoodie.’ That kind of touched my heart. We got him another coat.”
“It’s just an awesome program, and we are very appreciative of it—very appreciative. I feel like I am Team Operation Warm as well. This is an awesome program, and it means a lot. There is a definite need for it.” Hope is more than a coat.