The Blog

Catonya Withers

What is your story?
My name is Catonya Withers and I am from the South Side of Chicago. I’m known as an Englewood mom, but I’ve lived in Woodlawn, Englewood, and other neighborhoods all over the South Side throughout my life. I am the mom of 4 kids. I love reading. I’ve been a member of MAP for 4 years, and I  do a lot of community work. I was a chairperson at Harvard for almost 12 years, and I’m always active in events happening in my neighborhood.
Where do you think the problems in Englewood and Woodlawn stem from?
It stems from the parents. There are lots of parents in denial and there are lots of parents that didnt like authority when they were younger. We had the village mentality when we were younger, where everyone took care of each other. Now there are more rebellious parents who get off on drugs, and their kids end up raising themselves. They have no upbringing and that causes a lot of chaos. The whole “family” part is just not there anymore. There’s angry parenting and theres’s kids who say “my mom says you cant tell me what to do.” So the problems come from the parents.
How do you deal with violence in Chicago?
There is no answer for that. There’s not really a way to deal with it, it’s here. You pray that nothing happens to you or your loved ones. I take 5 minutes to breathe and move past it.
How did you become a member of MAP?
The same way as everybody else. Tasha Downing introduced us to Dede as leaders in our community and our schools, and from that, that’s how we started MAP.
What is your goal for MAP?
MAP gives us a chance to change things in our community. It’s a chance to change things with moms in our community.
What does being a mother mean to you?
That’s what I was put on Earth to do, or else I wouldn’t be here. That’s my purpose right now.
What do the MAP mothers provide for each other?
MAP moms provide a support system for each other.

Tenesha Barner


What is your story?

I am a thirty-six year old mother of two children – one son, 19,  and one daughter, 16.  I also have one older sister who lives in St. Louis. I’ve lived in Woodlawn all my life. I attended Dulles Elementary School and James McCosh Elementary School, and I graduated 12th grade from Englewood Technical Prep Academy. I love basketball and tennis. I love going to Church, and I like to be around people – positive people.

 Where do think the problems in Englewood and Woodlawn stem?

I think they come from a lack of positive role models. It’s not just parenting, because as a parent, you can raise your child the best way you possibly can, but they still have outside influences. To me, it’s more coming from the streets. There are more problems on the streets than there are in the home. There is a lack of role models outside of the home, and sometimes in the home as well.

How do you deal with violence in Chicago?

I am a member of MAP. I also help Officer Maddox at Parkway Gardens with teens and take them on trips to get them away from the community. We want them to experience something different outside of the normal daily routine they have. We take them to sporting events, basketball tournaments – anything to keep them involved and off the streets. We want them to experience something positive. I’m also a part of the Safe Passage program.

How did you become a member of MAP?

First, I’m a volunteer at the Dulles School of Excellence. The community liaison for AUSL deals with the parents, and she came to me and told me that she had a young lady who had a foundation and wanted to talk to local moms. So I went to the first meeting with Dede.  From then, I’ve basically attended every meeting. I really became a part of MAP through AUSL.

What does being a member of the MAP group mean to you?

It means, to me, that I am more engaged in my community. Before MAP, I only worked with Parkway. But since joining MAP, I think I’ve gone outside of my community. I have been involved with the Alderman a little more, done different things in the community, and I wouldn’t have done it if it weren’t for MAP. It opened me up to experiencing other things in the community. It also helps me with wanting to help my community more. One of the reasons I’m still in the community is because I know if I leave, I’m not coming back. But I want to stay and to help.

What is your goal for MAP?

My goal for MAP is to do whatever needs to be done to help bring peace to Woodlawn and Englewood. I want to help moms in our community find whatever resources they need.

What does being a mother mean to you?

It means not being so selfish. It means giving of myself to my children – not just my children, but other children in the community as well who need it. There are children in our community who lack that motherly love and motherly bond. Being a mother means to help spread love to children, as well as adults, who may need it.

 What do the MAP mothers provide for each other?

We provide love, laughter, and compassion.

Is there anything else that you want to say?

Of course not.

“All Things Are Possible,” is the Mantra for Englewood Peace Activist Determined to Make Things #GreatinEnglewood


From her home at the corner of one of the most dangerous blocks in Chicago – Halsted and 63rd streets – Asiaha Butler is always on edge, praying for the safety of her teenage daughter and the other children in Englewood who are frequently in danger, always at risk for being in the path of flying bullets.

On a recent afternoon, 18-year-old Samaiya is home on Spring Break, calling Butler at the downtown real estate management office she works, eager for her mom to get home and escort her a block away to the library to research funding opportunities for college next Fall.

“Safety is a huge issue and I need to take her everywhere she goes,” says Butler, who has become a vital source of support for children in Englewood. “You’re always on pins and needles. It’s a psychological challenge as a mom living and trying to protect your kids in an environment where you are always hearing gun fire.”

Known as “Mrs. Englewood”, Butler believes that the key to transforming Englewood lies in the residents themselves. In 2007, she began engaging teenagers in the community by hosting free documentary films on weekends and holding discussions on how violence, low-income families and other social justice issues are portrayed in the media.

Word on Butler’s popular movie nights spread quickly. “People didn’t realize you could fill a room of teens by putting on a movie, giving them some popcorn and having a dialogue,” she says.

Growing up on the South Side, Butler is guided by her passion make a difference. When she and her husband just couldn’t take the danger anymore they made the wrenching decision to move away and join family and get a fresh start in Georgia. But, “I’m not a quitter, I just couldn’t leave and not do something to create change,” she says.

So, she rolled up her sleeves, and went door-to-door to mobilize residents and have them become the voice of the community. In 2011, she founded and currently is president of the Resident Association of Greater Englewood (RAGE), formed to encourage residents to take a more active role in the community and transform it for positive change. Five years later, the association boasts almost 200 active members.

A former winner of the EarthHeart Foundation’s Mother of Magnitude (MOM) award for outstanding service and peace building in Englewood, she truly is a mother who is a leader and role model for others.

“EarthHeart has made a tremendous impact on Englewood by creating a space where moms and their children can come together safely,” says Butler. “It’s one of the few opportunities moms can spend time with their children and be calm and peaceful, not worrying that they are in danger.”

She is on a mission.

“I use a simple formula: passion plus commitment times consistency minus doubt, multiplied by inspired action equals ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE,” says Butler, who is supervisor of Education Services for the Institute of Real Estate Management. She applies the business acumen and action-based strategy building skills she’s learned on the job to rally others to create change in Englewood.- organizing residents to get involved in local politics, to speak up.

“Our biggest challenge is the misconception of what others think about the residents of Englewood,” she says. “Most feel we are incapable of addressing and solving our own issues. Therefore, we have to be clear and sometimes provocative in our messaging in order to shift this narrative. While others talk negatively about our community, we have consistently shared the greatness that we observe on a daily basis in order to change the negative perception of this community.”

Sonya Harper: 2015 Mother of Magnitude (MOM) Award Winner


What’s your role as a mother?

I see my role as being a mother to my own child and to my community. As a mother in the community, my role is to look at the community with a mother’s love, love it unconditionally, and not just focus on at what’s wrong with it. My community is special to me, and just like a mom, I will do whatever I can to ensure my child and my community is prosperous and healthy. My role as a mother is not just for the other children in the community, but I’m a mother to every piece of the community: kids, women, men, parks, animals, etc. My role is to figure out what can I do to help the community to flourish, just as a mother looks at her child. As a mother, I am figuring out how I can make Englewood flourish and the people here to flourish.  I do this through my work on a number of different councils, committees, campaigns and organizations.

How do you envision mothers using their power and voice to make a difference? 

When moms get up and talk, people listen. People have respect for moms when they stand up. There are so many other organization, just like EarthHeart, where moms come together for a common cause (such as against drunk driving, against violence) and they make a big difference and people listen to them. Overall, people look to women to be the outspoken advocates on issues. In that respect, issues arise in a community, but nothing changes until women become the sounding alarm for whatever is going wrong in a community or a society. Women are also nurturing and they are organizers. They know who and what is needed in order to make things better, and can help promote certain things and keep things under control. When you’re simply maintaining or even creating change, it’s up to the women and the moms to be the outspoken entity. We have the world’s greatest assignment in sticking up for our children on a daily basis – and we apply that to our communities and apply that to our society too. Women are also more collaborative and can come from a more collaborative standpoint when it comes to dealing with community issues.

What did receiving the 2015 MOM award mean to you?

Receiving the mom award made me realize that people do pay attention to the hard work that you do. It made me realize that I was doing something special, because maybe on some level, I didn’t feel it was something special – I just felt it was something everyone should be doing. To be awarded for something you’re supposed to be doing, encourages you to do a little bit more, and it makes you step back and think:  How can i be even more effective? If EarthHeart thinks I’ve done some great things, how can I find even more people and encourage them and spread this work to them? How can I have an even bigger impact? In my daily life, it’s hard to know I’m making a difference, and I’m going through the same things my neighbors are going through. At the end of the day, winning the 2015 MOM award was a very encouraging thing. It’s encouraging in the way it can inspire others to action.

Background Information

Sonya Harper is from West Englewood and was very active in her community as a teenager. She worked in TV news as a journalist, producer , reporter, and writer, but she grew tired of adding to the negative stereotypes and so she decided to leave the news behind. She began to work on public relations and community organizing. She wanted to work with organizations in her community to ensure that better stories start coming out of Englewood. She wanted to make sure the stories about her neighborhood weren’t just about  who got shot last night – but instead, she was motivated to tell the TRUE story of her community.  Englewood has suffered years and years of neglect and abuse and exploitation which led to desperate situation. Englewood became an empty community with no jobs for anyone, and Sonya realized that in the presence of being neglected by the city and by the community, nobody was telling what caused these problems in Englewood. Sonya aims to debunk the negative stories and she works with other organizations, inspiring them to work better and more efficiently. Every organization that Sonya works with, she works to spread positive news, perform direct outreach to neighbors, and improve everyone in her communities quality of life. On another level, Sonya works to get elected officials that have power to facilitate change to extend their work even further. Sonya conducts a lot of meeting and organizing and her main goals are:  1. to change the perception of her community, 2. to implement the plans created by organizations and elected officials, and 3. to have a more peaceful community.

Growing Friendships, Hope and a Safe Haven in Englewood: Cordia Pugh Named 2016 Mother of Magnitude by EarthHeart Foundation


As a child being growing up in Englewood, Cordia Pugh has fond memories of working alongside her grandfather, a farmer from Mississippi who had moved to the South Side, planting tomatoes, lettuce and flowers to transform their tiny yard into a lush garden.

Fast-forward almost 50 years, and today, this mother of five, grandmother and retired executive assistant for the MacArthur Foundation, is being lauded May 7, 2016 by the EarthHeart Foundation for bringing her powerful voice – and her trowel to plant vegetable seedlings and hope on a stretch of land where drug kingpins once ruled.

Planted in 2011, today, the Hermitage Street Community Garden, a family allotment garden in Englewood, has more than 60 gardeners and a waiting list of another 60, demonstrating that those who live in Englewood are determined to give new life to their community by replacing cheap, fast foods, with healthier fare.

The project, and a nearby meditation garden for veterans, speak volumes about Pugh’s efforts to greatly improve the health of the urban poor through her efforts to plant gardens with fresh fruits and vegetables to feed residents in her neighborhood. Her idea was simple: to connect people in this urban food desert to nature.

“It’s not what you plant, it is what you grow,” says Pugh. “We are growing hope, collaboration, friendships and a safe haven in Englewood. The garden also helps to offset hunger, food desert issues and food insecurity and to turn this corner into a bounty of greens for our tables.”

Gardeners are a hardy species, and those who work alongside Pugh at the Hermitage Street Community Garden are too. In addition to planting, the garden leaders also offer workshops about starting seeds, composting, growing herbs, vegetables and their own organic groceries, plus how to cook the nutritious vegetables.

“Gardening grew me,” Pugh says talking about her early years alongside her grandfather and grandmother who raised her. “I have always gardened in flower pots and raised beds in my own yards. Then the idea came on me to see if I could start a project whereby others in the community could also enjoy what I found rewarding, gardening. In 2011 we were allowed to start the Hermitage community Gardens project with a group of about 12 to 15 residents. “

The property was donated to the group through Openlands and the crew set out to clear the piles of trash and tires themselves.

“We cleared the land by hand, it looked like a jungle, piled with trash and tires,” she says. They built the raised beds and hauled in soil and compost. Today, they’ve expanded the garden with the help of students at Lindbloom Math and Science Academy.

“We also developed the Englewood veteran’s meditation garden last year for service persons who have served our nation in the Armed Forces,” she says. “The garden is very therapeutic for the vets and allows them to grow organic produce as well.”

Looking ahead, Pugh says she hopes to model to the Englewood community that everyone can make a difference.

“Small accomplishments matter,” she says. “I have a saying that I subscribe to – ‘Many hands make the load light!’ We all can have a hand in making Englewood a viable community again. “

She’s especially grateful for groups like EarthHeart for “empowering mothers and demonstrating that mother’s matter,” she says. “Mothers are children’s first nurturers, teachers, doctors and advocates. EarthHeart helps demonstrate for all that mothering matters.”

Spread the Love 2016

EarthHeart’s 3rd annual Spread the Love event was on Saturday, February 6th at New Beginnings Church (6620 S King Drive) from 1:00pm to 3:00pm. Spread the Love is a Valentine’s Day event for Mothers, Children, and Families!

Free Food. DJ Rcuetech. Raffle Prizes. Make-up Workshops. Massages. Arts & Crafts. Photo Booth. Bouncy House.

Free bus from Harvard (7525 S Harvard Ave) at 12:30pm to New Beginnings.

Special thanks to Target for donating raffle prizes!

Come on out and help us spread the love!

Mother’s Day Peace Celebration 2016

4th Annual Mother’s Day Peace Celebration

Our 4th annual Mother’s Day Peace Celebration was from 12:00pm to 2:00pm on Saturday, May 7th, 2016 @ Kennedy-King College Auditorium (6301 S Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60621).

Immediately following our Peace Celebration was our Peace March with the King College Prep drumline leading the way through the neighborhood.

This was a FREE inspirational and uplifting event filled with talented artists and motivational speakers.

12:00pm Celebration and Performances
Our host this year was the talented award-winning journalist, Robin Robinson.

2:00pm Peace March (ends at EarthHeart Peace Mural located at 63rd and Wallace)

The Mother’s Day Peace Celebration is a day to Communicate, Connect, Celebrate and Educate mothers about the important role they play in making the world a better, more peaceful place. They have one of the greatest opportunities to create change – through Mother’s Love.

Free Parking behind Kennedy-King College.

Public Transportation – Green Line to Halsted and 63rd.

Facebook Event Page, click here
Mother of Magnitude Award
Mother of Magnitude Award_Nomination Form_2016_FINAL

Karen Carter Lynch


Karen has been living in Chicago for over 30 years. Originally from Kansas City, she attended the University of Kansas along with fellow MAP Mom, JoLynn Haley.

What is your story?

I am a filmmaker and have worked on movies, commercials, documentaries, and shorts. I’m married to an architect and have two children: a girl, 21 years old, and a boy, 18 years old. I am so thankful that so many of my dreams have and are coming true.

Where do you think the problems in Woodlawn and Englewood stem from?

Wow that’s a big question…I think a lot of problems have to do with not being able to forgive and move on. We carry anger and resentment around and those feelings get bigger and bigger. I read that if we can’t forget old memories, old hurts, then we repeat them. In our head, in the neuro-pathways, those old hurts get stuck. An unexpressed feeling is like a rubber band-it gets stretched with tension and eventually snaps and we are back into anger, which deep down is fear.

How do you deal with this?

Well this is not easy, I struggle with old stuff all the time, but the key is to be in the present. I’m always reminding myself to breathe and it helps take me back to the present. I get in trouble when my mind goes too far into the future – that creates fear. So if I can ask myself, “What’s the next right step?” – it helps. Oh, and being of service…I like to shine the light on other people…that makes me feel happy.

How did you become a member of MAP?

I’ve known Deirdre “Dede” Koldyke for a long time. Our kids went to school together. She asked me to come and film some of the MAP meetings in hopes of making a documentary for EarthhHeart. And I was hooked from the beginning. I love building bridges and community. I always gain new insight from each meeting.

What does being a member of the MAP group mean to you?

First off, I am honored to know such strong and faithful women. We all have struggles raising our children and just surviving life’s challenges. One of the best moments was when we broke off into small groups to share our histories and our stories. When we were finished, we looked at each other and realized we’re so much the same…we’re all searching for love and acceptance.

What is your goal for MAP?

I would love to get more like-minded mothers to join our group.

We want to break down the barriers that keep us apart.

What does being a mother mean to you?

Wow, it’s one of the hardest jobs there is. I know how lonely it can be because my mother raised three children on her own. As mothers, we are not validated or thanked very often. Being a mother is highly undervalued in our country, but it is the most important job that we can possibly do in our lifetime. PERIOD. And that is why we have to come together and support one another. You know what they say, “When the Mother’s happy, the family’s happy”!

What do the MAP mothers provide for each other?

We provide friendship, support, fun, faith, hope, and new ways of at looking at life.

JoLynn Haley


What is your story?

I am originally from Lawrence, Kansas. I attended the University of Kansas, where, as luck would have it, I first met another MAP mom, Karen Carter Lynch. Karen and I have been friends and neighbors for more than 35 years (yipes!), and it is a real joy that we are now members of MAP together. I attended Northwestern Law School after college, and worked as an associate and then a partner at a large law firm for 13 years. I am married and have three children. My youngest is in high school; my middle child is in college; and my oldest is living and working in the Czech Republic. I have a lived a blessed life, which has included surviving through triple-negative breast cancer, and I am very grateful for everything I have (especially my two dogs).

How do you deal with violence in Chicago?

Everyone who lives in Chicago deals with violence. Violence in any of our neighborhoods is violence in the city that we all share. It affects and diminishes all of us. It robs peace and hope from all of us. So it is a scourge that we all share, and that we all have to address and work to eliminate. That includes me. Everyone is entitled to a fair opportunity for education, job training, employment, and access to good healthcare. Violence stands in the way of those opportunities, and shatters the peace that allows those opportunities to grow. I am grateful for any small part that I can play in working to restore peace and opportunities in all our communities.

How did you become a member of MAP?

I became a member of the MAP group through my long friendship with Deirdre “Dede” Koldyke, the founder of EarthHeart Foundation. Dede and I have known each other since our children were in preschool together, and my involvement as a MAP mom has been a natural outgrowth of our friendship. Dede has introduced me to so many wonderful women, and I am honored to be a part of the MAP group.

What does being a member of the MAP group mean to you?

Getting to know the MAP moms has been a privilege and blessing for me. They are all amazing, strong women who have taught me so much about faith, hope and love. We truly enjoy each other and help to enrich each other’s lives.

What is your goal for MAP?

My goal is to make a positive difference however I can, big or small, on an individual basis or at a community-wide level, in the Woodlawn and Englewood neighborhoods. I know that whatever I can give through the MAP group will be returned to me many times over. The more I can try to help in others’ lives and work for greater peace in our communities, the more my own life is enriched. It brings me real joy to work with the MAP moms and to become even a small part of their lives and community. Whatever we can share and build together is a gift.

What does being a mother mean to you?

Being a mother has allowed me to experience the strongest bond and love that you can have with another person. The depth of emotion that I feel for my children is something that I cherish and nurture every day.

What do the MAP mothers provide for each other?

We try to provide each other with unfailing support. We are always there to help and encourage each other, no matter what. And we give each other that help openly and freely, with no strings or judgments attached. Our community of moms tries to be a model for peace and mutual respect and affection. In that way we try to give each other what we need the most – a loving foundation on which to build better lives.

Elizabeth Harris


What is your story?
I grew up on the South Side of Chicago. My aunt raised me because my mother passed away from lupus when I was only one year old. I have an older brother and an older sister, and I have lots of cousins. I went to four different grammar schools while I was growing up, but they were all on the South Side. I was recently homeless for about a year and half. Within that year, I became pregnant with my third child. It was a tough time for me mentally and emotionally, but it made me who I am today.

Where do you think the problems in Englewood and Woodlawn stem from?
I think they stem from poverty and lack of education. A lot of people are uneducated on a lot of things. They’re stuck in a rut and they don’t know which way to go. They want a handout, but at the same time, they don’t want a hand out. It’s kind of like they’re stuck in the middle. We don’t have the right resources here in our community. We have to go outside of our community to get resources, and we often get turned down for being ineligible for being out of the area. When organizations turn you down because they say you don’t qualify, it kills your faith and your spirit, and a lot of anger comes out of it. People then begin to look for other things to fill that void, like alcohol and drugs. It’s a vicious cycle.

How do you deal with violence in Chicago?
Violence occurs because people feel abandoned. We need to show them love. Love breaks all barriers. Love them no matter what type of anger they’ve built, because eventually they will break down. We need to find the source of the problems. You can catch drug dealers, but there will still be drugs on the street. People need to stop being scared and start disciplining children. You still have to continue to parent even when your child is over the age of 18.
For me, because I have three young children, it’s about raising your child and having a faith-based background. Faith fills any void. I want to keep my kids active, and I try to keep them open. I want to give them experiences outside of our community and the violence that occurs, like taking them to the museum. Most people from our community haven’t even been to downtown Chicago. They have only been in their own neighborhood.

How did you become a member of MAP?
I became a member through Pastor Downey. He recommended me to Dede Koldyke. When I got the call if I would be interested in MAP, I immediately said yes. I love anything about helping people, that’s what I want to do with my own life. This is my opportunity to step into a group that can pave the way for mothers like me. I joined so I can turn back and help another mother who went through the same thing I did. That’s where my heart is.

What does being a member of the MAP group mean to you?
I’m just excited to meet other women from different areas who’ve been through what I’ve been through. We all have the same issues, just a different zip code. I’m happy to meet new moms. I love meeting new people.

What is your goal for MAP?
My goal is for the MAP group to get other mothers involved. I want us to start waking up the city of Chicago and to take back our homes and our babies. Mothers run the household, we pay the bills, and we need to not stand for disrespect. I think a lot of women have gotten scared and they need to know it’s time to speak up.

What does being a mother mean to you?
Being a mom is the best thing that ever happened to me. My children saved me. I didn’t want kids, but when I had my first baby, it changed my whole perception. When you feel that first kick or hear that heartbeat, it’s such a joy to see that God trusts me with this life. It’s a privilege and it’s an honor.

What do the MAP mothers provide for each other?
We provide love, understanding, comfort, friendship, companionship. We pick up every piece that may need picking up. Sometimes you just need that. You need to be around people who are going to love you and not be judgmental and lift you up and make you feel good as a woman and a mother. No one understands a mother better than a mother.