Kris SmartAs we celebrate our 20th anniversary year, Kris Smart, Associate Executive Director of Programs and Shared Services, reflects on what it was like to find herself at Chicago Cares.

As I cross the Madison Street Bridge, skyscrapers loom above me, and the Chicago River flows below; a warm breeze brings the scent of the water onto my face. I am walking towards something. A slip of paper in my hand from a call I received the day before; a name and an address in my scrawl with loose directions through a city, still all too unfamiliar, takes me towards something, I don’t know what.

The building itself is huge. I weave through the halls looking at the numbers on the doors, walking past suite after suite, guided by the dolphins printed in a pattern on the carpet, swimming towards the very end of a dark hall where there is a glass door. The number on the door, and the name, match the slip of paper.

I ring the bell.  The door opens, and a flurry of activity greets me. I am told to sit in the chair next to the assistant’s desk and wait. I am handed a bright green piece of paper to read, it’s double-sided and on that page, at the top, is the mission of the organization; the mission says it all.

I had left Oakland six weeks earlier feeling helpless, feeling as though the world was happening around me and that I had no control of its direction.  I was just holding on, and I dreamed of being able to give back. I wanted to be of service, because I knew as a struggling artist just out of school – I could not be a Getty or a Gates. I had only my time to give and no place to give it.

That changed on the morning I sat reading the green piece of paper 13 years ago.

That morning I saw that a place existed where I could have an impact. I could build. I could dig. I could read. I could cook. I could paint. I could do a wide variety of activities that ended in a better city, a better Chicago, my newly adopted home.

I know this is where I am meant to be. So I work hard over the next 6 weeks to turn a temporary position into a permanent one.

I work hard every day, every year, towards every goal; having started as the girl who answers the phone, I find I have grown to be someone who helps set the direction of the organization over decade later.

I walk across the Madison Street Bridge every day.   I walk across towards something; a better city, a better life, a better world for myself and for my family.

And everyday still holds that promise.