Helping Chicago’s Youth

Chicago Survivors Receives $10,000 Susan F. Berkowitz Grant


Against a light blue background, there lives a white dove with a purple olive branch in its mouth. This image of peace is on the homepage of the Chicago Survivors website. Chicago Survivors joined the Parker community this school year when they received the grant allocation of $10,000 from the Susan F. Berkowitz Fund. 

The Susan F. Berkowitz Grant, founded in honor of Dr. Susan F. Berkowitz, and aims to support individuals who demonstrate outstanding work to children. Dr. Berkowitz was a clinical psychologist, parent, and active member of the Parker community. She also was responsible for important and pivotal changes for Parker students, parents, teachers, and the community at large. 

“This award recognizes the other individuals who build hope and optimism in adolescents and citizens in the Chicago area, similar to the way Dr. Berkowitz positively impacted our community,” Joe Bruno, Upper School Dean of Student Life and Berkowitz Faculty Advisor, said at the Berkowitz Morning Exercise on May 20. 

The Berkowitz Committee is a student-led organization that conducts research, interviews, and meetings to decide to whom the grant should be awarded. Senior Talia Albert and junior Carline Skok were responsible for the Berkowitz committee for the 2021-22 school year. 

Sophomore Julia Peet has been a member of the Berkowitz Committee for the past two years. “Having Caroline and Talia as heads made it so much stronger,” Peet said.  “They were passionate about what they were doing and were very organized and on top of things which helped the committee run smoothly.”

Each year the Berkowitz committee chooses a specific theme that they want to focus on as it relates to the youth in Chicago. Albert, Skok, and Bruno researched ten different themes before having the committee vote on the final theme. This year the theme was grief counseling. “The $10,000 philanthropic grant will continue to be donated each year,” Skok said. “We also try to not repeat themes because we are trying to impact as many youths in Chicago as we can and reach the most groups.”

After the theme is finalized, the Berkowitz leaders research organizations that they believe fit their theme, and then they send out an email to these  organizations with the rules, deadlines, and application associated with the grant as well as who the Berkowitz committee is. “One of the hardest parts is finding organizations that fit the theme, work in youth, and are nonprofit,” Skok said. “It is hard to find an organization that fits everything on our agenda.” 

The next step after the research is picking four finalists out of the applicant pool of 10. The 30- minutes interviews were the only step in the process that was conducted over Zoom. “Chicago Survivors was the last group that we interviewed and their interview was very well put together,” Skok said. “Talia and I had never heard of an organization that had a response time of two to four hours to any crime scene where there was homicide violence.”

Sophomore Cate O’Connor is a member of the Berkowitz Committee. “A small group of Berkowitz members interviewed the four fantastic finalists, and I think any of the organizations were phenomenal choices,” O’Connor said. “I am hopeful that our winner, Chicago Survivors, can take the grant and make a change in the city and for the youth who are greatly impacted by their work.” 

Skok believes that one of the best parts of the process is seeing the recipients’ faces after they told them that they would be receiving the Berkowitz Grant. “The huge smiles and thank yous are when you realize you are actually making a difference for the youth in Chicago,” Skok said. “That was the moment I realized how important this work is, especially when coming from a school like Parker.”

According to the Chicago Police Department (CPD), there were 797 homicides in 2021 which is 25 more than in 2019, 299 more than in 2019, and the most homicides on record since 1996. “Talia and I also realized that this kind of grief work is really needed in our system right now,” Skok said.  “Chicago Survivors are there to support the families which is super important when they are grieving a loss of a parent or a child. It is important to have someone around them to make sure they are paying all of their bills and doing okay emotionally, mentally, and staying on track while also grieving.”

The last stage in the Berkowitz yearly agenda is inviting the recipients of the award to come to Parker to share their work during a Morning Exercise. JaShawn D. Hill, the Director of Clinical Services at Chicago Survivors, and Michelle Gennaro, the Director of Program Operations at Chicago Survivors, represented the organization at the Morning Exercise on Friday, May 20. 

“I am very moved whenever I realize that a community, especially youth, finds value in what we do at Chicago Survivors,” Hill said. 

Hill and Gennaro outlined what their organization does to support families of homicide victims. Their programs include immediate crisis response services, case management support, criminal justice advocacy, and ongoing support for the community of survivors. The organization also provides counseling services for families suffering from grief, trauma, and PTSD, as well as for the special needs of youth.  “What we know about violence and the ripple effect in our city is that it does not take a holiday, so our responders are there 24/7,” Hill said. 

Junior Litzy Tafolla is a member of the Social Justice committee. The Berkowitz committee  “includes wonderful students that I believe did a great job in choosing this year’s winner,” Tafolla said. “The Berkowitz award includes all of the values that Parker prides themselves the most on. I hope that the MX inspired others students to be even more involved in social justice the way it inspired me.”

“It is super exciting to see what work is done with that $10,000,” Skok said, “Chicago Survivors told us some of the work that will be done and how many kids will be impacted, so it is super exciting to receive emails from them and hear how they are doing. We continue to keep in touch with the past recipients, so I am excited to see the work they do and continue to support them.”