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South Side Help Center marks 30 years
by Vern Hester
2017-10-01

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The South Side Help Center celebrated 30 years of service with a gala event titled Keeping the Legacy Alive Sept. 30 at the famed Parkway Ballroom.

The event attracted a near-sold-out audience which included many health and mental health providers, faith-based community leaders, community activists, and family members.

Keeping the Legacy Alive featured an informal opening reception, a dinner, musical performances by noted artists Maggie Brown and Kenny Lattimore, an awards ceremony, and a DJ.

Vanessa Smith, executive director of the South Side Help Center, greeted the audience before turning over emcee duties to NBC news anchor Dorothy Tucker, who spoke about the role of the organization in the Roseland and other South Side communities.

Founded by Betty Smith in 1987, the center was created to improve the quality of life of people in the Black community, especially those who were most "at risk" of unhealthy and violent outcomes.

Smith targeted those who were living with HIV/AIDS and noticed that many families and pastors of these Black men would not touch, or even enter the room to speak to them. The result was that Smith established her non-profit organization to educate and provide healthy alternatives including youth mentoring programs, health and mental health resources, and violence prevention programs.

Enlisting the help of volunteers, staff, donors and her own daughters, Smith created a lasting legacy which has touched hundreds of lives. Vanessa, her youngest daughter, became executive director of SSHC in 2007 and continues to integrate cutting-edge methodology as well as to partner with other health organizations to engage and provide needed services not only on the South Side of Chicago but on a national level.

A major part of the evening was an award ceremony, which acknowledged partners in health and mental healthcare, activism on the street as well as in public office, and a special Legacy Youth Leader Award.

The honors were:

— Former troubled youth program participant Sergeant Keith Parks, who was involved in SSHC's youth programs, is now head of a gang prevention squad in South Carolina and is a graduate of the FBI's Supervisor Leadership Institute, among other titles.

— 34th Ward Ald. Carrie M. Austin had taken up the mission of her late husband, Ald. Lemuel Austin to head numerous committees as well as her work in promoting community-based resources and initiatives like the South Side Help Center, BridgeScape Academy, and a new emergency room and clinic at Roseland Community Hospital.

— Cynthia Tucker has been working in HIV prevention for 20 years and not only coordinates several community partnership programs at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago including Project Elevate, Corrections Case Management Initiative, and The Learning Circle Collaboration, but serves as vice president of prevention and community partnerships at the foundation.

— Mark Ishaug has a long history in partnership with SSHC, first through his decades-long work as CEO of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago and now at the helm of Thresholds, an innovative community-based service provider for more than 17,000 people with serious mental illnesses each year in nine Illinois counties.

— The Chicago Defender was recognized as one of the community's strongest foundations through its long history as "the most important" newspaper in the negro press.

— The final recipient, Harold Cherry, has served as the director of outreach at SSHC for more than 22 years and has conducted HIV/AIDS, STD street intervention outreach to individuals who were at risk for infections relating to injecting drugs.

All of the recipients were present with the exception of Ald. Austin; Dr. Yvonne Wilson accepted the award for her.

Noted vocalist Maggie Brown started the evening with a brief performance of an original song that celebrated the great migration. Then it was time for Grammy-nominated artist Kenny Lattimore, who channeled his heroes Frank Sinatra and Donny Hathaway while touching on the Parkway Ballroom's history with his rendition of "Take Me to the Moon." He later dedicated his song "For You" to Vanessa Smith.

A surprise for Vanessa Smith arrived with an award presented to her by Roseland community representative Sharron Curry for her many years of service to the local community.

The event was sponsored by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.


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