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Lady Gaga's Foundation honors Chicago youth
by Molly Sprayregen

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In conjunction with her concert at Wrigley Field on Friday, Lady Gaga's Born This Way Foundation, founded by Gaga and her mother, Cynthia Germanotta, bestowed the organization's Channel Kindness Award on Chicago youth Shay Johnson, 20.

Shay, formerly homeless and a previous resident of the Night Ministry's Crib shelter, won the award based on her proposal to host a BBQ for youth experiencing homelessness in Chicago as well as distribute backpacks filled with hygiene products, donated by Staples for Students, to those who attended.

Held outside The Crib on Friday morning, Aug. 25, the event was a moving experience, one in which Shay was continuously celebrated for her ability to not only spread kindness in the face of extreme adversity but also, despite the fact that she has experienced homelessness and abuse, her capacity to be grateful for what she has.

"This is a dream come true to me," Shay said as more and more youth continued to arrive to enjoy what Shay had planned for them. It was an emotional day for Shay, with tears regularly streaming from her eyes as community leader after community leader and youth after youth continued to gush about the amazing person she is. "I get to actually do something that I really want to do, which is give back to my community and help the homeless youth," she said.

Also attendance were 44th Ward Ald. Tom Tunney and his Director of Community Affairs Chris Jessup, who previously worked with Shay on a job readiness program that helped her get hired at Lakeview's new Target. "We clicked submit for her application and she got a call from Target 30 minutes later," he said, and later added, "I'm really impressed with how bright she is and she does a lot, she doesn't stop, she's a hard worker, so I'm proud of her."

Tunney also expressed his gratitude for the Born This Way Foundation. "One of the things we try to do more and more, whether it's the Cubs Charities or any businesses is to make sure that they are not only employing from the community but also giving back, so it's great that with the concert weekend and Lady Gaga specifically, our hero, that part of her being here is this Foundation award."

The Born this Way Foundation's Channel Kindness Awards, in partnership with another organization, Peace First, launched along with Lady Gaga's Joanne World Tour and are awarding youth like Shay in eight cities around the country.

One very exciting element for many of the youth in attendance at the event was the presence of Cynthia Germanotta, or Mama Gaga as some fondly called her. Cynthia took a tour of The Crib, led by Shay, took photos with those who wanted to, and helped distribute the backpacks.

"I'm just overwhelmed seeing this incredibly brave group of young people and seeing this wonderful space that's been created in the community for them," Cynthia said, "It's one thing to hear about this in communities but when you actually see what's happening you realize what people are going through, and I would encourage everybody to go visit a place like this and see the hope that it brings."

During Cynthia's tour of The Crib, Shay explained how the residents make daily statements of gratitude to remember what they have and are thankful for. Before she left, Cynthia facilitated a statements of gratitude circle with the youth. Not surprisingly, on this beautiful summer day, several of them were thankful for Shay.

Born This Way Foundation Executive Director Maya Enista Smith and The Night Ministry Executive Director Paul Hamann also addressed the attendees and media.

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