In the fall of 2014, Lizzy Carroll traveled up to Albany Park from the ISU campus with her special education class. Her day involved community experiences as well as clinical observations in Chicago Public Schools (CPS), her initial window into community-integrated teacher preparation that is the foundation of the National Center for Urban Education model. Over the next few years, as she continued her education path at ISU, Carroll participated in many facets of NCUE programming on her way to becoming a community teacher in Chicago. As a STEP-UP (Summer Teacher Education Partnership for Urban Preparation) fellow during the summer of 2016, she lived in the Little Village community, taught in an extended year summer program for special education students in CPS, and interned at the neighborhood Boys & Girls Club. Finally, in her senior year, she completed the year-long Innovative Network of Urban Special Educators (INFUSE) program in Chicago, culminating with a student teaching placement in Auburn Gresham. In fall 2017, she joined CPS as a teacher in the Auburn Gresham community where she continues to teach today.
Throughout her time as a CPS teacher, Carroll has often returned to her roots as a community teacher. She has taught in the Auburn Gresham Gold Camp, a summer enrichment camp offered to neighborhood children by ISU partner community organization Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation (GAGDC) as well as in the GAGDC 21st century afterschool program during the school year. She often integrates service learning and community needs into her class curriculum, starting a school-based garden as well as a resource store for students in need. This past fall, she took her commitment to the southside to a new level with the creation of her own nonprofit, Lead with Love. Below is my interview with Carroll about her journey to serve the families and members of her school community, and to allow her students to become civically engaged as they take on challenges in their neighborhoods.
What was your inspiration behind starting a non-profit to support the southside community? The injustices that became more prominent at the start of the pandemic inspired me to start my nonprofit. As a teacher, the educational, physical, and social-emotional needs of my students were the inspiration behind Lead with Love. Prior to the pandemic, I was able to provide support and resources through initiatives that I started at my southside elementary school. There, my students and I were able to distribute fresh food from our garden to the community. We were also able to provide clothing, school supplies, and personal care items needed through the free “store” my class created. When CPS closed, these resources were no longer available to the students and their families. However, the need was greater than ever. This inspired me to become creative in finding a way to support the community amidst a global pandemic, school closures, police brutality, community gun violence, and civil unrest. I knew the nonprofit would provide a platform for youth to really become civically engaged and play a vital role in supporting their own community during these times.
Tell me about the purpose behind the organization — who do you aim to serve and how? Lead with Love is a community outreach organization. We are working to combat issues of injustices prevalent within underserved communities. We are providing a safe space for youth looking to take action and serve their community. Our four foundational pillars are mental health, physical health, education, and employment/exposure. We aim to serve the southside community, specifically Auburn Gresham, Chatham, and Englewood, by working with local youth to provide resources that are responsive to the community needs within each pillar.
What are some recent projects Lead with Love has led? Lead with Love was founded in September 2020. We hosted our first community event right before the start of the remote school year. Leading up to the event, we were able to raise $10,000 to purchase over 150 personal devices (laptops and tablets) for CPS students. Youth helped plan and set up our “Back to School Wellness Fair.” This was a socially distanced outdoor event where families received devices and backpacks filled with school supplies. At the event, we also hosted community workouts, yoga, and guided meditation.
In October, our youth expressed the desire to visit a pumpkin patch. However, pumpkin patches are costly and located far from the southside. We decided to bring the pumpkin patch to Auburn Gresham. We hosted a pumpkin patch pick-up event where families could have a private pumpkin patch experience that included hay, pumpkins, fresh produce, taffy apples, and apple cider. In the first month of remote learning, families had expressed the difficulty children were having focusing while online for extended hours. To address this need, we collected 100 flexible seating options for students to use at home (yoga ball chairs, wobble stools, wiggle cushions, beanbag chairs, etc.). These items to support remote learning were given away at the pumpkin patch. We also provided free winter clothing and Halloween costumes.
For Thanksgiving, we provided some southside families with Thanksgiving dinners. We also partnered with another nonprofit to serve food and give away clothing to those experiencing homelessness. Throughout November, we also worked to match over 200 youth with holiday sponsors. The youth created wish lists and holiday sponsors shopped for the gifts.
In December, we hosted “Darnell’s Holiday Drive” in honor of my former student who passed away in 2019. At the drive, we gave away $10,000 worth of holiday gifts, winter clothing, and warm blankets to over 200 youth. We also provided families with real wreaths and Christmas trees. Our youth leaders helped organize the drive. They set up, decorated, scheduled pick-up times, and dressed in festive costumes to distribute presents. A partner organization sponsored catered holiday meals on Christmas Eve. One of our youth leaders helped deliver these delicious meals to families within the community.
Throughout January, we have been organizing and creating virtual resource rooms to support families. Coming soon, we will be offering virtual live programs. These will include cooking, yoga, art, fitness, and dance. We are also preparing to begin virtual support groups, mentoring, and tutoring. We have created a wish list of books written by Black authors and/or that have Black characters in preparation for our “Black Books Matter” Book Fair next month. Our youth are working to create “Love Boxes” that will be distributed in February as well. These boxes will include personal care items, hand sanitizer, masks, and handmade Valentine’s Day cards.
How does the nonprofit Lead with Love connect to your teaching? Lead with Love focuses on social and racial justice. In the classroom, we discuss these topics on a daily basis. We also learn about the importance of civic and community engagement. Typically, in person, we engage in many service-learning projects. The nonprofit provides opportunities for students to continue to organize, serve, and reflect in meaningful ways outside the classroom. It also allows youth the opportunity to apply skills learned in the classroom setting to the real world. Youth continue to develop their leadership, communication, collaboration, and vocational skills through the nonprofit. Lead with Love aims to empower youth, which is the ultimate purpose behind my teaching.
How can interested folks support Lead with Love going forward? As a new organization, we are working entirely from donations. Those interested in supporting can select from several options, ongoing or event-based:
- Join our “Love Club,” a monthly sponsorship program (Love Club Sign Up: Sign Up Here!). As a member of our “Love Club,” individuals commit to donating $25/month for the year. In return, they receive Lead with Love gifts from our youth. We accept monetary donations via Zelle QuickPay, Venmo, Cash App, and PayPal. Zelle QuickPay: firstname.lastname@example.org, Venmo: leadwithlovechi, Cash App: $leadwithlovechi, PayPal: paypal.me/leadwithlovechi
- Buy books for our Black History Month book fair. Books can be purchased on our Amazon Wish list, or bought from local bookstores (Black Books Matter Wish List: Buy books here!). We are also collecting masks, hand sanitizer, and personal hygiene products (soap, deodorant, toothbrushes, toothpaste, etc.). To donate funds, see the options above. The address to send/drop off purchased donations is: 40 E. 9th St. Unit 1518, Chicago, IL 60605.
NCUE is thrilled to showcase Lead with Love and its founder Lizzy Carroll as an exemplar community teacher. We are excited to see what the new year brings and what challenges the youth leaders decide to take on next!