Kristyn Hartman
Just miles from Saint Ignatius College Prep, there's a place where the expression "casual joy" lives large. It's called Off The Street Club (OTSC), and over the last year and a half, it's given students at Saint Ignatius College Prep an incredible opportunity to connect with children in a safe space they love...where they can be kids.
That's especially important in the world today. If you watch the news or read a paper, you know the city of Chicago has violent crime issues. For parents in the West Garfield Park neighborhood, Off The Street Club is like a port in that storm. As Chicago's oldest Boys and Girls Club, OTSC calls itself "The Place Hope Has a Home." That's because it offers its young people engaging, mentor-oriented programming day in and day out, all year long.

"We're making change on Chicago's tough West Side through brotherhood, love, partnership, and fun," says Executive Director Arnett Morris, "Our kids feel loved."


Hoping to be a part of the OTSC experience, Saint Ignatius offered to add some of its own "casual joy" to the program by sending a bus of students to the non-profit on as many Third Thursdays as possible, during the school year.

Jack Hughes '23 brought the idea to IVC, a campus club otherwise known as the Ignatian Volunteer Corps.  His proposal was rooted in his own personal experience. Years ago, the senior's  suburban grade school paired him with an OTSC buddy.  Hughes says the friendships he formed with kids in the city taught him about brotherhood and mutuality...and that geography can't get in the way of what unites us as human beings. 

He told school leadership, "There's a meaningful organization that lives out our Jesuit ideals."

Planning began, and eight students signed up for the first trip to Garfield Park to hang out and experience the casual joy of meeting new people.

"If you go once, the kids remember your name," says Hughes, "You find friends. I think it's so meaningful to experience the casual joy, but also to know as a teenager you're making an impact.  You're someone the younger kids can look up to, and by having fun, you're helping them be kids!"

In fostering an environment of brotherhood, Morris says OTSC also breaks down racial barriers.

Saint Ignatius teacher Kitty Hooper, who joined the students on the last trip of the year to Off The Street Club, agrees.  

"We all have our biases," says Hooper, "OTSC goes a long way in helping us not 'otherize' people. It's not about what you can do for others. It's about what you can do with others."

In that togetherness, Hughes says, "Just like you share, you also receive."  So even as 19 people from Saint Ignatius College Prep exported "casual joy" in the last visit of the year,  they imported it too. He adds, "I got emotional knowing the April trip was my last one. It was so cool to share the mission of OTSC and the good they do with my classmates and teachers."

About Hughes' effort to partner their two groups, Morris says, "Jack is a man of great character...He could have cursed the darkness, but he decided to light a candle."

He and Hughes have the same hope: That the relationship continues. As the school year ends, it appears as if plans are already underway. 

"My work would be done if some of the kids from Off The Street Club could come to Saint Ignatius College Prep as students," says Hughes.  He planted the seeds to grow the possibilities!



Saint Ignatius College Prep

Saint Ignatius College Prep, a Jesuit Catholic school in the heart of Chicago, is a diverse community dedicated to educating young men and women for lives of faith, love, service and leadership.