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Beginning with one cup of coffee served to someone in need, over the past 25 Breakthrough has partnered with those affected by poverty to build connections, develop skills and open doors of opportunity.
Our 25 Years series highlights some of the impactful stories from our 25 years of service to Chicago and East Garfield Park.

Read all 25 Years stories


With school back in session, Breakthrough opened the doors of its afterschool program for its 17th year on September 5. This year, more than 150 kids will be a part of the Nettie Bailey Student Achievement Program, with the goal of improving their academic performance through literacy enrichment, high school preparation, and science, math, and technology tutoring.

As we reflect on our 25th Anniversary year, we think back on all the great milestones we have to celebrate at Breakthrough. The idea for the afterschool program came about in January 2001, shortly after the Joshua Center building (now home of the Breakthrough Women’s Center) was acquired. Breakthrough had been meeting with parents and community members to identify needs, and there was one message that kept repeating: we need a place for our kids to learn. We need a place for them to play and grow, and to feel safe.

In a neighborhood where 25% of adults have no high school diploma, Breakthrough’s afterschool program provides an academic pipeline to get students walking across the graduation stage by senior year. Dr. Marcie Curry, now Senior Program Director of the Breakthrough Youth Network, was at the forefront of the program’s creation back in the early 2000s.

“I had experience teaching high school English in southwest Ohio but no knowledge of teaching elementary students, and no urban teaching experience,” she said. “Several community residents suggested I check out Mrs. Nettie Bailey’s tutoring program because it was ‘the best around.’”

Nettie Bailey, who came to be the namesake of Breakthrough’s afterschool program, was a Chicago Public School teacher for nearly 30 years in East Garfield Park at Breakthrough’s partner school Beidler Elementary. After retiring, she continued to impact the lives of students by tutoring them at her home.

After hearing about Breakthrough’s plan for an afterschool program, Mrs. Bailey committed to meeting with Marcie once a week for a year to share her wisdom and experience. Marcie remembers her meetings with her fondly. “I would categorize Mrs. Bailey’s style as a ‘warm demander,’ a teacher who insists on greatness through a strong, willful, and authoritative manner while being encouraging and loving in the process,” she said.

It was just what Breakthrough needed in order to be successful. By 2002, the Breakthrough tutoring program was up and running with more than 60 students. It seemed only fitting that it be named after the woman who made its success possible. In 2005, The Chicago Tribune wrote, “Kudos: Breakthrough Urban Ministries will name its after-school academic assistance program in the East Garfield Park neighborhood after former Chicago Public Schools teacher Nettie Bailey … She is to be honored Aug. 27” at Breakthrough.

Mrs. Bailey passed away in 2010, but her legacy lives on. Today, we’re preparing more children for success than ever before. Last year, 78% of our 8th graders entered top Chicago high schools and 93% maintained or increased their reading grades over the course of the year.

“Naming a program for a legend like Nettie Bailey requires excellence,” Dr. Curry said. “Looking back, I cannot begin to express how transformative my year of mentoring with her was.”

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