From homeless to helping those in need
Every Christmas, Michelle “Chell” Cooper asks her Advocate Children’s Hospital colleagues to donate new and gently used clothing, unopened hygiene products and blankets for her church to distribute to the homeless. The project is personal for Cooper not only because she’s a pastor but also because she remembers what it’s like to not have a home.
It was more than 20 years ago that Cooper and her young children bounced around between the homes of different friends and family members. Every Wednesday, they visited a local church that hung clothes on a fence for anyone who needed them to take.
“I know about being homeless, living from place to place,” Cooper said. “I didn’t want to have my kids on the street. I was determined.”
In the years since, she’s gotten back on her feet, found a home in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood and graduated from divinity school. And she’s overcome additional obstacles more recently, recovering from COVID personally and watching civil unrest unfold in Chicago and across the country. That racial tension provided an opportunity for Cooper to share her life experiences with her co-workers. Some of the conversations were uncomfortable, but they represented the first time she talked about difficult issues with people whom she’s worked alongside for the past four years as a housekeeper in the neonatal intensive care unit at the hospital’s Oak Lawn campus.
“Coming into work and seeing my neighborhood torn up, I cried. And I carried that with me to my shift,” she said. “But I learned it’s OK to take the mask off and shed a tear. It’s been a lesson and a blessing – that’s how 2020 was for me.”
About the Author
Lisa Parro, health enews contributor, is manager of content strategy for Advocate Aurora Health. A former journalist, Lisa has been in health care public relations since 2008 and has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University. She and her family live in Chicago’s western suburbs.