DePaul University Newsline > Sections > Campus and Community > School Community Organizer supports Care Closet at Chicago school

School Community Organizer supports Care Closet at Chicago school

DePaul student and School Community Organizer Caity Gallagher reflects on the importance of using asset-based community development methods to uplift Chicago communities


Caity Gallagher
Photo courtesy of DePaul University/Emily Diaz

​What must be done? The Vincentian question holds endless possibilities, but for one DePaul student it fosters direct and devoted action supporting Chicago communities. 

Caity Gallagher, a graduate student studying sociology, philosophy and critical ethnic studies, serves as a School Community Organizer (SCO) through DePaul’s Egan Office Urban School Initiative​. In this role Gallagher supports under-resourced public and Catholic elementary schools across Chicago, engaging in community-led planning, development and project operation. This includes tutoring students, supporting after-school programs and assisting at a community Care Closet. 

The Chicago Public Schools Foundation funds Care Closets in schools, which provide free and essential items that students and families may struggle to afford. Chicago’s Gale Community Academy in Rogers Park, where Gallagher is currently an SCO, recently saw an increase in neighborhood residents and immigrants in need of clothing, hygiene products and winter warmth resources. For this reason, they created a Care Closet. 

Deciding that a Care Closet was necessary was easy, but planning and maintaining the closet is no simple task, as piles of donation bags carry hundreds of items. School staff do not always have the time to organize the donations, and this is where SCOs such as Gallagher can help. “Last quarter I went in every Monday for at least three or four hours in person, sorting through clothes until the last Friday of finals week,” Gallagher says. “I’m an actions-oriented person, so I show care to people by being hands-on.” 

The Egan Office’s core approach to service-learning is asset-based community development (ABCD), a volunteering method that recognizes the pre-existing skills and talents of community members and the plans they have developed. Student volunteers are encouraged to follow community members’ leads rather than swoop in as ‘heroes.’ 

“Asset-based community development is just a wonderful method,” Gallagher says. “You’re not [volunteering] to be seen for helping others, you’re coming into a space as a guest." 

Entering the Care Closet space as a guest encourages students to help others without social judgements and assumptions about different communities. Care Closet spaces are meant to be discretely located in student resource offices to create a safe and unprejudiced environment for those seeking living essentials. Approaching Care Closets with an ABCD method gives students like Gallagher an opportunity to witness firsthand the positive effects coming into spaces as a guest provides in real-world situations. 

This mindset was particularly rewarding when Gallagher noticed the Care Closet was always empty after families shopped, signaling how important these resources are for community members, as CPS budgets and government funding are extremely tight and cannot cover hygiene care closets for students. The Care Closet is especially effective because it is inclusive of everyone. ​​​ ​

Gallagher says her work with Gale Community Academy is ongoing and just getting started, as the school has plans to expand. She also says she’s ready to be there as a resource whenever necessary, whether that means reading with students or providing a space for emotional support. 

By instilling ABCD values in students, DePaul’s service-learning approach provides effective tools for helping communities pave the way for social change. One of the most meaningful and memorable lessons Gallagher has learned stems from an Egan Office mantra. 

“We talk about gifts of the hand, gifts of the heart and gifts of the mind,” Gallagher says. “Serving my community with these values in mind is such a big part of my life now in a way that’s definitely changed me forever.” 

Learn more about the Egan Office and ABCD here.

Emily Diaz is a student assistant for internal communications in University Communications.