Cop Quietly Gets Kids On Right Path

Published in the Chicago Sun-Times on August 3, 2014

By: Mark Brown

In Parkway Gardens, a sprawling low-income housing development in Woodlawn, everybody from the itty-bitties to the gang leaders knows Officer Maddox.

She’s the Chicago Police officer who in her off hours runs a free summer day camp for the children there, funded in part from her own pocket.

One of Maddox’s fellow police officers thought the rest of Chicago should know about her, too, and I agree.

Jennifer Maddox, 43, has been a member of the Chicago Police Department for 18 years and is assigned to the 5th District. She works in the community policing program as part of a team that teaches other officers how to better communicate with residents.

Parkway Gardens, which counts some 2,400 residents in a 35-building complex at 64th and King Drive, isn’t even in the 5th District. It’s located in the 3rd District and not part of her duties.

But Maddox got involved with helping the children there more than a decade ago while working private security.

Maddox came to realize she was spending all her time as a security guard chasing after kids causing one minor disturbance or another because they had nothing better to do. She persuaded building management to unlock a basement where she could offer them activities, and has been doing so ever since.

We hear all the time that it will require everyone doing their part to bring an end to the violence plaguing our city.

Police officers could certainly be excused if they heard such talk and thought to themselves: I gave at the office.

But Parkway Gardens residents say Maddox goes the extra mile outside work to give their children a chance to not only survive but succeed.

To the Rev. Edward Morris, who gives rent-free use of his Parkway Gardens Christian Church to her “Future Ties” program, Maddox puts the concept of community policing into action.

“She’s actually in the trenches, working with these children every day, working with their parents every day,” Morris said.

One parent, Raysel Turner, credits Maddox’s mentoring of her son, Jacques Jackson, for him making it into college last year and for landing a summer job this year.

“She comes to their graduations. She comes to their ribbon-cutting ceremonies. She tries to come to whatever tournament it is, whatever it is that she has time to do that she’s available, and we love her so much for that,” Turner told me.

I paid a visit to camp one morning last week as Maddox oversaw the daily routine that starts with breakfast and mixes outdoor and educational activities at 30-minute intervals to keep the kids engaged.

This can include anything from familiar relay races to a talented college intern from New York who uses rap to teach writing and public speaking skills.

“What’s wrong?” Maddox asked a little fellow slumped on the couch, gradually drawing out of him that he was in trouble for hitting a classmate. She softly ordered him to sit up straight. He did.

Some 60 kindergarteners through eighth-graders participate. That’s just a drop in the bucket of 1,200 kids living in Parkway Gardens, but that’s all the room she has.

There are other summer programs in the area, but not enough and even fewer that are free. Many parents can’t afford the fees for Park District programs, Maddox said, and even when they can, it’s not safe for kids to get back and forth because of gang turf.

High schoolers who have come through the program work as camp counselors. Most are paid through other organizations with which Maddox partners. Some mothers also help out, which allows them to fulfill work requirements for government assistance and food stamp programs.

Maddox has two supervisors who run the camp while she’s working at the Police Department. She said she pays for them herself.

On this day, there’s a field trip to the movies on the itinerary. Maddox usually pays for that, too.

She shrugs all this off as if to indicate: that’s what it takes.

Maddox is quiet and reserved and shorter than many of the kids, but I’m assured she can get cop-tough in a hurry when necessary.

Maddox, who grew up in the Rosemoor neighborhood and graduated from Corliss High School, has two grown daughters and in her “free time” is working on her Ph.d. During the school year, she is paid to run an after-school program at Parkway Gardens.

Maddox said part of what motivates her is that her own upbringing was nothing like what these children face with the constant threat of violence.

“I just think that’s horrible,” she said.

We can’t all go out and start our own day care camps for kids in need, but many can lend their support to those like Maddox who are making a difference.

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