Oak Park mom Erica Hilgart never intended to start a nonprofit organization. She was simply struggling in her role as mom to three young children.
“Parenting is hard for everyone and I needed support,” says Hilgart, a former Chicago Public Schools teacher on Chicago’s west side. When she found a Musikgarten class, her life’s passion was recharted.
“Music class was a place where I could completely focus on my kids and find other parents to be in a community with,” she says. With first-hand knowledge about the disparity of resources with nearby Chicago’s Austin neighborhood, she decided she wanted the same for parents there.
In January 2016, Hilgart found a space in the Austin neighborhood that allowed her to use a room and started the Boppin’ Babies and Toddlers Music Class. It began as a once-a-week class with breakfast and playtime for community building and bonding.
As the classes started to grow and families returned each week, Hilgart realized her vision could be even bigger.
Creating a home
Hilgart created a nonprofit called A House in Austin.
“Our name is inspired by a nonprofit in the South Bronx called A House on Beekman where I volunteered with my son in their Mommy & Me program,“ Hilgart says. “I saw firsthand the power of parents being in community together and the power of love, support and education in changing lives.”
That’s what she wanted with A House in Austin.
Hilgart sought out Rebekah Martin, a mom of four experienced in social work, to become director of Family Services.
“I started coming to music classes at a time in my life that was hard, I was feeling isolated and I needed community more than I even knew,” Martin says. “Coming to music class provided the opportunity to connect to others.”
In addition to leading groups, she started visiting families in their homes.
“Our home visiting program provides a way for our parents to believe in themselves, build attachment with their children, grow as parents and have support along the way,” Martin says. “As the parents learn a different message to give to their children, they start to hear it for themselves as well.”
Currently, AHIA offers a morning and afternoon parent-child music class, a home visiting program, weekly Parent Cafe + The Parent Chat Hour with free childcare, and family yoga on Saturdays.
The four staff members are all moms who live on the west side of Chicago.
“AHIA provides the opportunity to love other moms in your community in such a beautiful way,” Martin says.
Big next steps
After Hilgart learned more about the home situations of members of her classes, she realized how comforting and life changing it could be for families to meet in a house with a kitchen table and cozy chairs.
“I had a vision of a real home as a gathering space for families and we found it at 533 N. Pine Ave,” Hilgart sys. “It has a larger city lot for gardening and outdoor space and the charm and character of a beautiful old house.”
But the house was in disarray and needed a complete rehab. She hopes to finish it this January and then begin adding evening and weekend programs, family counseling and early intervention therapy sessions.
“The best part, though, is it will be able to offer parents a quiet, peaceful place to sit on the floor and play blocks with her child,” Hilgart says. “The house will offer the gift of time and peace to just be together.”
Tina Bond, a Chicago stay-at-home mother, has been coming to AHIA for the last two years with her daughter.
“It’s such an important place to me because we can go to learn and experience new things. It’s a place full of love and happiness,” Bond says. “I love that the parents can get together and share what we go through in life and to learn we experience the same things with our kids or just in life. It has made so many thing easier for me and my daughter.”
As she prepares to open the house, Hilgart is looking at the future.
“My ultimate goal is for families to be supported and nurtured by the program of AHIA as they raise up the next generation,” she says. “Mother Teresa said, ‘If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.’ That’s our work and it’s challenging, but by being together, we can love our families better.”
How to help
- A House in Austin needs volunteers for childcare for Parent Cafe + The Parent Chat Hour 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Thursdays.
- If you can’t volunteer, it also needs healthy snacks, such as cut-up fruit and yogurt or cheese sticks.
- Monetary donations always welcome.
- Email email@example.com.
This article originally appeared in the November 2018 issue of Chicago Parent. Read the rest of the issue.