We are Awake to a Rising of Leadership

We create opportunities to cultivate skills of leadership. We want to raise up leaders committed to relationship, justice, and wellness, by helping people discover their own power and possibility. These experiences help build the courage to lead. We offer classes that challenge people to do things they’d never thought possible, and then carry that new learning to the next generation.

New Things at Awake!

Good morning, and Happy Tuesday!

We have had a fun and busy summer at Awake, and we are looking forward to the great things we have planned for the fall. One of the things we are working on is a revitalization of our blog, to make it a more fun and engaging part of the work we do here. We hope to use this platform to keep you all up to date on what’s going on here, as well as what’s happening in the community.

Here’s a few things to look forward to in the coming months-

A blog series highlighting some of the great organizations Awake has built connections with over the past year.

Updates on classes Awake will be offering this Fall and Winter

Features on community events we think are great!

We hope you will check back often to see what we’re up to. If you know of a community even or organization that you think deserves a shout out, please let us know! And, if you’re looking to get involved in any of our classes or events, please feel free to send us an email at or comment below. We’d love to hear from you!


Why Awake Matters to Me – Lisa Polderman

I learned about Unity the winter of 2013 from Julie Freeney as we waited for Owen and Cora to come out of their kindergarten classroom. Soon after I started attending, Pastor Julie asked me if I was interested in joining a committee looking to create opportunities for community, education, and coffee in Berwyn. I was so relieved that she hadn’t asked me to teach Sunday School, I immediately said yes.

During the process of creating Awake my girls were baptized at Unity. My favorite part of the ritual of baptism was hearing, “Let your Light shine, Cora and Maisey, let your Light shine.” Pastor Julie declared it as she poured the water over their heads, a chorus of Unity children echoed it, and the congregation welcomed them with those words. It clearly meant something to Cora and Maisey, too, because for the next few nights they baptized each other in the tub, repeating those words.

There are many ways in which Awake matters to me, but the most important is that it has allowed me to see Light in the people of our community. People like Raul and Yessica, Jorge and Wendy. They all had children in our summer reading program and their love and commitment to their own children has them working hard on our parent team to create an After School Program for the children of our community. People like Jim, Mona, Tanya, and Gino, whose gratitude brought them out to make jam as a way of celebrating community. People like Carlos, Michelle, Alejandra, Michael, and Lupe, student leaders who bring energy and excitement to the Dance Marathon team. And people like Sorcha, Maddie, Jimena, and Ashley, kids in my hand sewing class, who brought focus and pride and determination to every stitch.

Awake has also allowed me to see new Light in the members of Unity. Through our work, I’ve seen Elizabeth gift for connecting with middle school students, Rachel’s fierceness in leading 2nd graders, Anne’s charisma and humor, Holly’s language and organizational skills, and Sarah’s practical mindset in getting things done.

Awake has given these Lights an opportunity to shine, and it has given me the gifts of Hope and Joy and Love. Thank you for giving this program a home.

Holly on Why Awake Matters to Me

Holly headshot 2

Holly Little helped found Awake, is on the Leadership Team, and taught as an instructor in our summer reading program. Holly moved to Berwyn from Nevada as a young adult and has a background in after school programs and childcare.

A little over two years ago we started a “coffee committee” here at Unity to help imagine a coffee shop in Berwyn. Since coffee is 57% of the makeup of my personality, I joined this committee quite willingly. Even though I was not and probably never will be a morning person, I dragged myself here every other Tuesday morning for meetings. Our numbers grew and shrank and our focus shifted but the Spirit of God was present at each meeting. This was a particularly difficult season in my life and these meetings became a place of solace and healing for me. I cherished these times of creativity and imagination. I looked forward to spending time with the brilliant people on our team.

Around the time the coffee committee officially became Awake, we held a meeting at my house. Our committee was joined by church council to talk about our mission and answer some questions that ultimately helped Awake become an affiliated mission community of Unity Lutheran Church. I remember this meeting well because it was filled with both laughter and tears. Stories were shared from the last days of Berwyn United and First Lutheran churches and from the first days of Unity. Members from each congregation expressed feelings of sadness and frustration, joy and excitement, worry and fear, and loss and acceptance. From the honest sharing of these feelings came healing and further clarity of what Awake’s mission should be.

Holly headshot 1Since our official launch this spring, countless more stories like these have unfolded. I have watched healing take place in many ways. Different cultures have had a chance to be shared and better understood in our Spanish and Tango classes. Justice and leadership have taken place as youth from the community were given meaningful jobs in our summer tutoring program. Empowering skills have been learned in sewing and cooking classes. Simple fun has been had in workshops like Saturday’s Jam Awards. We truly are rising up to be Awake in our community.

This is why Awake matters to me. Through advocacy for justice, leadership opportunities, and good relationships, God is using Awake to heal us personally and as a community. One of the most amazing parts of this is that we, as Unity Lutheran Church, are helping to make this possible. I look around the room and see so many of you who have poured out your time, talent, and resources to this mission. Awake is not simply a program of the church.  We the church are Awake.

Tutors minus Anne

Why Awake Matters to Me


Tracy Bostrom is on Awake’s Leadership Team and teaches our Young Foodies at the Table cooking class. Tracy is a lifelong Berwyn/Cicero resident and has been active in the community as a coach and business person.

I want to share with you all why the vision and mission of Awake matters to me.

Simply said, it matters to me because this community matters to me. I have been a lifelong resident of the Berwyn/Cicero area and I care about my hometown. I always appreciate when good things happen in this neighborhood. Awake is more than a good thing happening here. Awake is a catalyst for this community, calling us all to rise up in justice, leadership, and good relationships – raising up courage, wellness, and hope. The opportunities these gifts bring is endless; our possibilities are endless and this is just the beginning.

Awake cares about the youth in the area, the many cultures living in our town, the needs of our neighbors, and the things that affect us as a whole community. More importantly, Awake is a bridge between Unity and the community around us. Awake offers an opportunity for people to get to know Unity from a new perspective. The programs, workshops, and service projects bring people into our church who maybe wouldn’t drop by on a Sunday morning.

Awake matters to me because the people here matter to me. Particularly the kids in this community; I’ve spend many years coaching kids and working with them to bring forth their best, encourage their creativity, awaken their natural abilities, foster trust in their own instincts, and raise them up as leaders. Awake is the perfect environment to bring all this together for Unity, the community of Berwyn, and our neighbors.

IMG_4229You can’t help but see the leadership and good relationships developing in the Young Foodies workshop. They learn how to do things in the kitchen by themselves, they develop good kitchen etiquette, they gain a better understanding of food handling, and they work in small groups creating something together. They lead each other through the recipes and work together with respect for both the tasks and each other. I often see them helping each other through some of the tougher jobs. This support gives them the courage to try the more complicated tasks instead of just the task they were already comfortable doing. It’s a joy to see them try something new; a joy to see the hope they have that their dish will taste delicious.

Awake offers the opportunity for people to share their gifts with this community. The gifts of dance, language, reading enrichment, sewing and cooking are offered by talented people from this community.

Awake, for me, is about teaching and learning, leadership and courage, justice and truth, good relationships and wellness. Awake is bringing Unity out into our community – shining a light on the good things that we can all see happening here and being an example of how easy it is to love our neighbors.

After School Club – Shining Lights

As you read in our last blog post, we ran a reading program this past summer that was a great success. Maybe one of the best things to come out of it was the relationships we developed with families, program aids, and teachers as a result of the program, and the opportunity to see people shine in new ways. Kids doing sortsWe received help from local leader Elizabeth Jimenez in facilitating our relationship with families. I first saw Elizabeth Jimenez in action at a ABC Meeting when she ran for the BSD100 School Board. There she spoke with passion about her commitment to our schools and gave her perspective on the issues we face. In the reading program this summer, I got to see Elizabeth in conversation with parents and was impressed with her in a new way. She had this way of listening to people and asking questions that just made parents willing to open up and talk about what mattered to them, what they wanted for their children. I think this was in part because she speaks their language (linguistically and culturally), but it was also because she so clearly cared about what they had to say and had immense respect for them as individuals.

What we learned from the conversations that Elizabeth facilitated is that there are many families in Berwyn who want better after school programming for their kids. They asked us if we could run an after school program like our summer reading program, but add in other subjects.

As a parent of two elementary age kids, this idea is also appealing to me. I regularly need to work past 3pm when school gets out, but I still want my children to be able to participate in extracurricular activities like music, arts, languages, and enrichment classes for academic subjects. This is a challenge to arrange, especially when time, money, and transportation are limited.

Erick plus student 2Our dream for this program is to offer an after school program that runs from 3 to 6pm. We would like to start with two days a week and build to five days a week. From 3:15-4:30, kids would eat a nutritious snack and we would provide support so that participants can complete their homework successfully. We plan to hire students from Morton West as program aids to help with homework, thus providing leadership opportunities to teens in the community. From 4:30 to 5:45pm, students would participate in a range of revolving enrichment programs like STEM, arts, theatre, music, and languages. We plan to hire local teachers and people with a passion/expertise to run these classes, These teachers, along with the program aides and program coordinator, would make up our education team, which would meet regularly for professional development and support. Our aim is that participants experience both high quality instruction and a caring relationship in these programs. And that parents have some of the stress lifted from them of working while also trying to provide meaningful care and activities for their children.

Raul and his family are a part of the group that are excited about this program. They have shown up to all of our meetings about the after school program. I have loved getting to know him, his kids and his wife, and the way that the think about and make decisions for their family life. Raul works the 3rd shift at his job so that he can be with his kids after school and participate in different activities with them. I see this family everywhere now – at the park, riding bikes, walking around the neighborhood. This family is one of those that shines for me now, in their communication with each other and in their engagement with school and community.

This program that Raul and parents like him want for their kids is not cheap, primarily because we are committed to paying program aids and teachers a fair wage. We might be able to run a program like this with volunteers, but this community needs more jobs available within it, and we want to know that we can provide a consistent experience for participants. We are in the process of identifying and applying for grants to help offset the cost of running the program. We would like to offer this program on a sliding scale where folks pay what they are able based on their family’s budget. We want this program to be an act of justice in this way, making high quality programming accessible to those who don’t have the financial resources to pay full cost.

I am excited to build this program, and not just because it will be a great benefit to my kids, Raul’s kids, and families like ours. I am excited because of all the people I will get to see shine in new ways as they work to create something that matters to them. Jesus tells us, “. . . let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) And let us have the eyes to see this light shining in those around us.

If you have gifts to bring to this effort, please contact Lisa at


Embracing Mistakes on the Path to the Divine

Peter is one of my favorite characters in the Gospels. He’s so utterly human. He constantly get things wrong, just like all of us. But in his fumbling, he sometimes manages to get it just right. And I think this is because he doesn’t hold back, he allows himself to fumble around and be human and messy. He engages with what’s going on and doesn’t give up, even when rebuked. I’m not sure I would have stuck it out in his place, but he keeps walking. And because of this, every once in a while he hits on something divine.

This past Sunday the Gospel reading came from Mark 8:27-38. Jesus asks the disciples, “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” (29) Peter, who gets it wrong so often, has a moment of being divine: “You are the Messiah.” (And even while we are still cheering for him, in the next paragraph gets it all wrong again.)

I think that one of the most important skills we can learn is the ability to embrace mistakes – getting “it” wrong but continuing on the path. All great works of art or engineering or business come after years of mistakes.

“There is no art which has not had its beginnings in things full of errors. Nothing is at the same time both new and perfect.” – Leon Battista Alberti (15th century artist/architect/poet/priest)

This is something that I want people to experience in our programming and something that is a central aspect of our mission. Awake seeks to be a catalyst for leadership, good relationships, and justice. We don’t have a map for how to achieve this, so we have to take the Peter path of staying engaged and embracing the mistakes that we make along the way.

This past summer we had one of those moments where in the midst of our fumbling, we hit on something divine. In May, we took on the task of creating a summer tutoring program from scratch. We had about six weeks to hire a site coordinator, tutors and aids, develop the curriculum and the training to go with it, find materials and recruit students. We had a budget to work with (a grant from another church), which certainly helped, but all the legwork was ours to do. We were offering the program not out of some grand plan, but because the opportunity came to us and we’re willing to try almost any community centered program to see what happens. We know what we want to have happen with our programs (leadership, good relationships, justice), but we don’t always know that any given project will produce what we want.Entering 6th grader readingThis program was messy and far from perfect, but it did also feel divine. We created leadership opportunities for local teachers and high school students and people interested in teaching. We developed good relationships with our students, their families, and local leaders. We served justice through delivering a high quality program to people who don’t have the financial resources to pay full price for educational opportunities for their children. And the love we poured into the program came back to us tenfold from the families and community members that took part in it.

Like Peter, we will stumble again and make a mess of things, but these glimpses of the divine help us see that we are on the right path. That if we can continue to embrace the messiness of this work, we will sometimes experience God’s Grace in the midst of the mess, because of our mistakes.

Sally + kids read aloud–Lisa Polderman

What is Tango?

What is tango? The word conjures many connotations: sensual, romantic, intricate, captivating, intense. It was the intricacy of the dance that first drew me to it. Seeing Argentine tango on many dance shows I became fascinated by the footwork, the closeness of the dancers, and the way two dancers moved as if they were one person. I had been involved with various dances over the course of my life, and was completely intrigued by this one. I have to admit, I was a bit intimidated at the start; it looked too hard, too close to another person, but once I took my first class, I was bit. I was completely obsessed, dancing every chance I could, 5 or 6 times a week for eight hours a day at times. The more I danced and the more I learned, the more intrigued I became.

What I love about tango is that it brings people from all walks of life and generations together. It allows people to communicate without words, and to express their sorrows and joys through movement. For me, tango is ultimately about love, acceptance, and surrender.

Affectionately known as the PhD of dances, tango can be intimidating at first. This dance challenges you to get out of your comfort zone, demands and develops confidence, and allows you to discover parts of yourself that you didn’t know existed. It forces you to examine what it means to be a leader, a followers, a man or a woman, and a partner. The answers appear to you in snippets of song lyrics, aching feet, the absolute state of nirvana that some dances bring, the patience you learn to have with others and yourself.

In spite of its complex appearance, tango is based on one of the simplest forms of human movement, walking. There are no set patterns or movements, allowing one total self expression and creativity. In order to dance tango well, one learns how to truly listen and connect with their partner, a skill that is easily transferred into everyday life. Dancing tango, one can leave their problems at the door, let their mind focus on beautiful music, and connect with friends new and old.

Lest one think that this dance is all serious, one must know that tango was born on the outskirts of Buenos Aires in working class and immigrant communities. It was a way to relax at the end of the day, blow off steam, and hopefully impress some ladies or guys. Dancing tango lifted people’s spirits and allowed people to dance their cares away. It also built and established relationships in the community between the dancers, each helping the newer ones out, and encouraging new ways of dancing, providing support to one another.

This is still alive and well in tango communities today. What I love about tango is that it brings people from all walks of life and generations together. It allows people to communicate without words, and to express their sorrows and joys through movement. For me, tango is ultimately about love, acceptance, and surrender.

What is tango? The answer will surely bring almost as many different definitions as people you ask. I hope that you will follow me on this exploration of tango.

Michelle Colucci, a longtime Berwyn resident, has enjoyed dancing since she could walk. She teaches tango classes at Awake. You can read more about her under our Education & Administrative Team page.

What is Awake?

Awake! is the caffeine in our system, ready to jolt us to rise and live as a community committed to wellness, good relationships, justice, leadership, and service.

We do this through classes, events, focus groups, and conversations. We believe in a relationship-centered education that helps everyone discover their own power, possibility, and hope.

We are here to be Awake to a rising of courage, wellness, leadership, and hope.

How we began:

Awake! began with a few people gathering around the dream of coffee, specifically a coffee shop in Berwyn. At the time there were no nearby options available, and still there are very few. We imagined that we might build a place where the whole community could come together and rise up.

As we met, we realized that our bigger desire was to create opportunities for people to rise up in wellness, relationship, justice, leadership, and service. It was like we’d gulped a shot of espresso when we realized we didn’t need a coffee shop to make community happen. We could do it right away. Right here. Right now. (The dream of a coffee shop lives on, it’s just on hold for a moment.)

This work began as a gathering of people from Unity Lutheran Church of Berwyn. But, since that time we’ve branched out to include others in our area who are also passionate about this idea.

We imagine:

A community Awake! rising with wellness

This means opportunities to get healthy in ways that honor the whole person. Because we know that we cannot rise if we are not well. We are currently offering fitness classes with Jason Venckus. We also have plans to add a dance class, yoga and other opportunities soon.

A community Awake! rising with good relationshipsIMG_4100

We really take relationship seriously. We want Berwyn to rise up together–the whole community. This means focusing on teaching and learning in ways that connect to each other. It also means engaging in conversations around tough issues, so that we may benefit from the wisdom and courage of one another. All of our opportunities are based in relational teaching. We work hard to avoid teaching as any of us are “experts.” Indeed, our education team meets regularly to help each other grow in relationship, to learn ways of teaching that foster these kinds of relationships.

A community Awake! rising with justice

We believe that justice is found when all people are able to live the life they are called to live. This means breaking down the barriers that discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. This means advocating with people who have disabilities to overcome barriers to a full life. And it means taking seriously the reality of those who struggle just to put food on the table. Right now, our youth leadership team is exploring the possibility of starting a community meal program that would welcome everyone, so that we may experience justice together in relationship.

We are also interested in working with community members and other groups who may want to gather around a justice issue. Awake! will walk with you to imagine how we might work together in relationship to remove the barriers that keep us from our callings.

A community Awake! rising with leadership

pillowcasesWe know that Berwyn is just teaming with leaders, though not everyone is aware of these gifts. Some people merely need to opportunities to cultivate the skills of leadership. We want to raise up leaders who are committed to relationship, justice, and wellness, by helping people discover their own power and possibility.

We do this through offering classes that teach things which will challenge, and push people to do things they’d never thought possible. We do believe our youth can figure out how to make a regular meal happen. And so we’re creating the place for them to do this.

But, also we believe that these skills are learned as we learn other skills like sewing and cooking. It is amazing to hear the shouts of joy as people discover they can sew a dress, or create a meal. These experiences help build the courage to lead.

A community Awake!

Because we believe in this community, we want to respond to you and your hopes. Please go to our contact us page, and let us know what makes you rise up Awake? What inspires you to leadership, wellness, relationship, and justice? What would you want to learn? What would you want to teach? Let us know, and let us be Awake! together.