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Changing Chicago Communities

May 17, 2019
By Deb Daley

One voice or person taking action can make a difference.  Just spend a few minutes talking to Caitlin Botsios ’08 and her energy and commitment to that premise comes through loud and clear.  The educator, entrepreneur, and civic engager has put that commitment into action as Co-founder and Chief Innovation Officer for Helix Chicago. Located in Chicago, Helix’s mission is to reduce youth unemployment by opening businesses that provide jobs and skill development for 16-24-year olds.  

Although her parents suggested other high schools, Caitlin was always fascinated by the all-girls high school across the street from her grade school, Holy Cross.  The outgoing student wanted to be involved in theatre and wanted to leverage the many leadership opportunities available at a modestly sized all-girls high school.  And involved she was.

At Mercy, she was a member of Student Council for three years including being Vice President her senior year, President of the Thespian Chapter, Co-Director of the Mercy Day play, a Student Ambassador, on the Speech Team, in the Mercy High Singers, Operation Others Core Team, and the Justice and Peace Club. 

“I think I was in every play all four years except for one, and I even tried my hand at sports one year.  However, perhaps my impact was being a co-founder of Mission Week,” she added.

Mission Week is a week-long schedule of activities held at Mercy to support the international educational goal set by the network of Mercy schools on an annual basis.

Caitlin appreciated the educational values taught at Mercy including the focus on social consciousness and forward thinking.

“I learned that through service and education a single person can make a difference,” she said. 

She was determined to leave Nebraska after graduation and attend a college that matched her values.  She decided on Loyola University of Chicago because of its Jesuit values.  Caitlin earned a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Communication Studies at Loyola and went on to obtain a Master’s in Teaching from Dominican University.  She taught middle school for several years.  Her love of teaching came naturally.  Her mother is a teacher at All Saints Elementary School. 

In 2015, she joined WE (previously Free The Children), an international non-profit focused domestically on service-learning and civic engagement and internationally on holistic, sustainable development.  After WE, she served on the national alumni team for Teach For America.

“My experiences in education and working in the nonprofit sector made me keenly aware of the systemic inequities and disparity of services based on zip codes.  I believed change could occur if we partnered with communities and applied education and business acumen to the root causes of inequity like unemployment and disproportionate services in neighborhoods.  That is how Helix was formed,” she said. 

According to Caitlin, Helix collaborates across sectors and partners with community members to determine what neighborhood needs are not being addressed. They then open businesses that address those needs and employ primarily 16-24 year-olds within the business.  The first endeavor of the group was opening Helix Café in May 2019 in the Edgewater community in Chicago.  The full -service café employs 10 workers who receive on-the-job training and paid weekly personal and professional development.  The organization is also developing a youth entrepreneurship summer camp and is working with local chambers, businesses, and colleges to create a pipeline to the next opportunity for employees. 

“Mercy certainly highlighted for me how service and social enterprises can have measurable impact on people.  It showed me the importance of community and how working together through a network can help you to build and organize,” she added.

Caitlin still keeps in touch with many of her classmates and lives a few blocks away from a Mercy classmate.  

“At Mercy there is this wonderful community that is with you the rest of your life. Classmates are a diverse but like-minded group from all walks of life,” she said.
Her classmates would be proud. Caitlin’s voice and action has made a difference.  Just ask those benefiting from Helix.