Annual Report 2019

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Communities are stronger when every voice is heard.



We Believe

Hurt people hurt people. Trauma and violence spreads through networks. Witnesses are likely to become victims are likely to become perpetrators. ConTextos aims to intervene at each point in this network of trauma by using the power of story and critical thinking to build empathy and understanding. We aim to improve social emotional well-being, promote reflection and critical thinking, decrease violence, and help individuals and communities heal. We foster spaces to practice empathy, build intellectual prowess, and author new life narratives.

Until the lion learns to write his own story, tales of the hunt will always glorify the Hunter.

Dear Friends, Over these past nine years, ConTextos has learned that when classrooms and communities dive into deep conversations around shared texts, when young people begin thinking about and asking different kinds of questions--open ended questions that connect to the real world and real experiences-- they have the instinct and desire to also share their own stories.

Our Year

We work in places where violence and poverty are far too ubiquitous. Even the youngest people--especially the young--have stories far bigger than we might expect. Stories that are more stunning, more devastating, more inspiring; that complicate prevailing narratives about violence and challenge our assumptions about “the other”. At ConTextos, we elevate those who are most ignored and foster stories from the margins because we know that communities are stronger when every voice is heard.

Debra Gittler

Founder Executive Director

As we look forward to next year’s 10th anniversary, our assessments show consistent and sustained growth amongst participants. Where ConTextos intervenes, young people show increased commitment to on-going learning, so they’re not just more likely to get and hold a job, but to find and succeed in career. They demonstrate increased empathy and positive projections; they go from hopeless to believing that their community has high expectations for them, and they in turn begin to have high expectations for others in their community. These essential signs of social-emotional wellness are critical for healthy individuals and healthier communities. This work is done through the fierce commitment of ConTextos’ staff, who find hope and opportunity in places and people many others want to avoid. Their tenacity, professionalism and vision keep our programs evolving and our partnerships strong. Similarly, our incredible board of directors believes in this work and those we serve, and never hesitates to push us forward. We’re thrilled to welcome Katie Hill, Charles DuBose and Suzanne Malec-McKenna as our newest members. And to all of you, our donors and partners: Thank you for your support over the years. And for continuing to walk with us as ConTextos’ story unfolds...

Zoila Recinos

Co-Founder and Programs Director -El Salvador

Gloria Raskosky Country Director -El Salvador

“Hard work, tenacity, commitment and passion have marked our first nine years of life at ConTextos. The result of our efforts is reflected in these pages. Both Chicago and El Salvador share similar stories that motivate us to develop programs and initiatives that help solve the most difficult, pressing and urgent issues. Our team at ConTextos continues to work with great care and passion to serve in communities that are most vulnerable and ignored. The heart of ConTextos is in the children, youth, teachers, authors and leaders who show us the true meaning of resilience, and at the same time strengthen our commitment to keep working for those we serve. Our work is focused on transforming our very delicate and complex social fabric through quality education, violence prevention and social reinsertion. We thank you for your continued trust and support.

Welcome to ConTextos’s 2019 Annual Report. We will share with you the results of our ninth and most successful year, the challenges we face and our innovative initiatives that are growing in El Salvador and now expanding in and beyond Central America and in Chicago, Illinois USA. ConTextos is strong and sustainable, even in the face of the unimaginable violence that every day in El Salvador and in Chicago affects our staff, our schools, our teachers and, tragically, our Authors and students and their families. To succeed in these environments, we have developed the necessary skills, tools, techniques and an institutional culture that embraces compassion, tenacity, diplomacy and commitment. When asked if our work makes a difference, my invariable answer is, “Ask me in 20 years. The work is generational, not transactional – that’s why we invest our time and resources in working with and mentoring young people. They will continue the work long after we cannot.” To our dedicated, committed and inspiring Staff, to my fellow Board members who are so generous in with their time, wisdom and treasure, and, finally, to you, our stakeholders – thank you for your interest in our work and your commitment to our mission.

Anthony H. Barash Chair, Board of Directors

ConTextos team members in El Salvador face many daily and sometimes overwhelming challenges, such as visiting areas and run-down schools forgotten by our public officials, poor access roads, security and safety, working with stigmatized and forgotten populations, obsolete teaching methodologies and natural resistance to change. So why keep doing it, day in and day out? Because they are true believers in our Mission! Because they believe in the students, the teachers and in improving their learning experiences. They appreciate the communal involvement our libraries create. They love to see the pride in the eyes of an author when a first book is completed, the satisfaction of setting the bases for second chances and for helping to heal. They feel fortunate for the chance they have to help create better citizens, and because they truly believe that El Salvador can be better a better place if our more vulnerable citizens receive Javier Alfaro the tools and opportunities they will need to succeed. Vice President, Your kind donations have allowed us the privilege to serve and make a difference, Board of Directors so on behalf of all the ConTextos El Salvador team, a heartfelt thank you!

Highlights from our year Chicago

We celebrated our fourth cohort of Authors in Cook County Jail for publishing their memoirs. Also, we launched the Cook County Jail Alumni speaker series with poet and activist Saleem Hue Penny.


First dialogue with justice system officials using “Soy Autor” stories to promote self-care and reflection through writing.

El Salvador

Joining Forces: a dinner and dialogue event where Authors shared their stories and facilitated conversations with officials working on the consent decree.


Grand opening of new ConTextos office in Morazán

Johnny (Chicago) and Jennifer (El Salvador) presented in Los Angeles at the Gang Conference.


Grand opening of three brand new resource centers filled with books, activities, and other tools to engage children, youth and adults in San Fernando, Jocoaitique and Torola (Morazán).

Three of our community circles, IMAN, Ralph Ellison and Amplify, published compilations. We hosted three Publication Events in two weeks! Also, Authors in Cook County Jail sent a copy of the book Dear Black Boy to their children for Father’s Day.


Second dialogue with justice system officials using “Soy Autor” stories as a vehicle to reflect on the prejudices towards youth.

Four Alumni Authors began their internship at Grassroots Cannabis, a corporate partner.


Third dialogue with justice system officials using “Soy Autor” stories to promote healing-, conversation- and writing- based programming as incarcerated youth reintegrate into community.

Launch of our podcast series Complicating the Narrative.


ConTextos won the Library of Congress’ International Award. We presented our literacy accompaniment program for teachers to the Ministry of Education.

The fifth Cohort of Authors and our first Alumni Circle both published memoirs.

September Facilitated dialogue between MINED and ISNA about education as a key component for youth integration into community after incarceration.

We hosted our Second Annual Party with a Purpose.


We shared stories with the public that were published by returning migrant children in downtown San Salvador.

Johnny (Chicago) and Jennifer (El Salvador) present at the International Incarceration Nation Conference at John Jay College in New York City.


300 teachers attended ConTextos’ VI Teachers Congress, “The Exception to the Rule,” with 7 simultaneous workshops on expression using body language, writing, and art.

Community partner YPC Roseland presented six word memoir posters and a documentary of the writing process.

December Supported by the National Institute of Teacher Training in El Salvador, ConTextos led an academic study on how Salvadoran teachers learn.

In 2019, we grew our school-based work and opened our second office in El Salvador to reach the most remote communities in the eastern part of the country. Our powerful, trauma-informed programs continued to expand to bring healing and rehabilitation to populations directly affected by criminalization and the justice system. We grew throughout prisons and detention, and began working with diverse populations in the midst of reentry, including gang-affiliated youth, ex-incarcerated, and returning deportees.

El Salvador

This year our proprietary curricula and methodologies were recognized by two international entities as Best Practice interventions to create transformative change. ConTextos won the 2019 International Prize from the United States Library of Congress and was awarded for innovative practices in Education and Human Rights by the Organization of Iberoamerican States.

One School,1000 Stories

In 2019, ConTextos launched a new model: One School, 1,000 Stories. Building on Soy Lector, this initiative expands ConTextos’s child-centered learning model to address reading, writing and critical thinking as cross-curricular skills. Beyond the individual school, networks of schools collaborate and learn together, centered on shared municipal libraries for resources, student activities and family engagement. In remote, rural El Salvador, the legacy of war, the realities of deportation, and on-going community violence are palpable. Teachers attest that their schools have long been ignored, but One School, 1,000 Stories is the first project they’ve been able to trust for consistent support for community engagement. Just one example of this is how police help transport books and resources from the municipal library between schools (and engage in classroom learning, too)! Teacher practice and student results improve drastically as they recognize their voices, strengths, and dreams.

Schools and Libraries

Libraries: 2019 - 9 Schools: 2011 - 4 2015 - 54 2019 - 112

We exceeded capacity with over 300 teachers from around the country at our Annual Teachers Conference:

The Exception to the Rule Teachers were pushed to think beyond the prevailing negative narratives about youth and opportunity in El Salvador. In workshops, they reflected on their own paths and crafted written and oral vignettes, transforming stories of challenge and obstacle into resilience and perseverance. Teachers respond: How am I exceptional?

Improving the Quality of Education Soy Lector

, our foundational program, is thriving, and now boasts a robust network of over 1,200 teachers. Through on-going professional development and high-quality resources, teachers dive deep into new practices using literacy to develop critical thinking, and inspire learning that transcends school walls.

The challenges I’ve faced don’t weigh me down anymore, they show me how much I can still learn and grow with my students.

My experiences and what I bring to the world are unique, and they help me connect better with others in their struggles.

Because I am an active part of this network of exceptional professionals who are all giving their very best for their students.

El Salvador

Repairing the Social Fabric


e ev r P

io nt

Quality Education





ConTextos has established a unique niche at the intersection of education and criminal justice reform. Our work unites prevention, rehabilitation and reentry, helping create inclusion and healing where there has been historic trauma, exclusion and violence. We partner with diverse institutions at the municipal and national levels, with community-based organizations and family units, as well as more privileged communities and the private sector. Individuals are not isolated and must develop the social emotional well-being to navigate constantly evolving environments. Our participants are at different moments along complex journeys within traumatized communities; our work meets them wherever they are, lifting and strengthening individual voices to promote collective healing.

Soy Autor isn’t just a writing program, but a catalyst to promote healing amongst

authors, to build bridges across communities, and to change the mindsets within institutions that are steeped in exclusionary, harmful practices. Our network of 910 Authors demonstrates consistent improvements in prosocial behaviors, commitment to learning, and social-emotional skills. Amongst detained youth, Soy Autor leads to consistent and sustained improvements in social emotional and prosocial behaviors, while those without regular programming actually decrease in those skills. The writing process helps Authors move from hurt to healing.

Apopa, an asset-based approach Building positive community

identity independent of the negative stereotypes imposed from the outside; work with individuals, families and communities--and integrating law-enforcement in the process

Legal and incarceration systems Shifting institutional focus toward successful reentry, not just punishment.

Child deportee reception centers (CANAF) Working with young people forcibly returned to El Salvador (some while seeking asylum in the USA).

Public schools Soy Autor memoirs are now recognized in El Salvador’s national curriculum to train teachers and promote social-emotional learning in the classroom.

Many people would have wanted to tell the story of what they’ve lived through, but they haven’t been given that opportunity. I am doing it now so that you all think hard about it and so that my story can be useful to you.

Stories that build inclusion

- Cristian, Author

Deportee Reception Center

2019 New Libraries Schools








Juvenile Detention Centers


Youth Support Staff Trained




Judges & Justice Staff Trained


To Date Schools & Municipal Libraries








Carolina Rovira, PhD, Author of Writing to Heal

Amplifying our voice and our reach

I can conclude and affirm that Soy Autor equips youth with social emotional language to understand and express their own and others’ feelings. This promotes healthy relationships, fosters the development of respect for others, and gives youth the tools to build positive self-identity…. This work is extremely necessary among young people who have experienced much more pain than they should at their age. In this sense, violence prevention policy for youth in conflict with the law is fundamental to achieve true social transformation. These young people must join society and they must be truly prepared to do.

In 2019, ConTextos expanded our partnerships and our Author network nearly doubled in size. We officially launched our alumni programming and launched the Complicating the Narrative Podcast, elevating Authors and their stories to confront assumptions and go beyond the rumors about violence and peacebuilding in Chicago.


Addressing the root causes of violence

Authors Circle, our foundational program, continues to grow in reach and depth. In 2019, we expanded our assessment strategies, completing focus groups in Jail and community, to better understand the power of Authors Circle to interrupt cycles of violence. In her new book Until We Reckon, Chicago-native Danielle Sered identifies 4 root causes of urban violence. Criminalization and incarceration exacerbate each of these dynamics, fueling cycles of structural and interpersonal violence; almost all of our Authors have been criminalized, simply because of the communities they live in.

By contrast, Authors Circle acknowledges & addresses these four root causes, in an effort to interrupt cycles of violence.


Isolation Shame

Root Causes of Violence and how ConTextos interrupts those cycles Social connection, relationships Pride in setting and accomplishing goals

Lack Of Economic Means Past Experience Of Violence

Practical skills for the future Space to process past trauma

Building a community of Alumni Authors

In 2019, as we integrated 167 new Authors into Circles, we launched programming for the 201 Alumni Authors we’ve met around Chicago, in incarceration, communities and schools:

Monthly Salon at Cook County Jail is a speaker series featuring

writers,artists and activists. Salon speakers include: Comedian Felonious Monk, Author Alex Kotlowitz and Producer Judith McCray, amongst others.

Monthly Supper Club for Authors in community include

Authors who we met behind walls that are now back at home. At these monthly dinners and outings, Authors from across cohorts and contexts enjoy an array of experiences, including diverse speakers, attending a Bulls game, visiting a Chicago Bears practice, and seeing Westside Story at the Lyric Opera House.

Family engagement strengthens Authors’ relationships with their children. Authors received Father-Engagement passes to visit the

Chicago Children’s Museum with their kids. They also gifted Dear Black Boy, by Martellus Bennet, to a child of their choice, writing a letter to share the vision of high expectations for the next generation.

Quarterly IDOC newsletters to Authors in prison to keep them updated

on community happenings and keep authors engaged as writers. This resulted in our first Alumni compilation featuring writings from Authors who are still in the jail, now in prison or back home.

When asked about ConTextos’ impact, Authors responded: “ Authors Circle gave me something to smile about...made me think I had a chance at life... I was dead to the world; ConTextos brought me back.”

To see [my story] having an effect on people... I ain’t used to that.”

Publishing made me feel like I left my mark my legacy in a tangible form for my kids and family to read.”

Writing my story gave me a chance to show every face, not just one.”

Writing freed up negative energy inside of me that was pent up.”

Complicating the Narrative

Over the summer, six Alumni Authors collaborated with Juneteenth Productions to produce the first season of our podcast. Each author -- young men and women from community-based organizations, workforce development and recent high school graduates--produced an episode delving deeper into themes from their memoirs, such as: mental health stigmas, coming home from prison, and being vulnerable. Complicating the Narrative was conceived with the intention of bringing voices that are often overlooked or suppressed to the foreground. Through this podcast, we seek to add context beyond the misconceptions commonly associated with people living in communities impacted by violence.


The second season, produced by and featuring Authors and staff from throughout Chicago and El Salvador, is available now. Check it out on your favorite podcast streaming service!

Heal, fortify, and transform: Our impact Results from the Search Institute Developmental Asset Profile show notable increases in scores for “commitment to learning” and “social competencies”, reflecting that Authors are not only developing relationship building and social emotional skills, but are further on the path to becoming engaged thinkers and lifelong learners.

Post results:

Pre results: Commitment to learning


Commitment to learning


Social competencies


Social competencies


2019 Numbers

We started in 2017 with one Authors Circle in Cook County Jail. Since then, we’ve expanded to work with community organizations and schools, and explore creative new ways to amplify our Authors’ voices.

Authors to date



Publishing Events Authors

Cook County DOC




Community Partners








Special Projects








Financials El Salvador Total Revenue

Other income $18,236

Admin Expenses

Fee for Service ?% $5,935 1%


$536,968 60%


Donations $336,756 38%



Total Expenditures


Net Revenue


$100,630 18%

Program Expenses $449,648 82%

Admin Expenses

Fee for Service $343,822 47%

Chicago Total Revenue


Total Expenditures


Net Revenue

- $15,896

$120,938 16%


$291,450 40%


Expenditures Program Expenses $625,542 84%

Donations $88,228 13%


We appreciate everyone who has supported us this year and in the past. A donation of $2 from Apopa, a multiyear grant, a gift from a foundation, an annual private donation, and broad institutional support all represent the same thing: a conviction in the transformative power of story to create individual healing and thriving communities. Thank you for helping us lift up the voice and insights of people affected by trauma, challenge assumptions, and provoke change!

Donors and Contributors Vincent Addison Alcaldia Municipal de San Martin Victor Alfaro, Almacen Vidri Alvin H. Baum Family Foundation Ana Gabriela Quiros Mathies Steven Araujo Asociación Estrella de Mar. Guatemala Asociación H.P.H. El Salvador Banco Davivienda Salvadoreños Timothy Bannon Anthony Barash Rebecca Barriere Andrea Benn Edwin Benn BID Bue Dawn Foundation Carol Anne Burin Cinco Consultores Internacionales Cadejo Brewing Company Lauren Cates Ricardo Augusto Cevallos

Adam Chalom Chi-Ron Foundation Chicago Community Foundation Chicago CRED CICS Ralph Ellison High School Cinemark El Salvador Bailey Cloudman Kate Cohn Consultores Internacionales Edward Cooper Karla Cortez Creative Associates International INC Jennifer Devens Dining for Women Joanna Dooley Charles DuBose Gloria M Dusenberry Omar Egan Rahm & Amy Emanuel Embotelladora la Cascada Joaquin Ernesto Agular Hannah Feinstein Joseph Ferguson

Andrew J Fernandez Fondo de las Naciones Unidas para la Infancia Jean-Pierre Forest Paul Francis Deborah Franczek Fundación América Solidaria Fundacion Calleja Fundacion Poma Pestalozzi Children’s Foundation Gabriela Quiros Mathies, Ana Carold Gittler Mandy Gittler Debra Gittler Marvin & Carol Gittler Kino Glaz Global Giving Foundation Charles L GreenBlatt Jill Gross Jarrett Gross Gusto Sergio Gutierrez Patricia Guzman Dinah Hahn

Anne Hand Patricia Heestand Kristen Hines Hispanics in Philanthropy Marvin Hoffman Peyton Hurst Illinois Humanities USA Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Izote Foundation Suzette Jaskowiak Jason Holmes Family Joan & James Shapiro Nancy Jones Ianna Kachoris Jacki Kazarian Molly Klein Catalano Kovler Family Foundation Nelson Lara Ruth Leib Ana Leon Vaquerano USA Library of Congress Ling, Angel Logan Foundation Catherine Luchins Suzanne Malec-McKenna James E Mann Daniel Marks Darlene Z McCampbell Alejandra Mejia Lynn Montei Jeff Moster MTA Vending Machines National Philanthropic Trust Network for Good New Life Centers of Chicagoland Open Society Foundations Donna Palley Adan Humberto Pérez Alexandra Peurach

PricewaterhouseCoopers Productos Plasticos Diversos Enrique Quintanilla Gabriela Quiros Marie Randazzo Gloria Raskosky Zoila Recinos Rosemary Robinson Beatriz Roldan Ross Family Foundation Anne Ruelle Ruelle, Linda Kyla Saphir Susan Schaefer Donna Schatt Schools for the Future Schwab Charitable Leo Smith Chanel Smith Sherri Spear Glen Spear Cynthia Spear Strachan Foundation Linda Swift Jennifer Tengelsen Tengelsen Family Foundation The Academy Group The Dewan Foundation The Frumm Family Charitable Fund The Whitehead Foundation Uhlig, Christine UNICEF Myriam E Urias Eleanor Weber Denis Weil Susie Wexler Yamaka, Sara Anna Young Laura Zastrow Zemurray Foundation

Board of Directors

Staff 2019

Anthony Barash

Chairman of the Board

Debra Gittler

Steven Araujo

Gloria Raskosky

Carolina Bodewig

Founder & Executive Director Directora de País, El Salvador

Javier Alfaro Vice President

Zoila Recinos

Oscar M. Orozco, Sr.

Co-Fundadora y Directora de ProgramasEducativos

Ricardo Cevallos

Johnny Page Lisa Kenner

Anne Hand


Secretary Director

Charles DuBose Director

Co-directors of Programs & Partnerships

Elena Alvarado Iris Martínez Yanci Melgar Pasantes

Darlene McCambell

Jackeline Ascencio Director René Miranda

Francesca Jessup Director

Gabriela Poma


Graciela Fontg

Grace Cooper

Project Coordinator

Jennifer Coreas

Coordinadora Soy Autor

Karla Cortez

Coordinadora de Comunicaciones

Paola Lorenzana

Asociada de Programas

William Melgar

Daisy Díaz Miriam Luna Melvin Moreno Esmeralda Zarceño


Director de Administración y Finanzas

José Blas Angie Chiguasuque Patricia Sanz Isabel Ugalde

Katie Hill

Eduardo Carranza

Teresa Mejía

Técnico Bibliotecarios

América Solidaria Fellows

Jill Gross

Coordinadora de Monitoreo, Evaluacióny Sistematización

Joaquín Vega

Director Director

Coordinador Creativo y de Arte

Formadores Docentes

Dimitri Hepburn Dr. Sharon Moore Authors Circle Facilitators Ana Elsy Alegría Recursos Humanos


Asistente de Logística y Seguridad

Daniela Raffo

Formadora de Bibliotecarios

Carlos Recinos

Coordinador Soy Lector

Flor Romero

Coordinadora de Administración y Finanzas

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