CHICAGO — When Pearl Willis opened her daycare along 113th Street and Wentworth Avenue, she knew exactly what her neighborhood needed: some good news.
Now 30 years later, what once was a block known for high-traffic drug houses sits renewed, its old reputation drowned out by the sweet voices of young children as they play at the Roseland Community “Good News Daycare.”
“I’ve raised a lot of these kids and they’re adults now and I love my community. I love my community and I think they love me,” said Willis, who is known by many as Ms. Pearl. “It’s an honor for me to be part of their journey.”
It started in 1991, when Ms. Pearl agreed to help her daughter’s high school friend by watching her baby so she could finish her term at Fenger High School.
“She told another one, and another one, and before I knew it my small apartment with my three kids had a bunch of babies in there from high school moms trying to get their high school diploma,” Ms. Pearl said.
That was when she decided she would be the hidden pearl for any mom who knocked on her door by providing free childcare for high school moms, college moms or any young woman in need.
“If I hadn’t connected with her… I know for sure I wouldn’t have pursued my dreams,” said Antoinette Anderson, Good News Daycare.
Ms. Pearl says she did it to give the young mothers a chance she never got herself. Once a teenage mom, she dropped out at 16 and ended up not going back to get her diploma until she was 32.
Now for every one of the 83 kids spread across her three daycare centers, there’s a mom working toward a degree.
“I dropped out of college when I was in my early 20s and I wanted to go back to get my bachelor’s degree, and she encouraged me and said, ‘Rashya, you can do it,’” said Rashya Irwin, who has two children in Good News Daycare.
The center is funded solely by donations and Chicago’s Childcare Initiative program.
The success of her work is measured not by accolades, but the faces of hundreds of lives changed by coming though her front door.
In helping dozens of women graduate from high school and college, she not only helped them but also changed the trajectory of their childrens’ lives.
“It’s giving them that head start; that big head start,” Ms. Pearl said.