In the 1990’s, First Free member Arloa Sutter noticed that many in our neighborhood were experiencing homelessness. Being obedient and responding to a need, she started serving hot coffee and a lunch from a storefront in the old three-flat at 5249 North Ashland (since demolished and now occupied by a part of the Family Life Center, which was completed in 2007).

As the ministry grew, in 1995 she continued to work with others from First Free and opened the gymnasium doors in the evening for people to get some sleep – who then left the next morning – while still offering hot coffee and a lunch. This ministry eventually became Breakthrough Urban Ministries.

As Andersonville went through gentrification in the early 2000’s, the dynamic force and ally to the Black Community that is Arloa felt called to minister in a more inner-city setting, and she relocated Breakthrough to the East Garfield Park neighborhood at 402 North Louis Avenue, near the Garfield Park Conservatory.

Breakthrough has since flourished. With more than ten separate programs from permanent supportive housing to violence prevention to a sport and fitness academy (all offered in thousands of square feet of building space) it has become embedded in the community and recognized throughout the city for the important work that it’s doing to share the Gospel and meet people’s needs, wherever they’re at in their life-journey.

Many from First Free continue to be involved with Breakthrough, whether through volunteering and / or financial support. You too can volunteer at and / or donate to this ministry doing Kingdom-work on the West Side:

  • As a group: Organize a group from First Free to serve a meal as part of their Manna Ministry. Or, assist a team of gardeners to grow and harvest produce for the Breakthrough kitchens. Or, help Breakthrough earn food credits by sorting food at the greater Chicago Food Depository. It is our hope and prayer that outreach groups from First Free would be characterized by meeting on-site (or near-site) for a brief devotion and prayer, and then volunteering in whatever capacity is most needed – being mindful that opportunities for offering to pray for each other (and others!) exist, especially as relationships are built.
  • As an individual: You can also volunteer individually by being a meal group leader, a basketball coach for elementary-age kids at practices and games held in their fitness center, an art & science teacher in their 8-week “Graphics 101” class (culinary arts, robotics & coding, ceramics, digital art and photography!), after-school mentoring, and many other opportunities!

Check out the Breakthrough website at: https// to see the myriad of ways that you can get involved with this inspiring ministry. Otherwise, contact us by clicking on the button below if you’d like to organize a missional outreach group event at Breakthrough, and we’ll help get things rolling!