Jim Williams: Even as young children Zeni Gonzalez and her older brother Moises had no sibling rivalry. They were best friends.
Zeni Gonzalez: My brother was selfless, he was patient, he was kind. He was the ideal older brother.
Jim Williams: And he was her partner in surviving the often violent Little Village neighborhood in Chicago.
Zeni Gonzalez: We knew that we always had to stay in a pair. My grandma always told us, “If you go out he has to go out with you because you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Jim Williams: Gangs fighting over drug turf, frequent drive-by shootings, terrifying Zeni as she simply tried to walk to school.
Zeni Gonzalez: I feared that, at any point, something could happen to me. Just scared of one day of not seeing the next day.
Fr. Scott D.: Because of the fear of even walking outside, because of the fear of gangs, she was traumatized.
Jim Williams: Zeni’s mother was loving and devoted to her children. She worked three jobs, but with rent and utilities it was a struggle to put food on the table.
Zeni Gonzalez: There was times when we didn’t have food in the fridge. We didn’t have anything in the pantry.
Jim Williams: The working poor we call these families. Despite their hard work many are trapped in poverty and dangerous neighborhoods. Zeni needed to be safe. A friend named Alan told her he was living at the Mercy Home for Boys and Girls.
Zeni Gonzalez: The Alan that I knew in high school was nothing compared to the Alan that I knew that was living here at Mercy. He said, “Mercy Home changed my life.”
Jim Williams: That’s how Zeni found what we call a port in the storm. With her mother’s blessing she moved in as she attended North Eastern University.
Zeni Gonzalez: Mercy Home provided me the fundamentals that I didn’t learn at home. How to take care of myself mentally, how to take care of myself as a woman and how to be financially steady for myself. And that’s something that I never learned.
Jim Williams: Meantime her brother Moises was living a productive and generous life. He volunteered to rebuild houses in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, then became a manager at an oil change shop. One night in November 2016 he was talking with two friends on the street.
Zeni Gonzalez: When a man in a black hoodie approached them and shot at them.
Jim Williams: Moises Gonzalez who had steered clear of the gangs, worked hard, loved his family, was dead at 25.
Zeni Gonzalez: All I can do was grab my mom, because at that moment she just fell, and she was hitting the chair, and she was hitting the wall. And all I can think of was, what am I going to do without my brother? What are we going to do without my brother? That was the only thing that kept running through my head was, what is my life without my brother? What is my mom’s life without my brother?
Jim Williams: She was embraced and consoled by The Mercy Home for Boys and Girls.
Fr. Scott D.: To help her through the grieving period, to plan for the funeral, and to continue to wrap their arms around this woman who experienced tremendous loss.
Zeni Gonzalez: I felt like I need a comfort. I needed to be in a place where I knew that I could cry and I knew I could let go and I knew it was Mercy.
Jim Williams: Today Zeni is a college graduate working on her Master’s degree in social work. She wants to go back to Little Village to help young people living in fear, honoring the memory of her big brother.
Zeni Gonzalez: I want to pay it forward and I want to help as many youths, as many kids that I can, just how Mercy Home helped me. And I will always thank Mercy Home for that.
Jim Williams: And we thank you, our generous benefactors, giving young people like Zeni Gonzalez a fighting chance.
Fr. Scott D.: You are the angels. The messengers of God’s mercy to the young people entrusted to our care and for that, I am deeply grateful.