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Polar Peace March At St. Pauls Reconnects Church To Children's Charity

By Ted Cox | January 12, 2017 5:52am
 An earlier Polar Peace March proceeds down Clark Street.
An earlier Polar Peace March proceeds down Clark Street.
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LINCOLN PARK — St. Pauls United Church of Christ holds its third annual Polar Peace March this weekend to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on his birthday and benefit a children's charity that grew out of the church after the Civil War.

The march has already raised $90,000 in previous years for UCAN, a North Lawndale-based agency serving children who've suffered trauma, and it's set itself the goal of another $30,000 this year, with about $18,000 committed thus far.

UCAN Chief Executive Officer Zack Schrantz said there are two reasons for the march, beginning at St. Pauls, 2335 N. Orchard St., with an event at 4 p.m. Sunday and running a mile and a half through Lincoln Park over an hour: It's a fundraiser, sure, but it also emphasizes the connection and commitment between communities and in particular between the church and the charity it started after the Civil War.

"We have been living out that commitment for the last 148 years," Schrantz said.

UCAN, previously known as the Uhlich Children's Advantage Network, began as an asylum for children orphaned in the Civil War, formed by the women of St. Pauls as the German Widows and Orphans Society.

Over the years it expanded its reach to all children who'd suffered trauma. The nonprofit went out on its own, independent of the church, eventually settling on the Northwest Side, then in North Lawndale, where it moved to a new campus at 3605 W. Fillmore St., with a therapeutic youth home that opened just over a year ago, followed by offices and new headquarters last July.

According to Schrantz, UCAN has 65 kids living at the home, but the agency also serves 11,800 kids a year "in a variety of different programs throughout the Chicago area." The agency has more than 500 employees, more than half working at the North Lawndale compound.

The Polar Peace March began two years ago as what Schrantz called "a small but really important message that there are people who really do care." Schrantz said, "It's good for our young people, it's good for us at UCAN to know we're not in this alone."

Schrantz said it's not lost on anyone that "it is people from St. Pauls Church who helped found us 148 years ago [and] who are working to make this commitment" now.

Founded in 1957, the United Church of Christ has maintained a consistent commitment to social justice, but the Polar Peace March also connects St. Pauls to its roots as a socially active institution.

It was founded in 1843 as a German congregation with a German name and services conducted in German. The congregation lost a church at LaSalle and Ohio streets in the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, eventually settling in its current Lincoln Park location in 1898.

During War World I, it came under suspicion for continuing to conduct services in German. Although federal agencies formally granted it permission to continue, with no evidence of any sort of collaboration with the Germans in the Great War, it did change its name to the English translation, but with one ornery twist that persists to this day: Because there are no apostrophes in the German language, there is none in St. Pauls.

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