Where: Hyde Park
Closing: Spring 2019
Carissa and Darcy Johnson understand the power of caring for communities. By the time they settled in Hyde Park in May of 2019, they had experienced more of the city of Chicago than even its longest-serving residents; and Lauren Mitrick Wood was along for the ride the whole time. “Lauren found us literally every spot we’ve lived in,” Carissa says. “Any time we needed anything to do with apartments or housing—be it a handyman or anything—Lauren has been there. She gave us a sheet with a list of everything we needed and said, ‘Welcome to Chicago.’” That was 2014, when the Johnsons moved north from Florida. Since then, the growing family of five has lived in Ukranian Village, South Loop, and Chinatown; to name a few. As their family of continues to get older, Carissa and Darcy explain that they wanted to find a home that allowed the kids to have their own space and spread out, even if a traditional single-family home wasn’t available. Enter their new house in Hyde Park: a 3-bedroom, 3-bathroom condo with a bright sun room. “The sun room was really perfect for us,” Carissa explains. “Add a door and a closet, and now we have the perfect bedroom for our son.”
An exceedingly active and independent family (Darcy was a tight end for the New York Giants and even saw a Super Bowl victory!), with the kids playing everything from tennis to soccer, the Johnsons find strength in the more basic, intimate family moments. It’s why they say the dining room table is perhaps the most vital piece of furniture in the house. Carissa explains that the opportunity to sit down at the end of each day and reconnect with one another keeps them going and maintains their strong bonds. After five years, the diversity of Chicago’s landscape gave the family a lot to think about, and they chose Hyde Park for its unique charm and family-friendly environment. Carissa notes the neighborhood is, “very walkable. We have neighbors who we can knock on their door and we know each other by first name. There’s trees and other people and a real sense of community.” A strong sense of community is what led to the creation of the Darcy J Foundation back in 2008, offering educational, physical, and emotional support for families of single parents in Palatka, Florida. It has since expanded to Central and South Florida communities, serving more than 5,000 families. On top of giving out donations like baby products and clothes, the Foundation organizes run-walk clubs to encourage better health, as well as a support group featuring Zoom calls to let moms check in on each other and offer advice. Even after the move to Chicago, Darcy and Carissa remain committed to keeping the Foundation alive, and expanding it when they can. They say they left the Sunshine State simply for a change of pace. “We love to venture out and start something,” Carissa explains. They did venture out—a thousand miles out—and Darcy and Carissa opened CHAMPS Fitness & Nutrition, a premier training studio serving Chicago and many of its suburbs. Once the studio took off, they decided to make it a family affair, with Carissa leaving her corporate job to run the entire company. When asked how it feels to have your spouse as a business partner, the answer was unexpected. “We work better together than separately, actually!” Carissa says. “Our stress level goes down when we work together. When we come together we can move mountains.” Can you say #RelationshipGoals?
Moving mountains is exactly what one may expect from the Johnsons, with their passion for fitness and community wellness noticeable at every turn. Even before the COVID-19 lockdown, CHAMPS was offering 1-on-1 online training, making sure their services remained as accessible as possible to the whole of Chicagoland. And their studio isn’t just about physical fitness, it offers clients personalized meal plans, nutritional guides, and even a private online group that facilitates an encouraging atmosphere between clients and trainers. It’s a similar model to what makes the Darcy J Foundation so communal, giving people from all walks of life a chance to interact with one another and keep each other going through thick and thin.
Darcy and Carissa are a powerhouse team if we’ve ever seen one. Their love is their supreme strength, and they extend that love and compassion through every community at every opportunity. Even at CHAMPS Fitness & Nutrition, members are given the opportunity to support the Darcy J Foundation in Florida, because the Johnsons know that making a difference even to those you may never meet is central to building a more beautiful world for everyone.
Photography by Alina Tsvor
Text by Eric Grant