Hephzibah Children’s Association Names Merry Beth Sheets as New Executive Director

The Board of Directors of Hephzibah Children’s Association has named Merry Beth Sheets as the agency’s new executive director effective July 1, 2017. She succeeds Mary Anne Brown, who announced her retirement effective June 30, 2017.

“Merry Beth Sheets’ experience, compassion and savvy will ensure Hephzibah continues to thrive,” said Tom Yates, president of Hephzibah’s Board of Directors. “Ms. Sheets is a leader who has dedicated her career to helping children and others in need. Under her leadership, Hephzibah will continue to provide the very best care for children and families for many years to come.”

Hephzibah names Merry Beth Sheets as new Executive Director

Sheets was most recently the executive director of Chicago Services for Rosecrance, Inc., a large provider of substance abuse and behavioral health services in Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa. In this position, she led the start-up of a 30-bed, recovery home and outpatient treatment center located in Lakeview. Previously, she served as vice president of clinical services and quality assurance at Pillars, a non-profit provider of mental health and social services in the western suburbs. At Pillars, Sheets oversaw clinical services provided through the agency’s six treatment centers, and was responsible for a budget exceeding $8 million. Prior to Pillars, Sheets managed behavioral health services for Presence Health. Throughout her career, Sheets has worked with children, adolescents, adults and families in a variety of social service settings, as well as individuals with severe developmental disabilities. She has managed a variety of programs, including specialized foster care, group homes, respite/crisis center, outpatient clinics, residential and housing programs, and prevention programs.

“Hephzibah is recognized throughout the state of Illinois for the strength and depth of its programs, and for its experienced, dedicated staff of child welfare professionals, and it is my great honor to be a part of this remarkable team,” Sheets said. “This is a turbulent and uncertain time and while demand for our services is growing, we must address continued funding threats and budget challenges. I am excited to be in the position to harness the collective creativity, ingenuity and passion of the Hephzibah staff, auxiliaries and volunteers to continue to fulfill our mission of helping children thrive and families flourish for the decades to come.”

Sheets holds bachelor’s degree in juvenile justice and delinquency prevention, and a master’s degree in behavior analysis and therapy from Southern Illinois University. She is the past chair of the Illinois Association for Behavioral Health, formerly the Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Association. She resides in Willowbrook.

Hephzibah Head Start Programs Promote a Family-Focused Foundation for Learning

Supporting positive parent-child relationships

It is the end of another school year and the good word is out about the strength of Hephzibah’s Head Start Programs. While both the Early Head Start and Head Start Programs currently are at capacity, there will be a waiting list of participants when the programs resume in the fall. That is because Hephzibah goes above and beyond what is expected.

While the goal of the federal Head Start Program is to promote school readiness for children ages birth to 5 from low-income families, Hephzibah’s Head Start and Early Head Start Programs also work to support the needs of the parents and families. At regular meetings and trainings, families are engaged in the goal of making certain that their child is achieving their educational and developmental milestones.

Hephzibah Head Start Programs promote a family-focused foundation for learning

“We are proud of the diverse population of families in the program and more and more families are coming to us through word of mouth,” says Melissa Smith, director of Head Start. “We support the parents and families by offering a programs and resources to help them with their goals, and they share their experience with other families.

The Head Start team is committed to building relationships with families that support positive parent-child relationships, family well-being and the development of strong networks within the community. Each month, the families receive health, educational, nutritional, social and other services. There are also frequent social gatherings like potluck meals, giving families the opportunity to share their cultural traditions. At one of the gatherings this past year, two families of Iranian descent prepared a traditional meal for the other families to enjoy.

In addition to the creative, classroom-based curriculum, the children learn through field trips and other experiential activities. This year, those trips included visits to the Chicago Children’s Museum at Navy Pier – a new experience for most of the children – and the local fire station. Last fall, the Hephzibah playground was transformed into a “pumpkin patch” where the children also had the chance to pick apples and take hayrides in a wagon.

Concurrently, the families are learning about important childhood developmental milestones and their role in helping their child achieve these milestones. They also participate in trainings and classes to help them achieve their own goals. This year, these included a financial services expert who provided financial literacy training funded by a grant from Community Bank of Oak Park and River Forest, and an immigration lawyer who discussed immigrant rights and answered questions.

The environment is changing rapidly and we want to create a sense of family within the program so everyone feels welcome and supported,” Melissa says.

Enrollment for the 2017-2018 academic year is now open and limited slots are available. For information about Hephzibah’s Head Start and Early Head Start Programs, contact Evangeline Leggin, Family Support Specialist at (708) 649-7101.

Don’t miss Hephzipaloozah and your opportunity to celebrate Mary Anne Brown!

June 10th will feature a street fair and carnival for families

There is no better way to kick-off your summer than at Hephzipaloozah, a free, communitywide celebration of children and families on June 10, from 3 to 9 p.m., in Mills Park and on South Marion Street in Oak Park’s Pleasant District. And, while the celebration will feature a street fair on Marion Street with live music every hour as well as a carnival for families in the park at Mills Park, Hephzipaloozah is also a celebration of Mary Anne Brown who will retire in June after more than 40 years as executive director of Hephzibah Children’s Association.

Don’t miss Hephzipaloozah and your opportunity to celebrate Mary Anne Brown!

Mary Anne will be honored at a special commemoration at 6 p.m, on the main stage, and friends, community members, former residents and staff are invited to honor Mary Anne and wish her well in her retirement. Under Mary Anne’s leadership, Hephzibah grew from a day care center with an annual budget of $100,000, to a nationally recognized child welfare agency with a full complement of interrelated services and an annual budget exceeding $9 million.

Mary Anne has spent 40 years passionately fighting for children and expanding Hephzibah’s offerings to serve an increasing number of children and families and we are grateful for her years of dedicated and tireless leadership,” says Tom Yates, president of Hephzibah’s Board of Directors. “She has made Hephzibah a model of how to care for children in an effective and caring manner. We will miss her spirit and enthusiasm.”

There is so much to enjoy before and after the ceremony honoring Mary Anne. From 3 to 6 p.m., you can enjoy the carnival in the park at Mills Park, with games, activities, pony rides and bounce houses. Plus, PBS Kid’s Nature Cat and characters from Happy Kids Chicago will join the fun. On the porch of Pleasant Home, Ebert Studios will take family and friends groups portraits which will be available free of charge on the Ebert Studios Facebook page. Event attendees will have an opportunity to donate to Hephzibah and in return receive a Portrait Certificate to be used with a future session at Ebert Fine Art Portraiture. Serenitea will offer tea service for a fee in the beautiful setting of Pleasant Home.

Concurrently, from 3-9 p.m. the street fair on Marion Street in the Pleasant District will feature a concert, live music, food, beverages and beer truck. Taking the stage at 3 p.m. will be a performance by the kids from Hephzibah Home and the Day Care Program. At 4 p.m., the Laurie J. jazz quartet will perform followed at 5 p.m. by School of Rock. The special tribute and presentation to Mary Anne Brown will take place at 6 p.m. Rounding out the day at 7:30 p.m. the musical group Classical Blast will take the stage performing their unique melding of classical into rock music hits. Food, beer and other beverages will be available for purchase from local vendors.

Hephzipaloozah sponsors include the Pleasant Business District, Pleasant Home Foundation, Ebert Studios, Vantage Oak Park, the Carleton Hotel and Pillar Financial Advisors. Local vendors supporting Hephzipaloozah include Carnivore, Poor Phil’s, Serenitea, and Warrior Catering, a program of Opportunity Knocks. The members of the Hephzipaloozah Event Committee are Dennis Murphy, Poor Phil’s; Paul Beckwith, The Sachem Company; Heidi Ruehle-May, Pleasant Home Foundation; and Jeff Ebert, Ebert Studios. For information about Hephzibah Children’s Association and the free Hephzipaloozah community event, go to hephzibahhome.org. The event will be held rain or shine.

Seeking Summer Day Care Volunteers!

Attention Teens! Hephzibah would love your help.

Seeking Summer Day Care Volunteers!

Attention teens! If you have an hour to spare each week this summer, Hephzibah’s Summer Day Care Program would love your help. Students age 13+ are needed to help with the games and activities held each day during the summer program, which will be held from June 26 to August 18 at Irving Elementary School, 1125 S. Cuyler, Oak Park.

“Our teen volunteers play an important role in engaging the children in fun games and activities. The volunteers are also instrumental in helping the children make friends,” says Amy O’Rourke, director of Hephzibah’s Day Care Program.

Long-time volunteer Catherine Malnati says, “Summer Day Care at Hephzibah is a place where you forget you are a volunteer at all because the kids are so eager to pull you into whatever activity they are doing. You soon pick-up on who likes to read, who likes sports, or who is into painting, and yet, despite their differences and individuality, the kids are all best friends. It is one big family that anyone would want to be a part of, and that is why I keep coming back. ”

Volunteers only need to commit to one-three hours per week for four weeks, and all volunteers will receive training prior to beginning. To learn more about volunteering or to sign up to volunteer, please contact Hannah Weigel, volunteer manager, at hweigel@hephzibahhome.org

College Bound!

Davion Talbert is ready, set to tackle college in the fall

While National Signing Day is a momentous day for all high school athletes, for Davion Talbert the day was another important step in building the life that – prior to coming to Hephzibah – he never knew was even a possibility for him. On February 1, Davion, a senior at Oak Park and River Forest High School, declared his intention to play Division II football at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, MO, making him the first person in his biological family to go to college.

Davion came to Hephzibah at age 8, and his achievement is no surprise to staff.  “Davion is amazing,” recalls Reena Hilton, supervisor in the Diagnostic Treatment Center. “He has incredible resilience and he overcame so much. I will always remember how his jokes and songs made the days brighter.”

Davion Talbert will play Division II football at Lincoln University!

From Hephzibah, Davion transitioned to foster care joining the family of Gail and David Hibbler of Oak Park, a long-time Hephzibah foster care family. Gail also serves as a PRIDE trainer for individuals interested in becoming foster parents through Hephzibah. Two years ago, the Hibbler’s were awarded guardianship for Davion.

“At the group home and upon coming to us, Davion began to see things for himself,” Gail says. “He worked really hard and he advocated for himself.”

With great pride, Gail illustrates her point recounting a time about five years ago when the family was attending their daughter’s college graduation. “During the ceremony, Davion leaned over to David and said ‘Dad, do you think I can do this someday?’”

Davion remembers the exact moment when he decided football would be in his future. “I was playing catch with Pete (Davion’s primary Hephzibah staff member) and I told him I wanted to play football.” After settling in with the Hibbler family, he signed up for the Little Huskies football program.

Though his successful career as a wide receiver with the Huskies football team kept him very busy, Davion also made time to volunteer for a number of projects and activities at school and he was a youth mentor at Hephzibah and junior counselor at Sibling Camp.

It is his talent on the field however that captured the attention of the Lincoln University coaches, and they offered him a scholarship. A visit to the campus sealed his decision.

“It felt like home and the coaches were all excited for me to be there,” Davion says. “They believe in me and said ‘we graduate successful young men,’ which is important to me. I know I can really learn a lot from the coaching staff.”

At Lincoln, Davion is considering pursuing studies in civil engineering, “I like designing things and I like critical thinking,” he says. But first, with just a few weeks remaining in his senior year at OPRF, Davion is busy preparing for prom, finals and graduation.  ”Who I am now reflects a lot of my experience at Hephzibah,” Davion concludes. “I remember Reena saying to me ‘Don’t look at the world through other people’s lives.’ That really stuck with me.”

And just as Hephzibah has had an impact on Davion, his impact on Hephzibah will be felt long into the future. Reena says, “Davion is a role model and his story is going to teach future children who come to Hephzibah that they can be powerful and resilient like him. They can succeed like he has.”

Oak Park Auxiliary’s Kids’s Gala Celebrates Special Gifts

The second annual Kid's Gala is a smashing success!

On the heels of Hephzibah’s annual Heart of Gold Gala, the Oak Park Auxiliary hosted its second annual Kid’s Gala event on April 8 for the children in the group homes. With all the excitement that comes with a grand party, the children were the “stars” of the evening, each one dressed for the “red carpet” in their fancy clothes.

In preparation for the special meal and celebration, the auxiliary members under the leadership of Dana Kirby and Dave Wick, auxiliary president, decorated the tables with balloons, confetti and centerpieces. When the “stars” arrived, they were seated and served a delicious meal that included salad, fruit, pasta and chicken. Decadent desserts completed the meal.

Following the meal, each child was honored with his/her own special award recognizing a quality or trait. The “Fashionista Queen” award went to a girl who is known for her sensational style. The “Best Preacher” award went to a boy who is passionate about life and wants to share his vision with his Hephzibah “congregation.” For his compassion to friends and staff, another young boy received the “Biggest Heart” award, and the “Best Buddy/Peacemaker” award was presented to a girl who is always kind and generous, and always tries to resolve conflicts.

Amid raucous cheers of support and recognition from the children, each child stepped forward to accept their awards and certificates, beaming with pride as they had their picture taken.

“Two years ago we recognized that the residents at Hephzibah’s Group Home wanted to attend the annual Heart of Gold Gala so, we thought it would be a great opportunity to host a similar event just for them,” Dave said. “They have a great meal, and we recognize the accomplishments of every boy and girl with an award ceremony. The children have an amazing time and come away with memories that last a lifetime.”

Celebrating Hephzibah’s Volunteers

"Volunteering is what I consider true generosity"

Dominican Students at Volunteer Appreciation Event

Day in and day out, Hephzibah relies on the dedicated, generous support of volunteers who in countless ways, make it possible for us to deliver care and services for nearly 1,000 children and families each year. As part of National Volunteer Week, to thank our volunteers for their many hours of service and for sharing their talents to enrich the lives of children, Hephzibah held its annual Appreciation Dinner on Thursday, April 27, at the group home.

Nearly 50 volunteers attended the event which featured pulled pork sandwiches, salad and dessert catered by Opportunity Knocks, a local non-profit dedicated to providing opportunities and resources for individuals with developmental disabilities. Hephzibah currently has more than 220 active volunteers who range from age 13 to 80. In just the first four months of this year, volunteers have spent more than 1,300 hours, which at Illinois’ current estimated value of a volunteer hour, is about $33,000 of volunteer service just since January 1.

“We are so lucky to have volunteers in all three of our programs: group homes, day care and family based services as well at the Economy Shop and on our Auxiliary Boards,” Hannah Weigel, volunteer manager, said at the event. “We are so fortunate that volunteers take the time to make our programs excel and provide our children and families with the love and support they need.”

Executive Director Mary Anne Brown addressed the group and each of the program directors spoke about the importance and impact of their volunteers. Many of the volunteers shared why they choose to share their time and talent with Hephzibah.

One volunteer shared that she volunteers because she wanted to give back as a thank you for the wonderful experience her children had when they attended Hephzibah in elementary school. A Big Sibling volunteer shared how much he looked forward to coming to the house each week and the impact that spending time with his little brother has had in his life. He added that he intends to major in social work when he enters college in the fall, in part because of his experience at Hephzibah.

“Volunteering is what I consider true generosity,” Mary Anne said. “We count on them no matter what and they make a big impact on the children we serve. Our volunteers give of themselves to make Hephzibah a better place.”

The children, families and staff at Hephzibah offer our most sincere gratitude to our wonderful volunteers! We are so lucky to have you a part of the Hephzibah family.
Hephzibah is currently looking for volunteers age 13 and over to help with our Summer Day Care Program. If you are interested in volunteering as little as one or two hours a week, contact Hannah Weigel, volunteer manager, at hweighel@hephzibahhome.org.

Auxiliaries Celebrate Hephzibah this Spring

Three events you won't want to miss!

Auxiliaries Celebrate Hephzibah this Spring
Three events you won’t want to miss

Hephzibah is fortunate to have the energizing, inspiring and generous support of three amazing auxiliary boards who have made it their mission to raise awareness of Hephzibah’s mission. In addition to planning and hosting fund- and friend-raising events throughout the year, the Chicago, Oak Park and Western Auxiliary members organize activities and outings for the children living in the group home and in foster care.

In the coming weeks this spring, each auxiliary will host events that promise to be a lot of fun for attendees while raising funds to support the hundreds children and families Hephzibah cares for each year. To attend an event, click on the link provided. Read more.

Oak Park Auxiliary to Host “Ham Bingo” at Hamburger Mary’s Show Lounge

Tuesday, April 18, 8-10 PM
Ham Bingo is hosted by Hamburger Mary’s Bingo-Diva Tasha Salad and it’s NOT your typical “church-basement” bingo! Grab some friends for a guaranteed good time. While you are playing bingo, you can enjoy drink specials and register to win fun prizes and raffle items. Tickets are $20 and include one bingo card for 10 games. Additional bingo cards may be purchased at the door.

Ham Bingo to Benefit Hephzibah!
Tuesday, April 18, 8-10 p.m.
Hamburger Mary’s
155 South Oak Park Avenue
Oak Park, IL 60302

Tickets to the event may be purchased online. Click here to get your ticket!

Chicago Auxiliary Hosts Care and Spare to Benefit Hephzibah

Join Hephzibah’s Chicago Auxiliary Board for a fun-filled day of bowling at Timber Lanes Bowling Alley, named “Best Retro Bowling Alley” by Chicago Magazine! Join a team and your $30 registration fee covers 2.5 hours of bowling, shoe rental, pizza and one drink. Each team has a fundraising goal of $1,000, so you can help your team reach its goal by sharing your page with friends, family, coworkers and neighbors!
It’s a non-competitive, quintessential “old school” bowling experience that’s all about fun! Join us for:

Care and Spare for Hephzibah
Saturday, May 20, 2:30-5 p.m.
Timber Lanes Bowling Alley
1851 W. Irving Park Road, Chicago, 60613

Click here to register  OR Sponsor the event!

Join the Western Auxiliary’s Hoof It for Hephzibah on Monday, May 29

The Western Auxiliary Board’s 17th Annual 5K “Hoof It for Hephzibah” Run/Walk and Kids Races provide a unique opportunity for the whole family to have fun while helping the hundreds of children and families cared for through the many Hephzibah programs. The annual event attracts more than 800 participants and raise over $30,000 to support Hephzibah’s mission.

Onsite registration begins at 7 a.m. and the 5K Run/Walk starts at 8 a.m. The Kids Races begin at 9:30 a.m. and the event concludes at 10 a.m. Online registration will open soon at the race website hoofitforhephzibah.com.
Hoof It for Hephzibah
Memorial Day, Monday, May 29, 2017
8 a.m. 5K Run/Walk; 9:30 a.m. Kids Races (50 meter dash, ¼ mile run)
Newton Park in Glen Ellyn
5K Run/Walk: Pre-registration $25 / Race Day $30; Kids Races: $15

Join Us for Hephzipaloozah, June 10th!

An all-out, communitywide celebration of Hephzibah and Mary Anne Brown

On June 10, Hephzibah Children’s Association, in collaboration with the Pleasant Business District, will host Hephzipaloozah – a communitywide celebration of children and families. From 3 to 9 p.m., Hephzipaloozah will feature a street fair on Marion Street with local vendors offering food and beverages, a beer truck, and live music and concerts every hour. Families and children of all ages will enjoy the carnival in the park at Mills Park, with games, activities, pony rides and bounce houses. Read more

At 6 p.m. Hephzibah’s Executive Director Mary Anne Brown will be honored at a special presentation in recognition of her 41 years at the helm. Mary Anne will retire June 30. Friends, community members, former residents and staff are invited to attend the celebration and honor Mary Anne, whose leadership brought Hephzibah from a day care center with an annual budget of $100,000, to a nationally recognized child welfare agency with a full complement of interrelated services and an annual budget exceeding $9 million.

Hephzipaloozah is free of charge. Local vendors will offer food and beverages for purchase. The staff, children and families of Hephzibah extend our gratitude to the members of the Hephzipaloozah Event Committee: Dennis Murphy, Poor Phil’s; Paul Beckwith, The Sachem Company; Heidi Ruehle-May, Pleasant Home Foundation; and Jeff Ebert, Ebert Studios, for their enthusiasm, hard work and commitment to making Hephzipaloozah a true celebration of children and families.

More information about Hephzipaloozah will be featured on the Hephzibah website in the coming weeks, so be sure to check back frequently for additional information.

Hephzipaloozah Sponsorship Levels 2017

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April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month

“We must all hold ourselves accountable for promoting the well-being of children and families in our community” – Mary Anne Brown

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan declared the month of April as “National Child Abuse Prevention Month,” officially acknowledging the importance of families and communities working together to prevent child abuse and neglect. Since 1897, Hephzibah has been on the frontlines of the war on child abuse and neglect, providing for the critical needs of vulnerable children removed from their homes due to extreme abuse and neglect. Inherent in our work is the commitment to raising awareness of child abuse and neglect and promoting prevention strategies in our community.

Throughout April and indeed throughout the year, Hephzibah encourages individuals, organizations and communities to work together to build awareness of abuse and neglect in our world, and prevent child abuse and neglect by strengthening and supporting families.

“We must all hold ourselves accountable for promoting the well-being of children and families in our communities,” says Mary Ann Brown, executive director. “Strong families make strong communities, and strong families require parents who have the knowledge, skills and resources needed to care for their children.”

While there are many factors that contribute to the increased incidence of child abuse, alcohol and substance abuse, poverty, single parenting, domestic violence and other stressful events often contribute to the likelihood of abuse. According to the National Child Abuse Prevention Month website, we can help prevent child abuse and neglect by making meaningful connections with children, youth and families in our communities. Research shows that protective factors are present in healthy families and promoting these factors is among the most effective ways to reduce the risk of child abuse and neglect.

Everyone’s participation is critical,” Mary Anne says, “and focusing on ways to connect with families is the best thing our community can do to strengthen families and prevent child abuse and neglect.”

Teddies Bear Love to Kids

Avis Budget Group gives a personalized bear to welcome each child who comes to live at Hephzibah

Employees of Avis Budget Group, including Jim VanVliet and Mike Flynn have a strong connection to the kids at Hephzibah and seek ways to help however they can.

Employees of Avis Budget Group have a strong connection to the kids at Hephzibah; they host special outings and go out of their way to help.

For 10 years Avis Budget Group employees, friends, and families have partnered with Hephzibah Children’s Association to provide a personalized teddy bear to each child who comes to live at Hephzibah Home. The welcome bear is a special tradition that helps ease a child’s transition to the Group Home with a snuggly friend wearing a t-shirt that bears his or her own name.

On Friday, February 24th, Juanita Avila, of Avis Budget Group hosted an event with guests from ABG, Hephzibah, and representatives from 800BEAR. The partners celebrated with a fancy cake and the announcement that 234 additional bears have been purchased – enabling the welcome bear project to continue for another decade!

Thank you to our wonderful long-time partner, Avis Budget Group!

Thanks to the Queen of Our Hearts

The Heart of Gold Ball honoring Mary Anne Brown broke records for attendance and revenue

Mary Anne Smiling on Throne ps


Mary Anne was called “The Queen of Our Hearts” and surprised with a throne, cape and scepter, as she received the Heart of Gold Award.

Hephzibah’s 2017 Heart of Gold Ball, on Saturday, March 4, was an evening of gratitude and glowing tributes for Executive Director, Mary Anne Brown, as she received the Heart of Gold Award for outstanding commitment to Hephzibah over the past 40 years. Guests stood to applaud four times throughout the evening and helped raise a record-setting $400,000 to benefit the children and families served by Hephzibah – to whom Mary Anne has devoted her heart and her career.

Bridgeport Art Center’s lovely space was packed with more than 500 guests and twinkling with fairy lights on every table, as Mark Trinka, president of Hephzibah Children’s Trust and a former board member, spoke of Mary Anne’s accomplishments and the lasting impression she leaves on the hearts of those who have worked with her.

Senator Don Harmon issued a proclamation recognizing Mary Anne as a life-long champion of children’s needs, and thanking her on behalf of children and families in the state of Illinois.

Dan Farley, a former Group Home resident, presented Mary Anne with the Heart of Gold Award.

“She let me know that she was there for me, smoothing the path ahead and keeping a watchful eye,” Dan said. “Mary Anne was a beacon of light for me then, and she continues to be on my side.”

Farley recalled the comfort she gave him when he first came to Hephzibah at age 9, during a rough, uncertain stage in his childhood. Now 21 years later, Farley has graduated from University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; he lives in Madison, WI, and works as a project manager for a prominent electronic medical records vendor.

Also attending the event were former Hephzibah Home residents, all of whom have stories of how Hephzibah and Mary Anne Brown helped them navigate a critical time in their lives.

An exciting live auction kicked off the evening, including Bulls seats on the floor and premium Hamilton tickets.  Bidders vied for The Sky’s the Limit package – a private helicopter tour of the city, embarking from the recently opened Vertiport facility, which was paired with dinner and wine at Eden, a restaurant launched in November by Jodi Fyfe of Paramount Events.

Hephzibah supporters helped this year’s Heart of Gold Ball exceed expectations in every way – by donating to the auction, attending the event, and sharing heart-felt messages to honor Mary Anne. Many made generous financial contributions to ensure Hephzibah’s legacy of providing hope and help to children.

Click here to view PHOTOS from the event, and here to see hilarious live-action GIFS.

We are grateful to an outstanding Gala Committee whose hard work was evident in every detail. Gwen Tonino was our stellar Event Chairperson, supported by Committee leaders Jen Weaver, Auction, Kathy Malpede, Event Production, and Donna Rolf, Sponsorship, and hard-working Committee members: Laura Connelly, Christina Ewing, Kim Green, John Grimes, Lisa Grimes, Kim Lutz, Kenna MacKinnon, and Cam Niederman. We could not have found a more dedicated, thoughtful group.

For coming together this year to help pay tribute to our special Heart of Gold Award recipient, Mary Anne Brown, we thank these  Honorary Committee members: Graham and Brooke Allen, Tony and Jean Barbato, Cuyler and Julie Brown, Kevin and Linda Conway, Bruce Elegant, Ron and Cathy Fox, Maria Garvy, Sr. Michelle Germanson, O.P., Senator Don Harmon, Marty and Mary Lou Noll, Dave and Lynde O’Brien, Perry and Diane Pero, Brent and Maureen Stratton, and Jack Vainisi.

Please assist us in showing our appreciation to the generous Event Sponsors who helped making the evening possible. Silver Heart Sponsors: Chicago Association of Realtors, Hephzibah Children’s Trust and Retail Properties of America. Bronze Heart Sponsors: Maria Garvy and William Keffer, Perry and Diane Pero, The PrivateBank and The Sidley Austin Foundation.

Table Sponsors: Graham and Brooke Allen, Jackie Barlow, Max and Mary Anne Brown, Sherry and Paul Carbery, Carleton Hotel/Ron and Cathy Fox, Cushman Wakefield/Eric and Lisa Sorensen, Shaun and Lisa Emerson, Christina Ewing and Jim Christofferson, Forest Park National Bank, Gerber Family, Hogan Marren Babbo & Rose Ltd., The Horton Group, John and Nancy Ide, Shaun and Roberta Lane, Byron Lee and Audrey Williams-Lee, McCarthy and Trinka, Noel and Michele Moore, Dave and Lynde O’Brien, Rush Oak Park Hospital, Cheryl ter Horst and Burt Constable, Pietro and Gwen Tonino, Lance and Mary Tortorici, US Bank, Tom Yates and Diane Ratekin. Friend Sponsors: Terry and Linda Brown, Community Bank of Oak Park  River Forest, Kevin and Linda Conway, Senator Don Harmon, Jim and Kathy Malpede, Oak Design & Construction, Amy Paris/The Pet Health People LLC, Donna Rolf, Brent and Maureen Stratton, Juliet and Rocky Yera.

Many thanks to everyone who helped support the Heart of Gold Ball and the children of Hephzibah.

Rock ‘N Roll Raises $50,000

The Western Auxiliary Board's annual party was a hit with guests and a home run for Hephzibah!

Penny Latta, Lisa Diomede, Megan Scheck and Tami Wanless are part of the Western Auxiliary Board whose members organized the Rock 'N Roll event.

Penny Latta, Lisa Diomede, Megan Scheck and Tami Wanless are part of the Western Auxiliary Board whose members organized the Rock ‘N Roll event.

At its annual fundraiser on Friday, Feb. 10, an enthusiastic crowd of 180 guests helped Hephzibah’s Western Auxiliary Board raise more than $50,000!  Rock ‘n Roll for your Heart & Soul at Glen Oak Country Club rocked past midnight with three bands, auctions, appetizers, games and more. The annual event doubled the amount raised in 2016. In addition to silent auction items that guests could bid on, there was an exciting live auction featuring a long weekend in Galena, the chance to ride a Harley motorcycle for a week, and a party with ice time at Johnny’s Ice House.
In addition to fundraisers, the volunteer group also organizes events with children who live in Hephzibah’s Group Home. Learn more about this dynamic board.

A Tribute to Mary Anne Brown

Marge Tye Zuba shares her surprise at the joy and laughter she found behind Hephzibah Home's French doors

three girls on playground equipmentMessages have been flowing in steadily since Hephzibah’s Executive Director, Mary Anne Brown, announced that she will retire in June 2017. At the gala on March 4th, Mary Anne will receive Hephzibah’s Heart of Gold Award.  — an honor she originated, and one she has given to many generous supporters. Marge Tye Zuba, a writer and educator who worked closely with Mary Anne, penned a tribute we’d like to share.

“Describing Hephzibah as an orphanage housing 26 children, ages 4 to 12, who have experienced horrific abuse and neglect at the hands of parents and foster parents, conjures up deep sadness and outrage. And, if you were fortunate to visit Hephzibah, you might steel yourself before entering, assuming that, within those doors, you would find little to smile about.  And you would be right. There is not a “little” to smile about.  There is a LOT, to smile about and to laugh about. Hephzibah is a happy home!  You won’t step over the threshold without sensing the joy, the peace and the fun of Hephzibah.

Mary Anne Brown’s contribution to society can be seen in the lives of the many children who have lived at Hephzibah Children’s Association over the past forty years she has been the executive director.

Take ten steps inside and you will find the French doors that open to Mary Anne Brown’s office. Over these past forty years those doors have been open, and often, emanating from within, you would hear almost raucous laughter from behind the desk of this woman whose head and heart have created a safe home, a warm haven and a new beginning for so many children who have suffered the label “ward of the state of Illinois.”

Believing in the goodness of children and knowing that there is great resilience within young broken lives, Mary Anne has surrounded herself with a staff of highly competent, passionately committed and creatively adept staff. Under her leadership, rebuilding lives begins one day at a time.   It is, for many of the children, the first real home they have known.

Unable, or unwilling to accept the status quo, Mary Anne has sought out opportunities to enhance and enrich lives. Believing that academics are most critical for these children, Mary Anne initiated an Academic Advisory Board. She solicited funds to hire an educational coordinator to work with the children who attend the Oak Park Public Schools. Through the years she has crafted a strong partnership with District 97 that continues to this day.

Hephzibah Children’s Association is one of those places where no one expects the focus to be on reading…It is an orphanage! And yet, everyone who works there believes and embraces the value, joy and transformational power that reading has in the lives of these young children.  Reading is one of the critical issues she has concentrated on over the past six years.  Books, tutors, a reading clinic at University of Illinois at Chicago…all of these are just a small part of the daily celebration of reading.  While children in foster care often have many social and psychological needs, Mary Anne Brown recognizes the critical need for each child to be able to read.  As she puts it, “Reading is the ticket.”

Mary Anne Brown is extremely non-linear. While, in the middle of planning for the sixth Hephzibah Summer Reading Academy, she points to a box of cowboy hats that just arrived…”Wouldn’t the kids love a rodeo?  Let’s have one.”  And within hours, staff has secured the services of a downstate stable and horses will arrive outside Hephzibah’s door, along with carnival games, etc., to celebrate the end of the school year in June.   While closing off a boulevard may be daunting to some, it is incidental to Mary Anne.  For her, it is about the bigger picture.  For her, it has always been about the children.  It is about each of them stepping into that stirrup and riding high down the street…It is about a photo taken of each one.  It is about a memory to treasure.

And, then there are the arts. How Mary Anne loves the arts.  “Yes, the children must have a summer art experience” she says.  And, again, within hours, through community networking, artists are sought out, dates are determined and so began the five year Colorful Days Festival, providing arts every Thursday for nine weeks in the summer.  And so, the children were introduced to the harmonica, painting murals, gospel singing, dancing, face painting and drumming.

Over the years, many of the children at Hephzibah celebrated “family” at Sibling Camp. Many had siblings they had not seen in a long time.  Mary Anne’s idea of a Sibling camp took shape quickly and now the annual camp finds brothers and sisters treasuring those “taken for granted” sibling moments of sharing stories, taking walks, and swimming together.

There are awards, many awards that Mary Anne has received. Yet, there are none as rich or meaningful as seeing Jon read for the first time, or hearing Tony play the harmonica, or seeing Michael on top of the Pinto pony.  Mary Anne’s joy is about that summer afternoon in August at Thatcher Woods where 26 children celebrated the end of the summer reading academy by releasing the butterflies they nurtured from caterpillars.  Her joy is about hearing Julia referring to the butterfly who didn’t fly away quickly and stayed on the grass for a while “He’s not hurt.  He’s just scared about being free.”

We are most fortunate to have such a woman within our midst. And, honoring her is about honoring the children for whom she lives and breathes and with whom she laughs and loves.”

Thank you to Marge Tye Zuba for sharing this tribute. It’s not too late to take part in the Heart of Gold Ball by attending, placing an ad in the program, or making a donation in honor of Mary Anne Brown’s Heart of Gold Award and her enduring contribution to Hephzibah. The ad book deadline is February 15th. Learn more.

Unlocking the Potential of Oak Park’s Youngest Learners

Hephzibah's programs for children ages 0-5 ensure that every child in our community - regardless of family income - gets the best possible start in life.

Heph15-4708_opt for websiteRecent advances in neuroscience tell us that a child’s brain goes through an amazing period of development between birth and age three—producing 700 new neural connections every second. Yet children born into poverty have slower rates of brain growth. By the age of four, an achievement gap of about 18 months separates many of these children from their more affluent peers.
Studies show that high-quality learning experiences during the first five years of life can help prevent this achievement gap, increase high school graduation rates and even enable children to become better team players and problem-solvers later in life. Yet, despite these documented benefits, the U.S. currently ranks 32nd out of 39 developed countries worldwide in enrollment rates for early childhood education. Within the U.S., Illinois ranks a dismal 29th out of 51 states.
To meet the urgent unmet need for early childhood education in Oak Park and surrounding communities, Hephzibah began offering Head Start services for children between the ages of three and five in 2011 and launched an Early Head Start program for children from birth to three in 2015.
One hundred percent of the 101 children served by our Head Start programs this past year met or exceeded developmental benchmarks in social-emotional, language, math and physical development. Learn more.

Kerry Wood is a Hit With the Kids

It isn't every day a Cubs pitcher tours the Hephzibah residence and helps decorate cookies.

Kerry Wood, Mary Anne Brown, and Graham Allen.

Kerry Wood, Mary Anne Brown, and Graham Allen.

When Kerry Wood visited Hephzibah Home in December, the smiles and double-takes from adult staff members were the main clue you’d have that Wood is a famous athlete. The former Chicago Cubs pitcher, tied for the major league record of striking out 20 hitters in one game, is a modest guy with a sincere desire to help kids. Wood, a father of three, put the Hephzibah kids at ease by asking questions, listening to their stories and sitting down at a table to decorate cookies.

Still, the young residents between the ages of 6 and 11 who live at Hephzibah’s Group Home in Oak Park, IL, knew Kerry Wood was someone special. The young tour guides were eager to show Kerry their rooms as they vied to hold his hand. Hephzibah’s residence is a safe refuge for 26 children who have been removed from situations involving abuse or neglect.

“With the kids giving you a tour, you get a look at their daily life and what’s offered to them here,” said Wood. “I’m so glad a place like this exists. It’s amazing.”

“I love the kitchen table area because it feels like a real home,” Wood said, when he sat down with eight kids in Hephzibah’s Diagnostic Treatment Center to spread frosting and sprinkles. The red and blue C that Wood wrote on his cookie drew admiration from fellow cookie decorators.

“That looks good. Eat it!” one boy said. And Kerry did.

Wood and his wife, Sarah, share a commitment to improving the lives of children in Chicago, which led them to start the Wood Family Foundation in 2011. The Foundation supports efforts that empower youth and families, based on the belief that a child’s potential should never be underestimated.

Wood’s visit was suggested by his friend, Graham Allen, president of Sloan Valve Co., who has been a long-time supporter of Hephzibah. Yes, that’s the same Sloan as Sloan Park — the Cubs’ spring training ballpark in Mesa, AZ. Allen serves on the board of directors for Wood’s Foundation.

Allen’s tie to Hephzibah began through his childhood friend, Cuyler Brown, son of Hephzibah’s Executive Director, Mary Anne Brown. Friend-to-friend connections are at the heart of Hephzibah’s network of support.

“Once you visit Hephzibah, you realize what a special place it is and how it really can change these kids’ lives,” Allen said.

Executive Director to Retire

Hephzibah's iconic Executive Director, Mary Anne Brown, has announced that she will retire in June

mab-retirement-picture_optMary Anne Brown, Executive Director of Hephzibah Children’s Association for more than 40 years, has announced she will retire on June 30, 2017. Under Mary Anne’s leadership Hephzibah expanded from a day care center with an annual budget of $100,000 to a nationally recognized child welfare agency with a full complement of interrelated services and an annual budget exceeding $9 million dollars.

 “A Home With a Heart,” is how many describe Hephzibah, thanks to Mary Anne’s compassion for children and determination to help them succeed. As an iconic leader who greets each child by name in her sunny office at 946 North Boulevard, she has shaped the lives of generations of families, while inspiring an entire community to join the cause.

The Oak Park, IL-based agency’s programs include two group homes: a short-term diagnostic center for abused and neglected children and a residential program for children ages 3 to 11. The agency also supports more than 70 specialized foster homes throughout the state, assists families in crises, offers after school care for over 500 children, and provides Head Start and early Head Start programs for preschoolers from low-income families.

“Mary Anne is leaving big shoes to fill,” said Tom Yates, president of Hephzibah’s Board of Directors.

“She has spent 40 years passionately fighting for children and expanding Hephzibah’s offerings to serve an increasing number of children and families and we are grateful for her years of dedicated and tireless leadership. Mary Anne has made Hephzibah a model of how to care for children in an effective and caring manner. We will miss her spirit and enthusiasm.”

During her tenure, Mary Anne initiated innovative programs including a Summer Reading Academy to boost academic performance, the Hephzibah Huskies high school volunteer group that connects kids to the community, HeartMates who mentor group home children on a weekly basis, and Camp HepSibah, a unique summer camp that reunites siblings separated by foster care for a week of shared fun and healing.

People return to Hephzibah with stories of how the agency, as envisioned and led by Mary Anne Brown, helped their family navigate difficult times, how it provided high-quality affordable day care so they could work, or offered a safe haven in their childhood.

Mary Anne has received leadership awards from Concordia University in River Forest, IL, the Oak Park Education Foundation and the Illinois Humane Society. She was awarded an honorary doctorate degree from Dominican University and was identified by Crain’s Chicago Business Magazine as one of the “100 Most Influential Women in Chicago.”

She will be missed by all those in our community who came in contact with the myriad of services provided by Hephzibah. Her knowledge, expertise and warm and outgoing manner are responsible for forming Hephzibah into the organization it is today. She is known by all to be a fierce, loving champion of children.

The organization plans to honor the work and accomplishments of Mary Anne Brown by awarding her with the Heart of Gold Award at this year’s Heart of Gold Ball. Leading from the Heart: A Tribute to Mary Anne Brown, is the theme for this year’s event which will be held on March 4, 2017 at the Bridgeport Art Center in Chicago. To learn more about the event and how to share your message of gratitude, contact Gina Donlin, gdonlin@hephzibahhome.org, 708-649-7140.