Hephzibah Home gets $100,000 'All-Pros' grant from Bears

Oak Park nonprofit one of 10 organizations recognized

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

Cameron was only 6 years old when he first came to Hephzibah Home on North Boulevard in Oak Park.

The child had suffered neglect to the point where he was hospitalized due to injuries he sustained in his living situation.

It would take several surgeries, physical therapy sessions and support from psychologists and clinicians over the course of a couple of years to help bring him to a place of safety and normalcy.

While the story is tragic, it comes with a happy ending – the local home that cares for children removed from their caregivers for abuse and neglect not only worked to provide a safe space for the boy, it also worked with his father to meet the requirements necessary to regain custody of his son and help Cameron continue forward in his development.

"Week after week, year after year, he worked with Hephzibah staff and DCFS caseworkers to address his personal issues, meet the necessary requirements, and to demonstrate consistently his ability to provide for and care appropriately for his son," Hephzibah Home noted in an essay about the boy. "Despite challenging barriers, he rarely missed his weekly visits with his son and these visits contributed greatly to Cameron's progress. The possibility of reuniting with his father sparked hope."

Cameron's story is just a small glimpse into the work Hephzibah Home has done for years for thousands of neglected children.

It was the also his story that helped the organization secure a $100,000 grant from the Chicago Bears. The Community All-Pros grant is a celebration of the Bears' 100th season. It's one of 10 grants the Bears provided nonprofit organizations in the Chicago area.

"We're just thrilled to be partnering with an organization as amazing as the Bears," said Hephzibah Children's Association Executive Director Merry Beth Sheets.

Sheets explained that many of the children who come to Hephzibah Home have been shuffled around from foster family to foster family and often suffer from severe trauma.

"We see them come in and they're apprehensive and scared, and when they leave they are a new child," she said.

The grant application submitted to the Bears noted that Illinois ranks last in the nation in removing kids from their homes over concern for their safety.

"Illinois also has the longest length of stay in foster care among all 50 states," the grant application stated. "Thus, by the time children come into institutional or group home care in Illinois such as Hephzibah Home, they have been exposed to and endured significant, severe and sustained trauma related to abuse and neglect."

Sheets said the Bears grant and other charitable contributions are vital to the organization's mission.

Hephzibah faces budget shortfalls every year in its effort to keep the group home afloat.

The funding will help pay for the group's annual children's rodeo in June and other events, birthday parties for the roughly 26 children the home cares for, and the myriad therapeutic support services the organization provides, among others, Sheets said.

"We pull out all the stops to get them stabilized and placed back safely in a home environment," said Juliet Yera, Hephzibah's director of development.

Yera noted that Hephzibah Home, which was established 1897, is likely Oak Park's oldest nonprofit. The average resident of Hephzibah Home is 7 years old, and their stays generally range between six months and two years, Yera said.

"We have educational support programs with art therapists, play therapists and social workers," she said, noting that the home has seen countless success stories like Cameron's.

The work with parents and caregivers to regain custody of their children is just as critical.

"Whatever family members or natural supports they have, we want them engaged and involved from the beginning," Sheets said.

That also involves work with future foster families.

"We want to lay that foundation and build a good relationship to set them up for success," Sheets said.


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