The Difference a Social Worker Can Make

No matter the circumstance surrounding a child’s interaction with a social worker, children remember how they were treated, and how their social worker made them feel. This March, in honor of National Social Work Month, One Hope United is proud to share the impact that our social workers make in the lives of thousands of children and families each year.  

According to The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, children learn to trust others, regulate their emotions, and interact with the world through their relationships with their primary caregivers. If a child has experienced trauma and, as a result, feels that they can’t trust their parent or caregiver, a social worker may be one of the only consistent and dependable adult figures in that child’s life. 

A child may meet their social worker for the first time when they’re waiting for a foster care placement, traveling for a visit with their biological family members, or in the waiting room at a doctor’s office. Having a caring figure in these turbulent moments gives children a sense of stability. Courtney Dundee, therapist with One Hope United’s Community Based Family Services, described her role as “walking alongside children during the hardest part of their little lives, and helping them get to the other side where they feel hopeful and safe once again.”

One Hope United’s former clients have shared that the small interactions they had with their social worker made all the difference. Whether a social worker remembered their favorite flavor of soda or chatted with them about a TV show, these moments helped them to feel seen and recognized. 

Sarah Tunning, Executive Director of OHU’s Florida Services, shared a memory of a young boy who spent one day at her office while waiting for his next foster care placement. He exhibited several complex behavioral issues related to past trauma and was having a hard day. His case manager told Sarah what his favorite food and drink items were from a few restaurants in the area, and after Sarah picked them up and the boy had his meal, he felt much calmer, and was able to relax. “We spend a lot of time with these children during ‘in-between’ times, riding in the car or waiting at the office,” Sarah said. “The in-between moments seem small, but they allow children to have more interactions with people who really care.”

Teenagers involved in the child welfare system also benefit from a supportive and caring social worker. They may keep in touch with their social worker even after services end, often turning to them for help connecting to community resources, or simply for someone to listen. Mallory Johnston, Case Manager with One Hope United’s Comprehensive Community-Based Youth Services (CCBYS) program, described her experience working with a homeless teenager in December of 2020. She helped him move into a homeless shelter in Mount Vernon, Illinois on his 18th birthday, and throughout their 90 days together, Mallory helped him to enroll in high school and obtain a medical card. They also discussed his future and worked on important life skills. He is currently on-track to graduate in May of 2021. Mallory said, “He sees me as a constant support system, and as someone who is willing to help him with whatever he needs at the time. There is hardly a day that goes by that I do not receive a ‘good morning’ text from him.”

Additionally, social workers support parents who may feel they have almost no one else to turn to. Dennis Delgado, Executive Director of One Hope United’s Community Based Family Services, shared about a 17-year-old single mother of two who received services from a One Hope United social worker. This young woman was a senior in high school and working part-time to care for her children.  She also was a victim of domestic violence and had recently lost the support of her mother. She often shared concerns about having had to grow up too soon and missing out on her youth.

This young woman shared that she felt her life was transformed after receiving domestic violence services, paid day care services, and individual counseling. She also received day-to-day household essentials, including food, diapers, and children’s clothes. While working with her OHU case manager, she decided to fully end her relationship with her children’s father, and obtained an order of protection against him. She was also able to attend her senior prom and graduate from high school.

Initially, this young woman could not believe her social worker would actually help her with her needs,” Dennis said. “They were successful because they collaborated for the good of the family.”

Dennis concluded, “Social workers are essentially a light in the darkness that the children and families we serve often face. They are often angels in disguise.     

Ten-year-old got $200 to use at Walmart and spent it all on One Hope United kids

The heroes referred to in the Twin Lakes, WI–area “Shop with a Hero” event are local members of the police and fire departments.

But for the youth served by One Hope United’s offices in Kenosha, WI, and Gurnee, IL, the real hero was fifth grader Kaiden Rivera.

Rivera, 10, was one of 26 students chosen by their schools to receive $200 to spend at Walmart. Most of the students spent the money on items for themselves and on gifts for their friends and family. But Rivera chose to spend the entire $200 on items for One Hope United youth.

“I’m buying for charity,” Rivera told the Kenosha News. “My grandpa gave me the idea.”

“Every year we try to donate,” explained Rivera’s mom, Kayla Blank. In addition to Rivera’s donation, Blank bought an additional $100 worth of toys with money donated by her stepfather.

The students were free to use the money how they wished. The money is donated by local individuals, businesses, and members of the Twin Lakes Professional Police Association. The event promotes a sense of community and trust between the youth and their public safety officials.

Rivera and his family remind us that anyone, no matter their age or position, can make a positive impact on another person’s life.

One Hope United serves over 9,000 children and families each year through a variety of programs including early education, foster care, counseling, and more.

If you would like to make a gift that benefits a One Hope United child or family this holiday season—or any season—visit our Wishbook, where you can purchase goods and experiences that have a direct benefit on people’s lives, including education opportunities, clothing, therapies, and more.

Youth in Centralia residential care program enjoy campout

Youth and staff from One Hope United’s residential care program in Centralia, Ill., stepped out of their normal routines to go camping last month at nearby Camp Maranatha.

OHU occupied two cabins at the camp in Ramsey, Ill., and male and female youth and staff took turns spending a night. Most of the youth had never camped before and staff enjoyed giving them this opportunity. “It was great to see them get to just be kids,” said Rachel Stransky, activity specialist at the care program.

Campers swam — using the campground’s giant waterslide and water trampoline — and also floated in canoes and paddle boats and fished.

In the evenings, they cooked meals over the campfire. Youth stayed up late to sit around the fire, eat s’mores and tell ghost stories. Some youth and staff also played a game of flashlight tag.

“It was great because we didn’t have to do our point sheets and we got to stay up late!” said one female youth who attended the campout.

Overall, it was a great experience and something youth and staff likely will not forget.

OHU receives donation in memory of inspiring former employee

Friends of former One Hope United employee DeColbie Esco recently honored him by donating a large portion of the proceeds from a charity golf outing to OHU in his memory. 

DeColbie, who was killed at age 30 in a hit-and-run car accident last summer, served as a role model to many people. 

“It was so surprising the impact he had on me,” said Amanda Siegrist, DeColbie’’s college classmate. “It was very humbling and inspiring to hear the struggles he had grown up with.” 

DeColbie was raised in a rough neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. At 14, he was caught selling drugs by an undercover police officer. His mother knew she had to take action to help DeColbie. She encouraged him to work with teachers to improve his grades, and he started playing football. 

Sports proved to be an important outlet for DeColbie. Upon graduating high school, he received a scholarship to play football at Wingate University in North Carolina. For his senior project in college, he and his classmate, Amanda, wrote about how football influenced him to change his life. 

“He didn’t have a chip on his shoulder about the world. He just went about his life and did the best he could with what he had,” Amanda said. “A big part of his making a change was he just needed people in his life to give him support,” she added. 

When DeColbie graduated college and moved back to the Chicago neighborhood where he grew up, he wanted to be that source of support for other children in his community who were struggling to make a change. He began working for an OHU child development center in an after-school care program. 

Amanda and a few other Wingate alumni and professors held their first golf outing in May and chose to celebrate DeColbie’’s efforts in supporting at-risk children by donating some of the proceeds to OHU.

Old Navy holds diaper drive for Go Blue campaign

ohu-Old Navy diaper driveThe Old Navy store in Vernon Hills, Ill., participated in our April Go Blue Campaign for Child Abuse Prevention Month by holding a diaper drive for One Hope United clients. We appreciate it and thank store manager Rick Pilcher for organizing the effort!

Students reach for the stars with foster grandparent’s merit program

Students at Ball Charter Elementary School in Springfield, Ill., pose with their portraits, drawn by foster grandparent volunteer Bassem Zaki.

Foster grandparent Bassem Zaki is encouraging student achievement at Ball Charter Elementary School in Springfield, Ill., with a new merit program.

Zaki, who is working closely with teachers to implement the program, joined his artistic abilities along with his passion for helping students to create the new system. He designed stars for each student, and when a student accumulates 50 star points, Zaki — with student permission — will draw and frame a portrait of that student, who can then take it home. The stars also can be used in the school store.

The teachers are pleased with Zaki’s creativity and commitment to helping them and their students. Zaki said he is happy to encourage excellence in scholastic achievement.

Unique auction items a hit at OHU Blue Ribbon Event

ohu-abbyblueribbon-2A painting by 8-year-old One Hope United volunteer Abby Bergl and a basket of homemade dog biscuits baked by Mark McHugh, executive director of One Hope United — Northern Region, and his wife, Lisa, were both popular auction items at the agency’s 10th Annual Blue Ribbon Event, held April 21, in Lake Villa, Ill.

Abby’s original artwork sold for $1,400 in the live auction. The basket of biscuits sold for $150 in the silent auction, so McHugh and his wife promised to bake a second batch for the live auction, where they sold for $1,000.

Thank you for these unique auction items!

Kraft volunteers beautify, organize games at Busy Bee

ohu-Girl in Tunnel
Busy Bee Children’s Center recently welcomed employees from Kraft Foods Group Inc. to their campus, where they beautified the center’s grounds and created an Olympics Day for the children. 

Thirteen Kraft employees weeded and planted perennials and organized games, including an obstacle course, leap frog, bowling and freeze dance. 

The employees from Northfield, Ill.-based Kraft Foods were sent as part of a Chicago Cares volunteer day. Chicago Cares builds volunteer experiences that mobilize and inspire people to make Chicago a stronger community.

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Rodhe chairs Blue Ribbon Event

ohu-rodheOne Hope United held its 10th Annual Blue Ribbon Event Sunday, April 21, at the historic Lehmann Mansion in Lake Villa, Ill. We were honored to have Cecilia Rodhe (pictured) — mother of Chicago Bulls’ Joakim Noah and co-founder of the Noah’s Arc Foundation — as our honorary chair. Thank you to all who came out to support us. Click here to learn more about the great work Rodhe and Noah are doing to improve children’s lives.

Foster mom donates 'Comfort Kits'


Forty foster children will receive welcoming “Comfort Kits” thanks to a recent donation from foster mom Chrys Zastrow to One Hope United — Northern Region.

The duffle bag kits, 20 for boys and 20 for girls, are filled with a handmade fleece blanket, small stuffed animal, toiletries, toothbrush and toothpaste, refillable water bottle and either a book or an art kit (depending on the child’s age).

Zastrow got the idea for the kits when her three foster daughters arrived last year from OHU on an emergency basis with only the clothes on their backs — and three similar “Comfort Kits” provided to OHU by a church in Gurnee, Ill. Those kits were handmade laundry bags stuffed with a blanket, stuffed animal and book and an outside pocket containing toiletries.

 Zastrow was so overwhelmed by the gift that she was inspired to make more and pay it forward.

Over the past year, Zastrow’s co-workers, family and friends helped her raise money for the kits through events such as lemonade stands and fun runs. She also received many donated items. For example, her dentist donated all the toothbrushes and toothpaste. Also, JoAnn Fabrics provided discounts on the fabric and Garvey discounted the duffle bags.

The “Comfort Kits,” provided to foster children who have been removed from their homes, can be picked up at OHU in Lake Villa.

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