Become a Baby’s Foster Parent and Make a Measurable Difference

One Hope United is recruiting Cook County foster parents to take part in an innovative and effective new program specifically for infants and toddlers under the age of 4. The Illinois Early Childhood Court Team (ECCT), sometimes referred to as “Baby Court,” is a new approach to helping the youngest children in the foster care system achieve permanency more quickly. One Hope United is one of only two agencies in Cook County that provide this service.

A team-based approach to foster care

When a family participates in the ECCT program, they work with a Court Team – a group of supportive players including their case manager and community practice coordinator who help the child’s parents address the goals in their service plan and access the resources to help them succeed.  Along with this comes more opportunities for parents to visit with their children and build their relationship.

Children undergo rapid development in their first three years and require intensive monitoring to make sure that emerging needs are quickly addressed. The Court Team model helps ensure that these young children in foster care get the resources they need, and their foster parents play an indispensable role.

What makes ECCT foster parents different

In many ways, an ECCT foster parent is the same as traditional foster parenting, requiring the same licensing (One Hope United can help new foster parents become licensed). ECCT foster parents need to have a suitable crib or bed for the child and be able to accept a new case on a moment’s notice.

The differences are that most of the children in ECCT are under the age of 4, and the foster parents are encouraged to actively participate in the Court Team. This includes developing a co-parenting relationship with the children’s parents by hosting at least 1 of 3 parent visits a week, and by attending the Court Team meeting once a month. In addition to the standard benefits and reimbursements that all foster parents receive, ECCT foster parents receive additional benefits for hosting parent visits, up to $400/month.

Making a real impact on babies’ lives

ECCT foster parents have the opportunity to help a young child stay on track during these formative years and improve their outcomes beyond what is typically found in traditional foster care. Studies of this model have shown that 97% of children and families receive their needed services and make substantial progress in their goals, and children reach permanency 3 times faster than the national norm.

One reason for this is that, unlike traditional foster care, ECCT does concurrent planning for the children’s permanency while the parents are working toward their goals. In the event that the children are not able to return home to their parents, there is already a plan in place for them to be adopted. This prevents the attachment disruptions that can occur when children move through families on the way to permanency.

Ready to make a difference in a baby’s life? Start the process today by contacting our licensing supervisor, Yeni Rojas, at yrojas@onehopeunited.org or 312-949-5540.

Staff Spotlight: Jokotade Greenberg

Meet Jokotade Greenberg, Family Support Coordinator for Head Start and Early Head Start programs at our early learning centers!

What is your job title & how long have you been an employee at OHU?

I am the Family Services Coordinator for the Early/Head Start programs and have been with One Hope United since January 2016.

What sparked your interest in this career field?

I have always been fascinated by how important the years from birth to age five are in a person’s life. When I had an opportunity to work in a capacity where I could support families in giving their children the best possible start at life, I leapt at the chance.

Why are your programs so important?

Our programs work to identify families who would benefit the most from having a partner come alongside them to support their work with their young children. For many who live with some level of social isolation, having the resources that our programs provide makes all the difference when it comes to supporting their children’s development. This is why our programs are such a vital part of the communities that we serve.

Can you share a success story or something you are most proud of doing in your role?

I am currently very excited about the coalition of public health stakeholders that I have been able to gather to serve on the Health Services Advisory Committee for our Early Head Start program in Waukegan, IL. The children in that program are our youngest participants and Lake County has a unique set of challenges when it comes to serving the health needs of low income families. Therefore, I have been very proud of my work of bringing in relevant members of the local health community to address the needs and concerns related to health that are relevant to our participating families.

What are you most excited about as far as the future of your role?

I am excited to expand the reach of our Bridgeport centers more into the McKinley Park and New City communities.

 

Head Start programs promote school readiness of children ages birth to five from low-income families by supporting their development in a comprehensive way. The Head Start model provides a nurturing environment that supports the healthy growth and development of each child in the context of the child’s family, culture and community. 

 

Program Spotlight: Pathfinders

One Hope United is dedicated to providing children and families with the resources and services that they need to thrive. One such program is Pathfinders, which helps children who are having struggles in school and exhibiting behaviors such as aggressive outbursts, difficulty moving from one activity to another, or general fearfulness.

Recent research suggests that children who experience trauma in their early lives are more likely to exhibit negative social emotional behaviors in school settings. This was the case at our Elgin Child and Family Resource Center, where teachers were having difficulty handling the challenging behaviors displayed by several of the students in their classrooms. Since One Hope United already offers comprehensive services for individuals and families in need of intensive treatment and counseling through our Community-Based Family Services, we could address this problem using expertise that already existed within the organization.

Pathfinders, which is currently available at three of our early learning centers, is led by a licensed clinical social worker. This social worker spends time in the classrooms doing observations, providing coaching support to teachers, and most importantly working one on one with the students. Services are even offered in the home or other community locations to make them more accessible for the family. Having a social worker in the classroom has made a tremendous difference. Our teachers feel better knowing there is an expert in this area to help them provide exactly what their students need to succeed.

“There was a family at our center dealing with the stress of preparing for a move and eventually enrolling their son, who struggled with self-regulation, difficulties with transitions, and outbursts into a new school. With the help of our teachers, social worker and the Pathfinders program, this difficult transition went as smoothly as possible. On their last day, the mother shared with me that she couldn’t be more thankful for everything our center had done to help them”, shared Sara Gray, Director at Elgin Child and Family Resource Center.

Your support is what makes it possible for One Hope United to offer important programs just like Pathfinders.

Staff Spotlight: Gino Hernaiz

Meet Gino Hernaiz, (center) Lead Preschool Teacher at the Aurora Early Learning Center!

What is your job title & how long have you been an employee at OHU?

I am a lead preschool teacher here at the Aurora Early Learning Center and I have been employed here since October 10, 2016.

What sparked your interest in this career field?

My interest has ALWAYS been in the education field. My brother is 7 years younger than me and my sister is 6 years younger than me and when they were younger, I would pretend to be their teacher and actually teach them. I would print worksheets, make my own gradebook, etc. Going into college, I majored in psychology because I wanted to learn more about personality and the brain in hopes of one day teaching it myself. I ended up finding a job as an assistant teacher at an early childhood center in LaSalle, Illinois and since then, I have found that I truly enjoy working with children and seeing their growth and development. It is an amazing opportunity to get to develop relationships with the children and seeing them laugh and just be there for them through the good and the bad.

I also have a big interest in baking and cooking, so I try to incorporate a food experience in my classroom twice a month which the children have tons of fun with! It’s funny because I have a YouTube baking/cooking channel and some of the children actually tell their parents about it and they watch it and try to reenact some cooking techniques and baking techniques when they play in the kitchen dramatic play center.

Why is early childhood education so important?

Early childhood education is crucial because it is a key foundation for learning. Through early childcare, children can really learn a multitude of skills ranging from social to physical, and the core learning subjects including science, mathematics, and language.

Can you share a success story or something you are most proud of doing in your role?

Being a preschool teacher, I have come across many obstacles and challenges. One such challenge was a child who had come into my classroom late October of 2017. From the first day, she was throwing tantrums, flipping tables, and did not really know how to vocalize any frustrations. She did not want anything to do with circle time or small group activities and was sometimes hostile towards teachers and children. After many conversations with the child and her family and numerous attempts to try and learn the best ways to interact with her, I can say that she has made an enormous amount of progress.

Last week, she moved up into the next age classroom and the progress and development that she has made is truly remarkable. She went from fighting with children and running around the classroom and dumping out bins of toys without cleaning them up, to being able to socialize and interact with some of the other children and actually playing with the toys in the classroom. She went from someone inclined to use physical means to someone who can now acknowledge the feelings of others and understand that hitting is not a nice thing to do. She went from someone who refused to join circle time or small group activities to being a major component of them. This progress is one of the many things that I am truly proud of.  She has been stopping by every morning before going to her new classroom to give me a hug and to tell me that she misses me. I tell her that the children and I miss her as well and that we will see her in the hallways when we pass her classroom. This is one example of a relationship with a child that makes this job so incredibly rewarding despite the difficulty that may arise through the process.

What are you most excited about as far as the future of your role?

I am most excited about my future here at One Hope United. I am someone that absolutely loves to learn and I am excited to hopefully learn new roles and gain new responsibilities as my time with the organization continues in order to positively impact the classroom environment and the work environment.

Staff Spotlight: Emily Owen

Meet Emily Owen, Assistant Director of Programs for Centralia’s Residential and Group Homes at OHU!

What is your job title & how long have you been an employee at OHU?

I am the Assistant Director of Programs for Centralia Residential and Group Home. This year I will celebrate my 12 year anniversary at OHU.

What sparked your interest in this career field?

I graduated from SIUC in 2006 with a Bachelor’s degree in Administration of Justice. I graduated college and moved back home for the summer while trying to find a “career.” I saw an ad for One Hope United, which I already had some exposure to while I was interning at Marion County Probation that semester. I applied and was offered the job. At the time, I thought I was just going to stick out the summer at the children’s home as a “job”.  I didn’t know at the time that I had found my life’s work and career.

Why are your programs so important?

Residential treatment is one of the most unique jobs on the planet. We take care of the most traumatized youth in the State of Illinois , 24 hours a day, for a minimum of a year. The population we serve have often bounced from one home to another, from one school to another and were often told that they were “too hard to manage” in a home setting. More importantly, we are working with teenagers ages 13-18 who are in their most impressionable years to determine the person that they want to be for the rest of their lives. In our program, they are offered a clean and homey environment where they are usually provided with more consistency and stability than they have ever known in their lives.

I often tell my staff that residential is one of the most unconventional jobs on the planet. You work with kids in their “home” and get paid to hang out with kids and go on activities on the good days. The bad days, well, they are emotionally and physically challenging. But I ALWAYS say, there are more good days than bad.

Can you share a success story or something you are most proud of doing in your role?

I really could talk on this topic for DAYS.  I have had kids reach out to me to share their experience while living at the children’s home. I have watched some of the most challenging youth make tremendous progress day by day. I have watched youth care workers who often come to OHU as their first job become great leaders and grow personally and professionally.

I often joke and say that I “grew up at the children’s home”, but that statement is so true. I have worked with children who have taught me values and life lessons that I will carry with me forever. I have defined the woman that I am today because of the work I have done with OHU and for that, I am humbled and thankful every day.

What are you most excited about as far as the future of your role?

I was recently promoted to Assistant Director of Programs and will likely be in this role for as long as OHU will have me. I have been presented with amazing opportunities since my mentors trusted me with this job, and I have been challenged to grow and pushed in ways that I could not have imagined. At this time in my career, I am now focusing on how to balance all of the great demands of the job and making sure that the kids and staff I serve are safe and supported.

Staff Spotlight: Katie Adams

Meet Katie Adams (3rd from the left), Director of our Joliet Early Learning Center!

What is your job title & how long have you been an employee at OHU?

Center Director. I started at Joliet Early Learning Center in September 2016 as Assistant Director/Parent Educator for the program. In March of 2017, I was promoted to Center Director.

What sparked your interest in this career field?

For me, I knew working in early learning would be a field that I would be happy in and enjoy doing every day. I love hearing the voices of the children and seeing their faces light up each time they learn something new and it undoubtedly brings boundless joy. Having such an impact on the learning process of kids is a rare privilege.

Why is early childhood education so important?

The first years of children’s lives are crucial for setting the foundation of their learning experience. If children have a strong, quality experience with early learning, they grow up into adults that are lifelong learners.

Can you share a success story or something you are most proud of doing in your role?

I am most proud of the progress we have made in enrollment at the center and building the quality of our program. Less than two years ago, our enrollment was about 80 children and we had 8 of the 13 classrooms operating. Currently, all of our classrooms are open and our enrollment is up to 182 children. We also just finished our ExceleRate Illinois monitoring review in hopes to achieve the Gold Circle of Quality (child care state rating system) and reaching for better child development outcomes. As a team, we strengthen our relationships with the children and families that we serve everyday and have created partnerships with community organizations in our area.

What are you most excited about as far as the future of your role?

I am eager to begin the NAEYC accreditation process for the center. Accreditation ensures that programs are safe, well prepared, and intentional about ensuring children’s success. I am excited to continue working toward our center goal which is to be a high-quality early learning center and create positive long-term outcomes in life, including increased educational attainment and healthier lifestyles for the children and families we serve in our program.

Staff Spotlight: Devin Dittrich

Meet Devin Dittrich (right), Director of Programs for Foster Care in our Cook and Joliet offices.

What is your job title & how long have you been an employee at OHU?

I am currently the Director of Programs for Foster Care for our Cook and Joliet offices. I have been with One Hope United for almost 15 years (March 2018) and started off as a Foster Care Case Manager, moving my way up to Foster Care Supervisor and now Director.

What sparked your interest in this career field?

Prior to coming to One Hope United, I worked as a Medical Case Manager at a skilled pediatric nursing facility. Most of the children that lived at the facility were involved with DCFS as they had been victims of severe abuse and neglect and could not live without intense nursing and medical intervention. This was my first glimpse into DCFS. It wasn’t until a couple years later, during my graduate program, that I met someone that worked for OHU (then Central Baptist Family Services) and heard of an opening at the Joliet office. I felt complacent at my current job and knew that there was no room for growth as a case manager and I wanted to be challenged more. The rest is history!

Why are your programs so important?

Under the umbrella of my program we have 3 Foster Care teams, a Licensing team and an Adoption team. The Foster Care teams are charged with working with families that have allegations of abuse, neglect or dependency in which the children were removed from their home. They help change people’s lives and make difficult decisions to improve home environments for children and reunite families.  The Licensing team works just as hard to education, recruit and license relative foster homes and non-relative foster homes for the children to reside either temporarily until return home or long-term, through adoption or guardianship. If a child cannot be returned home, the Adoption team has specialized knowledge and skills when it comes to writing in order to ensure that a child’s history and current needs are reflected in the documents required for Adoption or Guardianship. Each position is equally as important and every worker works just as hard as the next for the purpose of ensuring that every child we work with has a safe, stable and forever home, via return home or adoption/guardianship.

Can you share a success story or something you are most proud of doing in your role?

Over the years there have been so many success stories with the families we serve and all for different reasons. These successes can be measured by way of return homes, adoptions or even just stabilizing a child in a placement or helping a parent achieve sobriety. The one common theme for these success stories is that they all had dedicated, passionate workers that cared just as much about a positive outcome for the family as the family themselves. The workers are what I am most proud of, and the way that they handle situations that most people would run from is what makes me truly proud of what I do and who I work with.

What are you most excited about as far as the future of your role?

There have been some changes over the past year with me stepping into the Director role and although it’s not always easy– our team has become very strong and supportive to one another.  I am looking forward to using that supportive teamwork component to expand our involvement in the community and build more partners outside of OHU.

Staff Spotlight: Melissa Webster

Meet Melissa Webster, Director of Programs at One Hope United!

What is your job title & how long have you been an employee at OHU?

I am a Director of Programs. My programs are Centralia Residential, Centralia Group Home and, as of January 13, 2018, I direct the Lake Villa Residential Campuses.

I started working at OHU on February 22, 1999. Next month I will celebrate 19 years with this organization. Ironically, I married my husband on February 5, 1999. It was a great month!

What sparked your interest in this career field?

This is a long answer!

As a 7th grader, my science teacher brought in a Time Life Book, “The Mind.” I was fascinated by it, mostly by a photo of drawings of a cat by an artist as he lapsed in to a more and more dramatic schizophrenia diagnosis. I was  fascinated by the way the mind works. Also, ironically, as an only child, I had always dreamed of living in an orphanage. I wanted my parents to be there too, I guess they would have been house parents or something. I just felt I wanted to be surrounded by other kids. A neat story is about 10 years ago we received a copy of that same Time Life Book as a donation. I was sharing with one of my tougher kids at the time the story of when I first read it. He wrapped it up and brought it to my office: he said, “You should have this. It inspired you.” I still have that book in my office as a reminder. And I get to work at not one but two children’s homes: life came full circle. I am blessed.

In college, I studied public relations and  journalism. My parents discouraged me from studying psychology, I don’t think they understood it. My first work was in marketing with a travel company. It was  a great job for a young person – I traveled all over North America personally and professionally – but I genuinely felt something was  missing. I did some deep self-discovery and determined although I had never been to therapy, I wanted to be a counselor. I wanted to make the world a better place. I earned a master’s degree in mental health counseling. I worked with people living with HIV/AIDS initially, then community mental health, crisis work and SASS before taking a job at the Edgar County Children’s Home as a therapist. We merged with Hudelson/Central Baptist and I found my way to lead the Centralia Campus in late 2004. I loved working with kids and families, watching them grow. Now I still get to enjoy that, but love working with my campuses and teams,  helping them to develop and grow. I will always be grateful to Ann Pearcy and Becky Newcomer: they saw the potential in a therapist who had interned once, to lead more than 80 team members. I am also grateful that Margaret Vimont and Becky have trusted me with the Lake Villa campus: I call it the crown jewel of One Hope United.

Why are your programs so important?

Residential and Group Home Care are important because so many youth need more care and supervision than a single home can provide. We work hard to help youth heal from past trauma, learn new and better skills in this world and send them back into the world. We serve youth who are so hurt and broken: it is critical that we reach them, offer them hope and help them see their place as a productive citizen in our culture.

Can you share a success story or something you are most proud of doing in your role?

Where do I begin? I have nineteen years of stories! I love seeing our kids thrive, whether it be immediately after they leave or years later. I love talking to my kids who were taken away from abusive parents or caretakers now successfully raising their own children. I love having a youth reach out to me via Facebook or a telephone call to tell me about a new job, a pregnancy or finishing school. Many kids over the years stand out: I am so proud of them all.

Now, I take great pride in the success  of my team. With my recent addition  of responsibilities to direct the Lake Villa Campus, several of my team in Centralia have now been promoted and taken on additional responsibilities. I have many people in Centralia that started very close to their 21st birthday, many with no college degree, who are now Mental Health Professionals in Illinois due to their experience with us. Some have started and finished both bachelor and master’s degrees! I have supervised several therapists so they could earn their licensure in Illinois.

My greatest success is when youth, families and team members say they have hope as a result of their work with us. (If you would like to chat, I have a lot of stories 😊)

What are you most excited about as far as the future of your role?

Many, many things excite me about my role. My world changed dramatically as of January 13 of this year. I am excited to see my team mature, grow and develop in Centralia. I now am responsible for our Lake Villa campus, and initially, will spend much of my time in Northern Illinois. My Centralia team is amazing, learning to lead without me right there. In Lake Villa, I am excited to get to know the team better, to learn this program and to work with both team to propel both campuses to greater trauma informed work and treatment of youth. In Lake Villa, it is our goal to open a group home to serve a new population of boys, and I am thrilled to help shepherd a new program from vision to reality. I love a challenge, and 2018 looks to be full of them!

On a final note, I want to share my husband and I are donors to OHU. We give generously because we believe in the mission and the value of the work of our organization.

Wings helps single dad be a better parent

Check out this heartwarming story from The Chicago Sun-Times about Alexis Tellez and his son Tonny – one of thousands of families One Hope United is helping to live life without limits. Tellez is the first single father in our Wings program, which focuses on parents ages 16 to 23, providing in-home visits and services to help new parents adjust to the responsibilities of parenthood.

Check out the full news article.

OHU Awarded For Foster Parent Law Implementation Plan

Every year, the DCFS Statewide Foster Care Advisory Council rates agencies’ plans to serve foster parents and presents awards to those who score the highest in one of three categories.

OHU’s Foster Parent Law Implementation Plan received the highest marks in all three categories! Accepting the award were OHU’s Margaret Vimont and Devin Dittrich, along with one of our amazing foster parents. Thank you to everyone who worked so hard on developing this award-winning plan!