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!


Meet Kevin Greer, a new employee who’s very excited about his future at OHU!

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

KG: Director of Training & Development. I’ve worked at OHU since 9/19/16


OHU: What sparked your interest in this career field?

KG: As a trainer, the biggest reward is being able to help people succeed. That’s really what I want to do with my life; serve people. And as a Director of Training at OHU, I realize that my contributions can not only help the employees succeed, but it will hopefully trickle down and help children and families succeed.  I can’t think of a better field to be in than that.


OHU: What have you enjoyed most so far in your role?

KG: I’ve enjoyed getting to know all the people and seeing the work that is being done. It’s difficult to understand exactly what a non-profit like OHU does until you’ve experienced it. I still have a lot to learn, but I’m quickly understanding how big of an impact this organization is having on the community. Also, Chicago-style deep dish pizza is enough to warrant anyone moving here. 


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

KG: I’m excited to meet and talk with more employees, continue to communicate ideas and projects, and also just be able to have fun along the way. The job will return as much enjoyment as you put into making it an enjoyable place to work. I’ve really come to enjoy everything and everyone in this short time period,  and I am looking forward to being able to see and work with so many great people.


Check out our last Staff Spotlight featuring Tim Snowden, Executive Director of Community Based Family Services, HERE.


Watch on as Tim Snowden, Executive Director of Community Based Family Services, shares his personal goals for his team and learn how he first became interested in social work!

Amazing Child Care Benefit For OHU Employees!

My name is Troels Soendergaard and I’ve been a part of One Hope United’s marketing team as the Digital Strategist for nearly 2 years. Recently, there was a big change made to our staff child care policy, significantly dropping the price of childcare at some of our centers for all OHU employees. This change is personally saving me over $1,200 a month! Knowing that it hasn’t been widely announced, I felt the need to share the positive impact that this change has made on my family because it could possibly do the same for other employees and for people considering becoming an employee at OHU!

After becoming a father 8 months ago, it quickly became clear that raising a child would be expensive. I grew up in Denmark and have never received nor seen a hospital bill. So when my son was born 6 weeks prematurely and had to stay in the intensive care unit for almost 10 days, it was quite the cultural shock for a Dane.

In a case of perfect timing, my wife and I began looking for child care providers in our neighborhood around the same time that we heard about OHU’s awesome new policy. We were pleasantly surprised at how affordable child care was for OHU staff and knew that it would greatly benefit our financial situation. My wife is a full time night student, studying to become a school counselor. She recently began interning three days a week, which is the reason behind our child care needs. It turned out that there was an open spot for our son at the Wilmette Child Development Center, only a 20 minute drive away from my wife’s internship. The center is more than we could have ever asked for, with teachers that are kind, thoughtful and very aware of our son’s developmental needs.

When searching for a new job position, it can be very easy to forget the value of great benefits. Human services agencies don’t always offer the highest salaries, but OHU will certainly make up for it in benefits. As an OHU employee, I can annually save around $15,000 after taxes on child care alone, which I’d say is quite a lot. I also can’t forget to mention the provided vacation and paid time off, which is a lot more than what is offered in the private sector.

Raising a child is hard work and can even be financially strenuous. Luckily, One Hope United has made the transition into parenthood a little less stressful and we are very grateful. Thank you OHU!

Interested in joining the OHU team? Check out our open positions at

Comcast Newsmakers ft. Eva Horner!

Check out our Executive Director in Florida, Eva Horner, who was featured on Comcast Newsmakers! In this special video interview, she shares insight on OHU’s foster care program and expresses our dedication to ensuring that children grow up in safe and loving environments!

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