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 onehopeunited.wpengine.com/careers.

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!

OHU Donor Spotlight | Paul Earle and Ellen Rudnick

As states’ funding of child care and availability of certain services remain in flux, One Hope United’s work becomes even more vital to improving the future of children and families in the communities we serve. For this reason, our agency is honored to have so many committed donors who both believe in the work that that we do and continue to generously support our programs and sustainability. Two of these donors, are One Hope United board member Paul Earle and his spouse Ellen Rudnick.

“We wanted to focus our gift on the longer‑term health of a non‑profit organization,” said Earle. “Most non‑profits live day to day, especially when the economy is dreadful.” The retired Spencer Stuart senior leader has served on the One Hope United board since 2005, and as he and Rudnick focus their efforts on philanthropy and strategic giving, they have found that One Hope United lines up perfectly with their desire to give to agencies that focus on children and families and to support well‑managed, sustainable organizations with great outcomes.

“There are so many overwhelming problems in the world,” says Ellen Rudnick, Executive Director and Clinical Professor of the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. “We take solace in knowing that by donating to One Hope United, we’re impacting one child and family at a time, right here in our own community.” Earle and Rudnick decided to make one large joint gift to One Hope United’s Capital Reserve Fund, instead of spreading a number of smaller gifts to a number of worthy non‑profit organizations. The couple wanted to make a more resonant impact and the reserve fund allows the agency to expand and remain sustainable.

Since establishing the Capital Reserve Fund, they have also contributed a three year commitment of funding for the residential CARE program. The funding is providing development and training of a new evidenced based, trauma informed model of care through Cornell University.

“Sustainability is extremely important for the future of non‑profits,” said Rudnick. “Organizations need new revenue models to couple with the social mission of their enterprise. Non‑profits can’t just rely on grants, government funds and direct mail campaigns to those who have given in the past. As individual donors, we can help set non‑profits off on the right path with strategic giving and guidance.”

Earle and Rudnick said that they admired the fiscal responsibility and accountability of One Hope United, but what was even more important in motivating them to give was the desire to sustain these programs as the state of government funding is uncertain. The majority of One Hope United’s services, such as early education, foster care and child/family counseling, are underwritten by government funds. As state deficits grow, funding for these programs shrinks. “What is happening to these children down the road because the State has stopped paying?” asked Earle.

In May, at OHU’s Hope In Action fundraiser, Earle and Rudnick were recognized with the Leadership In Giving award. “It is committed, generous individuals like Paul and Ellen who are filling in critical gaps for One Hope United children and families,” said CEO Scott Humphrey. Their giving spans many years and includes many types of gifts such as the Capital Reserves gift, the Cornell model training and many special moments for clients at sporting events in Chicago. One Hope United is forever grateful for the generosity of Paul Earle and Ellen Rudnick.

4th Annual “Give a Little Extra Love” Event Benefits OHU

The 4th Annual “Give a Little Extra Love” event occurred on March 4, 2016 at Young Scholars Child Care Center in Ingleside, Illinois. Chrys Zastrow is the driving force behind this event, aimed at providing comfort kits to foster children. A comfort kit is comprised of a new duffel bag containing a fleece blanket, stuffed animal, water bottle, book or craft and a toiletry kit containing shampoo/conditioner, body wash, toothbrush and toothpaste.

Chrys knows all too well that foster children often arrive at their new homes with nothing to call their own. When Chrys and her husband, Matthew, welcomed their three daughters as foster children a few years ago, they arrived with only the clothes on their backs.

The children and staff at Young Scholars Child Care Center hold fundraisers all year long to purchase the supplies for the comfort kits. They also solicited donations and discounts from local stores. This year’s donors included JoAnn Fabrics, Garvey Office Supply, CASA and Dr. Katie Hauf. Girl Scout Cadet Troop 96 ran this year’s event and cut all the material for the blankets. This scout troop also conducted fundraisers to purchase supplies.

The 4th Annual fundraiser will donate 150 comfort kits split equally between three agencies, One Hope United, Arden Shores and Department of Children and Family Services. Foster children from each of these agencies are enrolled at Young Scholars Child Care Center.
Hats off to Chrys and her continued passion to bring a smile and some comfort to children in foster care at a difficult time in their lives!


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