Baking Christmas cookies in Centralia

Sprehe-Christmas-CookiesBoard Member Gregory Sprehe has been an asset to One Hope United, and has years of demonstrated leadership within the organization. He is President/Owner of Com-Pac International, Inc. Greg’s wife, Victoria, is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in St. Louis and had approached Patricia Griffith, Executive Director, about opportunities to volunteer on the residential campus. 

When Greg and Victoria came to the Centralia residential campus for the first session on Wednesday, November 20, it was evident that they have a special place in their hearts for the children of One Hope United. They made a number of desserts and packaged them in “goodie” bags, plastic bags that were made by Greg’s company! Greg and Victoria will be visiting campus again on Wednesday, December 18 – just in time for Christmas! They will be making Christmas goodies and the youth are so excited to spend time with the Sprehes again.

Family Portraits at Centralia Residential

When the leaves begin to change and the air become a little crisper, residential youth know that it is time for their family portraits! Each year at Centralia Residential Treatment, youth and staff dress up and have their photos taken by a professional photographer. It is an exciting day because many of the youth have never had individual photos taken (outside of school pictures). Youth are also encouraged to invite any family members he or she has to join them for the photos. This year’s “Picture Day” was on Sunday, October 27, 2013 and the photos were taken by Jennifer Enkoff Wood. It was a beautiful day and the colors make the photos even more impressive. Staff have the opportunity to have family photos taken that day too. 

A holiday tradition in Centralia is for various sizes of the photos to be printed and given to the youth as one of their Christmas presents. It is always a joy to see their faces when they see their photos for the first time. It is an unexpected gift for youth who have not been here for past Christmas celebrations, and one that they always remember. They cannot wait to show off their photos to staff and their family members. Staff members have already begun the sorting and wrapping of these photos and cannot wait to give them to the youth for Christmas!

Loading the Sleighs for Delivery

Volunteers packed three trucks (sleighs) full of gifts for children in the northern Illinois and Chicago area on December 10. View photos and read articles about the day at the link below. 

Daily Herald – https://www.dailyherald.com/article/20131210/news/712109847/

Chicago Tribune – http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/suburbs/mundelein/community/chi-ugc-article-medline-employees-lend-support-to-hundreds-of-2013-12-12,0,569218.story

Chicago Sun Times — http://newssun.suntimes.com/news/24315784-418/one-hope-united-brightens-season-for-2600-kids.html

Gingerbread House for Hope

More than 150 people from the Lindenhurst/Lake Villa area participated in the Gingerbread Houses of Hope event on December 6, to raise money for One Hope United.

With holiday music in the background, children, parents and grandparents used buckets of icing to attach the sugary decorations to their masterpieces that ranged from simple to highly ornate. This family-friendly event was the idea of the children of One Hope United Board member Scott Moeller.  His daughter, Brooke said “It’s a super fun fundraiser for kids of all ages. We’ve been doing it for five years and this was my favorite because we raised enough money to help a lot of children.”  During the event, children decorated 70 gingerbread houses and nearly $3,000 was raised for One Hope United.

Lovin Oven Cakery also supported this holiday community event.

Staff Blog: Hudelson Christmas story

Written by Emily Blackburn, Residential Coordinator in Centralia, Ill.

The Christmas holiday is a magical time of year for all but even more so at the Children’s Home. Each year, we spend hours on end planning for Christmas in an attempt to make this Holiday special for the residents that live at One Hope United’s Residential Children’s Home. For many of our residents, this is the only real “Christmas” that they have ever experienced. We have many traditions that we have set for the staff and youth at OHU. Some of these traditions include special arts and crafts activities, trips to look at Christmas lights, listening to Christmas carols, Christmas Stocking decorating, Home Christmas decorating contests and the lists go on. 

This year, I was coloring angel tree tags with some of our female residents. Angel tree tags are used for donors to purchase gifts for the residents on our campus. The youth carefully make their Christmas lists and many times, this is the first Christmas list that they have ever written. As I sat with the youth who were coloring angels, I began to talk to all of the girls about their Holiday traditions. The girls took turns around the table talking about their experiences with the Holidays. One girl stated that when she thinks of Christmas, she thinks of when her stepdad broke her arm. I sat stunned at the table as that was not the response that I was expecting. I processed through the event with the resident and she explained that he had broken her arm and was physically aggressive with her on numerous occasions. She stated that her school reported the abuse and her family did not support her – they sided with the stepdad. I told the resident how sorry I was she had to go through that but reminded her that she is now safe at OHU. 

After hearing this story, I did a lot of self-reflection about my own traditions and how happy my memories of Christmas are from growing up. I have tried to incorporate some of my own childhood traditions with our residents over the years as well. It wasn’t until this Christmas that I had really connected that such happy times for many can be so traumatic for others. As a public servant and employee for OHU, it is my mission to create happy memories and set traditions for the youth that we serve, with hopes that they can leave OHU and be able to reflect on the “happy” and “meaningful” memories that were made at the Children’s home.

Youth in the CARE and Day treatment programs enjoy a tasty Thanksgiving

Youth in the CARE and Day treatment programs at One Hope United’s Lake Villa campus enjoyed a tasty Thanksgiving lunch sponsored by Marsh in Milwaukee before the holiday. Some of the employee volunteers created 20 food baskets which included boxed goods and canned good for the families in the Kenosha, Wisconsin, service area and others prepared a Harvest themed feast including steaks, chicken, potatoes, vegetables and macaroni and cheese for the staff and youth. There were 40 total participants at the event and all took a moment to say what they were grateful for during this time of year.

Home Depot volunteers renovate Memory Home on Lake Villa campus

Earlier this month, 30 volunteers from Home Depot stores in Niles, Waukegan, Round Lake, Mundelein, Gurnee, West Niles and Vernon Hills donated over 85 hours of service to One Hope United. The volunteers renovated the Memory Home, one of two residential homes for boys in the CARE program on the Lake Villa campus. On November 6, the volunteers primed the bedrooms, living and dining room and two offices and installed drywall in the kitchen. The next day they painted the rooms and hung cabinets in the kitchen. The giving continued with donated food and project materials from Noodles & Co in Gurnee, Dunkin Donuts in Antioch, Galati’s in Lake Villa, Starbucks and Julie’s Coffee in Lake Villa. The Home Depot volunteers will continue to work at Memory Home for the next few weeks to finish up the project.

Thanks to Ravi Bagri, Melody Lukaszewski and Mark Griffin, all form the Gurnee Home Depot for organizing this project!

Variety awards Hudelson Region a coach van

Hudelson Region was awarded another Sunshine Coach van from Variety the Children’s Charity of St. Louis! Keys to the van ( valued at $31,323) were given to Family Support Services Supervisor Brionne Rhodes at the Champions for Children Summit on November 12. Hudelson Region filled two tables at the event and enjoyed special guest appearances by David Freese of the St. Louis Cardinals and this year’s Champion for Children, Ken Page, a Broadway actor.

The Sunshine Coach will be used by the Collinsville Family Support and Visitation staff for transporting families in the programs. This is a great gift for the families as well as the staff who were previously using their personal vehicles to transport families. This van was much-needed, and staff are really excited to start using it in the next couple of weeks.

The Spirit of Resiliency

By: Lauren Parker Prekop, Florida Region Adoptions Case Manager

Resiliency: an occurrence of rebounding or springing back; a movement back from an impact.

-American Heritage Dictionary

No one better exemplifies resiliency than the children and teens in our foster care system!

Losing a family, whether temporarily or permanently, is one of the most difficult experiences in a young person’s life, and one which will leave an indelible impact on their life. If there is no appropriate relative or family friend to help, the child must move to an environment completely unfamiliar to them: a “foster home” or “group home”. Even with genuine and welcoming foster parents or group home staff, the child or children will likely still feel like they are in a stranger’s home. Once there, they must try to adapt the best they can, while building a life with a new family.

Yet, despite all of this, children and teens in the foster care system have a lesson to teach us all! Overcoming a number of obstacles and hardships, these young people still go on, and they go strong! Spend time with these amazing kids and it quickly becomes apparent that their spirits will not be dampened.

Service workers at One Hope United witness this strength, as they spend a lot of time with these kids, particularly while transporting them to a visitation with a parent, a therapy appointment, a court hearing, or, maybe even an adoption event (if the child or teen is available for adoption). These opportunities can be some of the best times to get to know a young person.  It is during this time that a lot of them will open up and talk about their feelings related to foster care or discuss their future goals. Some may sing loudly to the radio and dance around to the latest hit song.  It’s inspiring to see how happy and expressive some can be, despite all of the negative things they’ve encountered in their life. 

Many of the kids also have incredible talents, especially the teens.  In a court hearing they might boldly share a thing or two about themselves with the Magistrate. Some aren’t shy at all and will speak their mind. At a news event while seeking forever families, these teens might perform a dance they choreographed while being filmed by a news crew. At an adoption event, they may be the star of an improvised skit. On the basketball court, they may be the player with the most points for the game. They could also be the star of their high school football team. Other kids create art, write heartfelt poetry, cook gourmet meals, or help around the house in some other capacity.

The number of ways in which the children and teens in our foster care system express themselves is limitless! We salute the beautiful spirit in each and every one of them.

A Family of Runners in Florida

Florida-Region-Adoption-Month-StoryMany older children and teenagers in foster care are still waiting to be adopted. Almost one year ago, Aubree Rose, a 17-year-old former One Hope United client, was one of those children.

Aubree had experienced a rocky childhood and adolescence. Her mother used drugs, traded sex for needs, and was in and out of jail. At five years old, Aubree had been abused and witnessed domestic abuse between her mother and mother’s boyfriend. Aubree was removed from the home and placed with her grandparents for a short time. During that time Aubree stayed out all night, snuck her boyfriend into the home and always seemed angry. Her grandparents felt overwhelmed and did not think they could care for Aubree anymore, so in February 2012 they took her to a youth shelter in Orlando, Florida.

The shelter did not work out very well for Aubree either. She habitually ran away and was depressed. Seeing that the group home placement was not going well for Aubree, the One Hope United team discussed other placement options with her. On Dec. 6, 2012, she was placed in a traditional foster home with first-time foster parents, Daniel and Sarah Hendess.

The Hendesses had hosted several teenage foreign exchange students over the years, and felt called to becoming foster parents. They knew they wanted a teenage foster child and as soon as they received the call that a teenage girl was in need of a placement, they offered Aubree a home.

“She was the brave one,” Sarah said. “She agreed to move in with strangers and to make the best of it. She really wanted to be with a family and she wanted to make it work.”

The family’s One Hope United case worker had discussed Aubree’s history of running away with the Hendesses. Sarah sat down with Aubree and told her that she hoped Aubree would never feel like her only option would be to run away, but if she ever did have that feeling that she should always come talk to them about what was bothering her.

Aubree has never run away from the Hendesses’ home, but the family has bonded a great deal from running together. The Hendesses have been runners for many years and invited Aubree to join their running group. Aubree is now training for her first 10K, which will be in December.

Aubree is enrolled in virtual high school and is expecting to graduate in December 2014. After she graduates she is thinking about joining the military or going to school to work in a human services field.

The Hendesses’ advice to families who are considering becoming foster parents is to “Just do it.” Sarah explained that the perfect time will never come, and you just have to make the decision.

“One of the great things about having a teenager is that she can articulate how she is feeling and what she needs,” said Sarah. “I think a lot of times people avoid fostering or adopting a teenager because they think it’s going to be trouble. Don’t overlook the older kids because there are good ones out there looking for someone who won’t turn them away.”