Rosa Vara got her first exposure to Beacon Place nearly five years ago. She was sitting under a tree near the Waukegan community center, watching her children enjoy one of the organization’s summer activities.
Vara kept coming back, started volunteering and today is Beacon Place’s community liaison and data coordinator. She is also enrolled at the College of Lake County.
Founded by a group of people from Lake Forest and Lake Bluff, Beacon Place will celebrate its fifth anniversary at 7 p.m. May 3 at the Lake Forest Club, feting the success of Vara and others like her.
“It’s an opportunity to share our mission with the community and show how far we’ve come in five years,” said Barbara LaFasto, a Lake Forest resident, a founder and executive director. “We hope to find new friends who will learn more about Beacon Place.”
Beacon Place is about dream building and ultimate fulfillment of those wishes for people at the organization’s community center in southeast Waukegan, according to LaFasto. They also come from North Chicago and Zion as well as other places in Lake County.
Along with a summer camp program, there is a homework club for youngsters and classes for their parents. Some of the adult programs that enrich tasks around the home and others help with computer skills. In all cases, it is about dream achievement.
“We want to give them hope,” said LaFasto. “You have to have hope to dream. If you don’t have hope you don’t know what to dream of. We’ll teach them about something and then we’ll take them on a field trip so they can see it.”
For Vara, her journey with Beacon Place began when her children, then 8, 6 and 4, found out about the new community center near their Waukegan home. She said she was timid at first but comfortable sitting under the tree watching them.
“There was a small group of women who sat under the tree,” Vara said. “We were the mom’s club. I was a little insecure but I thought I would give it a try. I started to volunteer, and I got more comfortable.”
A native of Mexico who came to the United States when she was 6, Vara soon learned she had a skill valuable to the club. She took a cooking class and found a volunteer job along with it. She served as an interpreter for the students who did not have strong English skills.
Beacon Place treasurer Peggy Talbot, another founder and Lake Forest resident, said approximately 85 percent of the people Beacon Place serves are Hispanic.
Dream fulfillment happened for Vara. She has lived in Waukegan since 1990. As she started learning office and computer skills, she began doing other jobs around Beacon Place. She was volunteering between 25 and 30 hours a week.
Vara became a full-time staff member in 2016, and something else happened that year. She started taking computer classes and general education courses such as English, science and speech at CLC. A degree is part of her dream now. She is also an example for her children, currently 13, 11 and 9.
Dreams also change.
“In 2013 I never dreamed I could do all this,” said Vara. “I’m going to take more classes. I’m excited to see what I can do.”
Talbot said hopes and dreams can start slow but the more people begin to experience, the more those goals increase.
“One step leads to another step to another step,” said Talbot.
There are also plenty of volunteers of all ages to help out at Beacon Place, according to Talbot. Along with Lake Forest and Lake Bluff residents, other volunteers come from Gurnee, Libertyville and other places in Lake County. There are 150 high school students from Lake Forest and Lake Bluff who help out.
Along with tutoring and enrichment services for youngsters, Beacon Place makes sure there is plenty of food left over from activities for the participants to take home.
“We feed hungry children because you can’t learn if you are hungry,” LaFasto said.