Tom and Darby Hills met the old fashioned way—serendipitously on a beautiful summer day in 2000 when they were the only two people inside a downtown health club running on tread-mills. From this chance encounter, their relationship de-veloped into something much more based on shared val-ues and goals, with one in particular resonating strongly: a shared passion and desire to help children in need.
At the time, Tom and Darby both lived in Chicago. Tom worked in heath care and spent a lot of time in hospitals on the south side of Chicago. “I saw kids in dire states in the pediatric care unit,” he recalls. Darby was studying for the Bar and shortly thereafter went to work as a Cook County Assistant States Attorney on behalf of abused and neglected children. “I was helping kids in need have a voice,” she says.
Romance blossomed, and they married in 2003. Their common interest and commitment to helping children became stronger, recalls Darby, “during after-work con-versations before we had children.” Meanwhile, Tom’s position as Chief Investment Officer for Hills Capital Management in Barrington had him doing the reverse commute from Chicago for a while. After having their first child, they decided it was time to come home to Barrington Hills (where Tom grew up) to be close to both families, raise their children, and find a way to help Barrington children in need.
“We knew we’d want to focus on helping children,” says Darby. “To find out what the needs were in the community, we talked to teachers, community leaders, and friends.” Tom adds: “We tried to take a busi-ness approach to understand where the needs are by talking to busi-ness leaders and the school superintendant.”
“We had no idea what was going on in our community,” says Darby. “You can’t determine the needs of a child based on where they live or what they look like. When people think of Barrington, they think: af-fluent community; there can’t be that many needs here; there can’t be kids going without food; there can’t be kids going without coats. But we’ve found that it’s just not the case—that there are a lot of kids that go without. The need is much greater than many realize.”
Tom adds, “While there are many wonderful charities in the area, we came full circle back to the realization that there was no charity specific to just helping children.” So, the couple decided to embark on the lofty goal of establishing their own charity, appropriately named Barrington Children’s Charities. Darby put her legal skills to work, fil-ing all the necessary paper work to establish the Charity as a 501©3 not-for-profit, while Tom focused on the business structure. “Again, thinking of it as a business,” he explains, “we do the best to approach it that way and think carefully about who we are giving to, why, and the impact it will make. We want to be good stewards the capital donated.”
To accomplish this, they assembled a board of influential commu-nity members with a strong social and business reach across a broad spectrum of people. “We wanted people who could get the word out about our charity and rally the troops,” says Tom.
“We included both men and women on the board to help bring good perspective to our mission and the community,” adds Darby. “And we wanted board members who feel like we do—who truly have passion for helping children in need, and are happy to give of their time, talent and treasure.” The all-volunteer board is com-prised of an executive board of five and 21 additional board of director members.
With most of the pieces in place, Tom says that it was thanks to founding donors Barbara and Paul Hills, as well as initial seed do-nors Madden, Jiganti, Moore & Sinars LLP, and The Foglia Family Foundation, that Barrington Children’s Charities was able to take flight in 2009.
Once the charity formed, it was time to establish a system for finding causes and organizations that fit within Barrington Chil-dren’s Charities mission to “… support and address the social, emotional, physical, and educational needs of children within the District 220 area and chooses its beneficiaries based on need.” The charity accepts grant applications during each fiscal year through September 30. In October, applicants present their needs to the board, and the board votes on which grants to award and for how much. “We determine if the grant requests are in line with our mission to support social, educational, physical, and emotional needs of local children,” says Darby.
While doing their early research about needs within the community, Tom and Darby had discovered that there were indeed children com-ing to school in Barrington whose families needed help feeding them on a daily basis. “These children are on the free and reduced lunch program,” explains Tom. “We thought about how we could impact children at a foundational level in a meaningful way. One way is to feed them so they can learn.”
To address this basic physical need, the charity approved funding to work in partnership with the Blessings in a Backpack program to be used exclusively to fund a program for children in all eight elementary schools in Barrington Community School District 220 for a period of three years. The program provides the children with a backpack full of food for 38 weekends during the school year, with additional food for three-day weekends, Christmas holiday, and spring break vacation.
“We are currently feeding 700 children per week in all eight elementary schools with Blessings in a Backpack,” says Tom.
“Barrington Children’s Charities has really been the force behind [Blessings in a Backpack],” says Dr. Tom Leonard, Barrington Com-munity School District 220 Superintendent of Schools. “Without them, this never would have happened.”
In addition to helping administer the charity’s program and help fill backpacks every Thursday in Barrington, Darby has served on the na-tional board for two years. “For as little as $100 per year (with a little extra for spring break and long weekends), donors can make a huge difference by helping feed a child,” says Darby.
Moving on to social and emotional needs of teenagers, the charity awarded an important grant that enables Alexian Brothers Center for Mental Health to provide mental health services for students at the Barrington Middle School, Station Campus and Middle School, Prai-rie Campus. “Because of Barrington Children’s Charities’ support, we know that we are saving lives,” says Scott Burgess, executive director for Alexian Brothers Center for Mental Health. “We have had stu-dents, after we’ve presented information about depression, that have come to us who literally have suicide notes in their pockets.”
While most of the grants awarded by the charity benefit the children directly, the Hills realized that sometimes the most valu-able gift one can give a child is to help their family. To that end, the charity funds a grant to sustain the Journey Care Pediatric Hospice Respite Care Program facility in Barrington, which provides pallia-tive and therapeutic care to children for 24-48 hours, giving their families time for rest and rejuvenation.
Another cornerstone of caring for children lies in the brick and mortar necessary to administer critical care when needed. To that end, the charity awarded an asset gift specific for pediatric emergency room suites to Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital’s modernization project currently underway. “Adding good healthcare to a community is one of the most impactful ways to enhance a community,” says Tom.
“The ability to enhance this facility and the services provided for children when they need them is a great thing we can do for kids.”
Tom and Darby’s passion for helping children of Barrington through the charity is matched only by their love and dedication to their own children: Madeline—10, Tommy—6, and Jack—4 ½. Darby coaches 3rd and 4th grade girls basketball through the park district, and Tom coaches kids’ soccer. When out and about around Barrington, they love to eat at PL8, spend time with family and friends, and take advantage of the area’s many outdoor activities including tennis, golf, horseback riding, swimming, and bike riding. They love to ski as a family, taking frequent trips up to Alpine Val-ley during the winter months.
It does indeed seem fortuitous that Tom and Darby met on that summer day in 2000. “For whatever reason, on that day, at that time, there was no one in the gym besides Darby and me,” says Tom. It seems that fate might have had a hand in bringing the couple together so that they could make an important difference in the lives of so many children.
To date, Barrington Children’s Charities has awarded $561,000 in grant commitments, all directly benefiting children in Barrington. The charity funds its grants through individual, corporate, and private foundation gifts as well as through funds raised at its two annual events—The Holly Ball in December and the Annual Run for the Roses Derby Party in May.
In the words of Nelson Mandela, “There can be no keener revela-tion of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” It seems this is true of the heart and soul of the Tom and Darby Hills, and the board members and donors who make the important work of Barrington Children’s Charities possible.
To learn more or to donate, visit BarringtonChildrensCharities.com.