It’s a blustery winter day and Susan Reich has just received a phone call from Hephzibah Children’s Association.They have a baby boy who is 24 hours old. He needs a home—and love.
A graduate of Hephzibah’s Foster Parent Program, Susan quickly prepares for his arrival.
“His mom had left him at the hospital, and he was delivered to me the next day,” she explains. Prior to raising her now adopted son, Justin, Susan had never taken in babies, but had experienced a number of young children and teens showing up on her doorstep who were pulled from unimaginable situations.
“It’s all about how you answer the door,” she says. “These kids have been through a lot and are scared to death about leaving home. They’ll often be up throughout the night because they can’t sleep. Fortunately, Hephzibah has social workers 24 hours a day you can call for advice.”
Oftentimes after the children have been pulled from their homes—most coming from abuse or neglect—they begin the healing process by moving into Hephzibah House, a group home run by the association in Oak Park.
Founded in 1897, Hephzibah Children’s Association aims to nourish the spirit and well-being of children coming from dire situations with its group home, foster care placement, and daycare programs.
One of the few facilities in Illinois to accept children from psychiatric hospitals, Hephzibah House is a warm, inviting home that welcomes new kids every day, often with as little as a garbage bag of belongings. They’re scared, anxious, and in need of nurturing, rehabilitation, structure, and love. Most have never eaten in a restaurant. Some don’t know how to get dressed in the morning or how to prepare for bedtime.
Hephzibah gives them all these things, but as a small non-profit organization with a staff of 140, they rely heavily on the support of bighearted communities to see their good work through.
This year Hinsdale Junior Woman’s Club (HJWC) answered the call.
The group of 183 women was moved to tears when learning of the impact it could have with these kids, and Hephzibah was the overwhelming selection of the members for their philanthropic partner of 2012–2014.
“They came to us and said, ‘We very much appreciate the money your club will fund raise for us, but what we really need is your hands-on support helping these kids learn daily life skills,’” HJWC President Amity Comiskey shares. “In this club year alone each member will donate three hours. Multiply that by 183 and that’s a huge impact we’ll have with these kids.”
HJWC members dove right in, taking Hephzibah House children to the circus, providing a home-cooked Thanksgiving meal, Christmas toys, and more. In the spring, this group will teach table manners and bedtime routines to prepare the kids for moving in with a foster family. They’ll also build a vegetable garden at Hephzibah, teaching the importance of healthy eating and gardening skills for years to come.
Money raised through the upcoming February 9 benefit, “The Gatsby Gala,” will fund Hephzibah’s educational enrichment program, helping these children excel academically.
“That’s what’s exciting about our work,” Amity says. “We’re helping them in the present with our time and in the future with our fundraising.”
Susan agrees and has leaned on Hephzibah for tutoring support for her son.
“My son’s birth mom drank and did drugs while she was pregnant, and he was born with some learning disabilities,” she says. “Learning to read was tremendously hard for him and the outside tutoring was very expensive. Hephzibah helped. It’s been an ongoing struggle for him, but we work at it every day. When he started to read, he felt empowered.”
Having cared for multiple foster kids throughout the years, Susan believes these children are often stunted educationally because of all the upheaval in their lives, and HJWC’s fundraising efforts will make a significant impact in the lives of many.
“Having educational support for foster children is enormous,” she says. “Along with love, support, food, and a roof over their heads, we all know that those who succeed in school succeed in life, so it’s incredibly important for their futures.”
– Christine Cuthbert