Happy Thanksgiving to All!

“I can’t wait for 2020 to end.”

How many times have you heard this or said it?

A staggering number of lives lost. A deeply troubled economy. Shuttered businesses. Unemployment. Struggling families.

And yet, here we all are, thinking about and preparing to express our thankfulness, in every way we can.

We’ll start by saying that everyone at Hephzibah is so grateful to our generous donors who have enabled us to help the vulnerable children and families who have come to us in their time of need. We are only able to assist them because of you. Thank you.

We are also grateful for each other. Although many of us are working remotely, each day we find new ways to work with each other and with our clients, bringing us together as individuals, but also as a team working to promote our mission of helping children thrive and families flourish.

We are also profoundly grateful for our community which often feels more like a large extended family rather than a random group of individuals. Our ..

Hephzibah Salutes Our Exceptional Essential Heroes

Did you know that more than 70% of Hephzibah’s staff, across our various departments, are designated essential workers?

While many organizations have been able to transition to remote-operations during the pandemic, Hephzibah’s essential workers are continuing to deliver vital, in-person services to vulnerable children and struggling families. In many cases, connecting in real-life to is the only way to effectively help them get through this difficult time; Hephzibah’s mission is to help children thrive and families flourish and our commitment is only stronger during this pandemic.

Since March, Hephzibah Home has been on lockdown; the only people permitted to enter are the 30 residential counselors, supervisors, therapists, cooks and maintenance staff who work around the clock on-site caring for children living there. This has been extra challenging because the children must remain on the premises and keeping 26 high-needs young children safe, entertained, and engaged in e-learning f..

Hephzibah is Growing to Meet Needs of Children and Families During Pandemic

Covid-19 has hit families hard.

But this is not Hephzibah’s first pandemic. We have been responding to the needs of families for 123 years, and we know what to do.

Hephzibah has made the bold decision to increase our services and grow our programs during this difficult time because it is what children and families – our community – needs.

We are doubling the number of families served who are struggling to provide safe, stable homes for their children. By providing parent coaching, emergency support, therapy services and critical referrals we are preventing child abuse and neglect by stabilizing families.

For our most traumatized children living at Hephzibah Home, we are supporting their unique e-learning needs and also adding additional therapists, social workers and caretakers to offer children the very highest level of care while they call Hephzibah their home.

We responded to a community need for safe, affordable childcare by creating a full-day program supporting e-learning an..

Hephzibah’s 2020 HeartPrint Award Recipients are Zack Zubkus and Nina Petrosino

We are proud to announce Hephzibah’s 2020 HeartPrint award winners: Zack Zubkus and Nina Petrosino, both of whom are extraordinary young people and both just graduated from Oak Park River Forest High School (OPRF).

Zack Zubkis

Zack Zubkus has been involved with Hephzibah since 2018 as a Big Brother and as a Summer Day Care volunteer. He has stood out since he began, for his dedication to the children, his responsibility, and the personal touches he brings to the work he’s done.

As one of the volunteer coordinators says of Zack: “I wanted to contact you [Hannah Weigel, Hephzibah’s Volunteer Manager] about a particular volunteer. While all of the volunteers have been so, so wonderful and I am so grateful for all of their help, one has truly gone above and beyond. His name is Zack. He comes in regularly, knows the kids’ names and knows them personally. He is an absolute natural with the kids, too, and I’m sure he will be so missed by them!! He has truly blown the “Hephzibah volunteer” job description out of the water. He is caring, kind and silly with all staff and kids and we are all so grateful for everything he’s done for us this summer. He undoubtedly deserves recognition for all his hard work!!”.

Zack chose to become involved with Hephzibah at the recommendation of a family friend who had been involved with Hephzibah for many years.

“One of my favorite memories at Hephzibah was the first time my little brother beat me at connect 4,” Zack said. “He had been pretending like he had no idea how to play, but he suddenly pulled out a bunch of crazy moves and won the game. I never had a chance and haven’t ever won a game with him!”

“Another favorite memory is my last day working at the summer camp program Hephzibah held at Lincoln Elementary. When I finally left that day, several hours later than usual, I had to wade through a whole mob of kids who were trying to keep me from leaving.”

Next year Zack will be attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison, working towards a degree in Nursing. “Working with Hephzibah has allowed me to meet so many amazing people, both kids and staff…It’s been a great time.”

Nina Petrosino

Nina Petrosino, our other 2020 HeartPrint Award winner, has been an active volunteer with Hephzibah for several years; she has been an OPRF Huskie Helper for 4 years, a Huskie Helper officer for two years, and a Big Sister since November 2019.

“I chose to volunteer for Hephzibah mostly because I admire Hephzibah’s mission to help young children in a transitional time of their life,” Nina said. “I also chose Hephzibah because the OPRF Huskie Helpers was such a fun way to get involved. It was great to join other kids my age who wanted to work together to plan events for the kids living at Hephzibah Home.”

“One of my favorite memories was when I was watching an OPRF football game with the Hephzibah kids. This particular game, the kids were so excited, they could barely sit still in the stands. I remember dancing with the kids who were trying to copy some of the cheerleaders and cheering. It was so fun to see the kids have such a great time and share it with them.”

“Another great memory is of the 2019 Rodeo [a fun, annual event organized by the OPRF Huskie Helpers for the kids of Hephzibah Home]. I was the selected DJ for the day and I was sitting near the speaker—the kids couldn’t get enough of the song “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X and we had it on repeat, the kids didn’t get tired of singing and dancing! They were so eager to show me their newly learned dance moves, it was an awesome time!”

Nina says her `work with Hephzibah affected her in many positive ways.

“Connecting with the kids has been so enjoyable,” she said. “It introduced me to people of different backgrounds than my own and listen to their experiences; this has made me a more sympathetic person. It was an honor to surround myself with these amazing kids and be a role model to them. My time at Hephzibah has shaped me into the person I am today.”

Next fall, Nina will be attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison to study Political Science. According to Nina, “One day, I hope to create change within the system.”

Hephzibah is truly grateful to these remarkable volunteers. Zack and Nina, we wish you all the best of everything as you embark on your next journey, we will miss you! But we know that wherever you go, you’ll take a piece of Hephzibah with you.

Please click here to check out current volunteer opportunities.

COVID-19 Can’t Stop the Fun for Hephzibah Summer Day Camp

“Hephzibah is the place to be.”

“I love coming to Hephzibah every day because I love the food and the teachers.”

“We love coming to summer camp because we get to go outside a lot.”

That’s just some of the feedback from this summer’s campers—Covid-19 isn’t stopping the fun for Hephzibah’s Summer Day Camp program!

Camp is in full-swing and the kids are having a blast while following safety protocol guidelines for the novel coronavirus. There are still open spots available for Sessions 2 and 3 if you are looking for childcare or fun for your elementary school-aged children. As always our program fees are on a sliding scale to help meet the needs of all families.

Hephzibah Summer Day Camp goes from 8 am – 6 pm, Monday through Friday. Three, 3-week sessions are being offered at two elementary school locations in Oak Park, IL. We have a few openings for the remaining two sessions(Session 2: June 29 – July 17 (Closed July 3), and Session 3: July 20 – August 7) so please click here if you are interested in learning more.

Per COVID safety-guidelines, camp group sizes are limited to 10 children per 2 staff-members. All of the children and staff wear masks when indoors and outdoors (when 6 feet distance cannot be maintained). Groups do not interact with each other at any time throughout the day. Additionally, parents or visitors are not allowed in the buildings and there is curbside drop-off and pick-up. All high touch surfaces are disinfected every 2 hours and lunch and snacks are served in individual packaging.

This might sound restricting, but the children have been champions adjusting to the changes and are able to do almost all of the activities they enjoyed during other summers with the exception of going to the pool and taking the bus for field trips.

The kids spend the days doing specialty activities, themed days, group games, art projects, water days, community exploration, playing with toys, learning new games, dancing, karaoke, cartooning, scooters, bike rides and time with friends. A new addition to this year’s program includes a partnering with the Oak Park Education Foundation to offer Lego Mindstorm programming classes to our children via Zoom.

The children love water day, cooking projects (so far they have made smores, butter, and banana pudding), hide and seek, games in the gym, playing with friends and toys, spending time with the staff, finger knitting, riding scooters and bikes, “learning about more people,” making a tik-tok video, kickball, nature week, watching roly-poly bugs and ants, dancing, searching for the camp mascots who are hidden in the building, making a canoe and forts, and playing outside.

The children have adapted very well to handing the safety protocols. They wear masks and maintain social distance with few complaints.

“We reinforce these safety protocols by giving verbal praise for being a “masked crusader” and “keeping your force field up,” says Amy O’Rourke, Hephzibah’s Director of Day Care.

“The staff and children are really enjoying the opportunity to have more 1:1 time. We are able to offer bike rides and scooter rides in the community, and more walking field trips in the community that are more difficult with larger groups.”

As one parent reached out to us, saying “Thank you so much to you and all your dedicated team members who have made Camp Hephzibah 2020 a truly great time for our two campers. Our children are absolutely loving it. And we’re all appreciating your care and concern for everyone’s health and safety. The whole situation is Such a relief from quarantine blues.“

If you are interested in enrolling your children in Hephzibah’s Summer Day Camp for Sessions 2 and/or 3, please contact Annette Anderson, aanderson@hephzibahhome.org.

Surviving Social Distancing at Hephzibah Home

In Spring 2020, “keeping children safe” took on a whole new meaning as the COVID-19 pandemic mandated shelter-in-place orders in Illinois. The 26 children living at Hephzibah Home were going stir-crazy; it took the whole team to keep the kids connected, educated, active, enriched and entertained for three months.

“[Virtual learning] was challenging at first,” admits Hephzibah Education Coordinator, Eliana Callan. “We had 26 different learning plans on different devices and platforms and more Zoom meetings than I could count.”

With more than two dozen children to educate and a lot of special needs to address, Callan and her coworkers spun into action.

“It was an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ situation,” she recalls. “Our goal was to help the children stay connected to school and to the teachers who had become such an important part of their lives.”

After a short adjustment period, the children adapted surprisingly well to their virtual classrooms and continued to make academic progress—a fact that Callan attributes to the dedication of a committed group of Oak Park educators.

“We have so many heartwarming stories about these amazing educators who went out of their way to help our kids,” Callan notes. “The teachers dropped off schoolwork, made short videos to keep the children motivated and even organized a drive-by parade to let them know how much they were missed.”

Meanwhile, our therapists were hard at work helping the children cope with the emotional impact of COVID-19.

“Many of the children have a history of relational trauma and broken family bonds,” says Hephzibah Clinical Supervisor Ashley Ice. “So our first priority was to preserve the nurturing and supportive relationships that these children had developed with Hephzibah therapists, social workers, staff and volunteers.”

But how does one safely stay connected during a global pandemic?
“Connection is connection, whether it’s virtual or in real life,” says Ice. “We masked up for in-person therapy sessions and encouraged the
children to talk about their feelings of loss and isolation. We also encouraged them to use the coping tools that they had learned upon their arrival at Hephzibah— tools that had helped them become more resilient, such as meditation, breathing exercises, yoga and positive
self-talk.”

Meanwhile, our volunteer Big Siblings and Heartmates stayed in touch via phone calls, letters and Zoom sessions; our Homework Helpers read stories on video; and our Paws for Strength pet therapists shared entertaining videos from a pup’s point of view. With school shut down and our volunteers on hiatus, we also had a lot of empty hours to fill. So Hephzibah Education Behavior Interventionist Molly Pyne, our self-described “coronavirus cruise director,” scheduled a brainstorming session with fellow staff members, including our after-school Day Care team. Her goal? To come up with creative ideas for activities that would beef up the fun factor.

“We wanted to keep the kids busy and active after their schoolwork was done,” Pyne explains. “So we came up with an extensive menu of afternoon activities, from indoor sports such as bowling and hockey to freeze-dance competitions and karaoke.”

With each extension of the stay-at-home order, our staff members brainstormed again to keep the fun fresh and the surprises coming—from build-your-own robots to a crazy hair day with spray-on hair colors.

“Even though we were not leaving the house and life was far from normal,” says Pyne, “the kids were having fun every single day and so were we.”

Family Based Services Keeping Families Strong

This past spring, as the community shut down to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Family Based Services Director Julie Dvorsky and her staff began working overtime to provide critically needed support for the 142 families served by our Foster Care and Intact Family services programs.

“A lot of our families were hit hard by the pandemic and needed our services more than ever,” says Dvorsky. “We had elderly foster grandparents who were struggling to care for multiple generations in their homes and intact families that had already been pushed to the breaking point by a variety of stressors before the pandemic made life exponentially more difficult.”

And these stressors can be a contributing factor to abuse or neglect.

According to childwelfare.gov, in federal fiscal year (FFY) 2018, about 4.3 million reports were made nationally to child protective services concerning the safety and well-being of approximately 7.8 million children. Many of these cases were identified at schools and doctor’s offices. While shelter-in-place regulations were active in Illinois, these sources of identifying neglect or trauma weren’t readily available, leaving children vulnerable.

The role of Hephzibah’s Intact Family Services department became even more important as they were on the front-line of helping at-risk families manage new trials and tribulations.

As these vulnerable families coped with the additional hardships caused by the coronavirus—from unemployment to rising food bills to school closures—our Family-Based Services team did whatever was necessary to help them stay safe and strong, including:

Grocery shopping and deliveries for elderly or physically vulnerable parents and guardians
Grocery store gift cards to feed financially strapped families
Face masks to keep everyone safe
Chromebooks for virtual learning
Ventra cards for public transportation
Weekly caseworker check-ins
Virtual therapy sessions
Virtual support groups for foster parents
Zoom yoga and other virtual activities for foster families
Amazon deliveries of sports equipment, musical instruments, arts and crafts supplies, activity kits and household necessities
Virtual visits with volunteer Hephzibah mentors
Birthday boxes with party supplies based on a theme selected by the child

Hephzibah is committed to helping children thrive and families flourish. As fall and winter approach and flu season gets underway, it’s possible that our vulnerable families may need to quarantine again. If you’re interested in donating an item from our “Shelter in Place Wish list” please click here.

Thank You, Maureen!

Hephzibah is so fortunate and grateful to have such loyal, committed donors who share our dedication to the welfare of children and their families.

We recently received a recurring donation that was so heartwarming we had to share it with you. One of our newest recurring donors, Maureen of Naperville, wrote this note with her gift:

“In thanks for the wonderful loving services you continue to provide to my grandchildren: Ciara, Liam and Fiona.”

The three children are currently participating in the summer camp program at Oak Park’s Beye school but attend Mann elementary during the school year. Fiona and Liam are twins and are in first grade while Ciara will be a 5th grader this year.

We are so thrilled to have Maureen as part of the Hephzibah family and are so grateful for her generous contribution.

Recurring donations are a wonderful way to support Hephzibah’s mission of helping children thrive and families flourish. When you set up your donation, all you have to do is select the “recurring donation” checkbox and your donation will occur automatically on a monthly basis. This can be a great way to offset the burden of a larger donation but still help support Hephzibah in a significant way. Please click here to donate.

Thank you to all of our recurring donors and a special thank you to Maureen!