“Home Alone” and “Dances with Wolves” were released. “Beverly Hills, 90210” premiered. The Hubble space telescope was placed into orbit. The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed. “Sue” the best-preserved Tyrannosaurus Rex ever (now at the Field Museum) was discovered. Nelson Mandela was released from a South African prison. Thirty-four countries met in Paris, France to formally mark the end of the Cold War. This remarkable list of things and more share something in common with SOS Children’s Villages Illinois: This past year, we all turned 30.
As we embarked on the celebration of our 30th year of providing innovative, transformational care to children in foster care and at-risk youth and families, SOS Illinois reached several significant milestones – all during a most unprecedented time due to the COVID-19 virus. To wrap up this year of important moments in our organization’s history, we would like to share the top three highlights of 2020:
#3 Innovation: Uplifted by the Generosity of Our Amazing Donors
We are grateful for the immense support of our corporate partners and donors who found new ways of supporting us in a most unprecedented year. As COVID-19 interrupted every facet of life, we were grateful our services were deemed essential; and therefore, continued without interruption.
As an organization with a 30-year history of having faced both challenges and successes, we were thankful we did not have to confront this uncertainty alone. SOS Illinois rose to the occasion; and we did this with the help of our Board of Directors and amazing friends. For your outpouring of encouragement, we are so thankful that you stayed connected to us during these unprecedented times. We are pleased to be able to share a few highlights:
- In the early weeks of the pandemic through August, SOS Illinois families received meals twice a week from the #FeedItForward initiative, started by the Lavin Family Foundation.
- Swissôtel Chicago held a free give-back initiative with a virtual story hour where they matched donations, delivered groceries to each of our families’ homes, helped us host our Zoom events for Foster Parent Appreciation and our virtual graduations, as well as supported our Holiday Giving Program.
- Christian and Sibi Bale recognized the importance of having a good computer to work on for school during this pandemic and donated a new Chromebook to each household and connected us with Baby2Baby to provide baby supplies for our youngest youth in care.
- HSBC’s Hispanic Latin Diversity Committee donated 75 brand new Dell “Venue 10 Pro 5056” tablets, keyboards, and more for our families to use in their remote learning efforts. So many thanks for helping our children succeed.
- The Ignite a Better World Foundation, Synchrony Bank, and the United Way of Will County among dozens of other individual and corporate donors donated funds specifically to address ongoing expenses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The Chicago Regatta presented by Wintrust kept hope afloat with on-water racing during the regatta and a virtual auction and event afterwards.
- The Related Lendlease Charity Golf Classic looked a bit different, but went off without a hitch and supported our families in an amazing response from longtime supporters. Thank you so much.
- Evening of Hope took a turn onto the “Information Superhighway” and held a virtual event in November. Committee Members, Honorees, Sponsors, and attendees raised an incredible amount of money for the children in our care. Also, a special thanks to Actor David Eigenberg, Swissôtel Chicago Executive Chef Dan McGee, and an SOS Illinois Alumnus for participating in a special cookie baking segment.
- Chicago Bear’s Player Deon Bush shared Thanksgiving Dinners with Chicago Village Families, and during the holidays, Chicago Bear’s Defensive End Akiem Hicks and his mother spread holiday cheer in a safe, and socially distanced celebration.
- Holiday Giving donors pivoted with us to start online teams and raise funds for our Foster Parents to purchase holiday gifts for the youth in our care. This particular campaign raised over $55,000! This is in addition to many meals, treats, and other gifts delivered to our families this season.
We are incredibly grateful to all our donors, and would like to specifically thank: Christian and Sibi Bale; Swissôtel Chicago; Bohne Foundation; T-Mobile; Chicago Blackhawks Foundation; Chicago Yacht Club; Synchrony Bank; PHMG; Lochner; Central Church of Chicago Foundation; Conagra Foods; CC’s Wish List/ Enchanted Backpack; Lavin Family Foundation; BorgWarner; Maestro Cares Foundation; Goya Foods; Atlas Wealth Management; Headwaters Relief Organization; Home Depot in Homer Glen/The Home Depot Foundation; Win Biernacki and Rama Dandamudi, M.D.
#2 Resilience: Responding to COVID-19 to Keep Children and Families Safe
COVID-19 made this year of providing care to children and families very different from prior years. As a result, operations of the organization had to adapt. With these new and unforeseen changes, SOS Illinois reacted rapidly to successfully navigate the new pandemic. SOS Illinois first responded quickly by ensuring children and families were safe, as well as provided appropriate personal protective equipment. From there, SOS Illinois had a strategic focus on safety, education, behavioral health, and diversity & inclusion at our Villages and sites.
Safety: As we reopened the administrative sites, we took precautionary measures by putting into place additional protocols. Read a special message from our CEO, Tim McCormick, on the safety measures we took.
Education: As Foster Parents took on the additional roles related to our children’s virtual education, we realized additional support was needed. With the expertise of Win Biernacki, video segments for Foster Parents helped answer questions regarding online education. We also developed an entirely new Education Department focused on supporting every age and level of learning at our Villages as e-learning continued. See how we celebrated our graduates virtually this year.
Behavioral Health: The level of uncertainty experienced by all of us was challenging and in many ways traumatic, which is all too often part of what occurs for children entering the foster care system. Group sessions via Zoom took place, and resources were being provided to help Foster Parents. Also, we participated in Mental Illness Awareness Week.
Diversity & Inclusion: As our Villages and services continue to care for children and families of diverse racial and ethics backgrounds, SOS Illinois made the commitment to do more to provide diversity and inclusion training, workshops, and education for our Foster Parents and staff. Additionally, a committed group if staff have led this effort throught the Racial Justice Committee, which will launch initiatives in 2021.
#1 Determination: The Opening of the Roosevelt Square Community Center
The Roosevelt Square Community Center, designed by internationally recognized architect Juan Moreno and construction led by Lendlease, was completed this year, even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks due to construction being deemed an essential service. The Center is an 11,000 square-foot facility that features a 3,000 square-foot multipurpose room, Goya Learning Kitchen, learning annex, staff offices, playground, community garden, and more. Even with the uncertainty that COVID-19 presented, thanks to the tireless work of the construction teams, the Center was completed on time and on budget.
Most notable about this building, is that it is a first-of-its-kind for the City of Chicago. The Center is the first public building in the City allowed to be fully constructed from cross laminated timbers, as well as glulam columns and beams. Additionally, other sustainable and renewable energy sources like solar panels, energy efficient appliances, light fixtures, and a community garden, reflect the focus of building sustainable futures for our children, as well as our desire to help create a greener future for our City.
Launching this Center was a huge milestone for SOS Illinois and will be a lasting legacy as it continues to serve over 5,000 children and community members for years to come.
Special thank you, once again, to all of the donors, partners, and board members who helped to make the Roosevelt Square Community Center a reality. From philanthropy, to in-kind support, to countless hours of service, we are deeply grateful to you all. Learn more about the Center and our donors in our virtual tour.
Saying Goodbye to 2020 and Hello to the Next 30 Years
SOS Illinois has been proud to provide three decades of hope through the phenomenal individuals of staff, board members, volunteers, corporate partners, and donors working together tirelessly to support the important mission of caring for Illinois’ most vulnerable children and families. Thank you, and we look forward to the next 30 years.