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Courtesy Matt Baron, for the OPRF Community Foundation
For anyone who may despair of the character of this generation's youth, the Hephzibah Huskies provide a compelling antidote.
Since 2010, this collection of Oak Park-River Forest High School students who volunteer for Hephzibah Children's Association has expanded from a handful of children to a student-sanctioned school organization.
Matching the growth of the group is the extent of its impact on the 50 children who reside at Hephzibah's Group Home, 946 North Blvd., Oak Park, over the course of the year.
"They're a phenomenal group," said Liz Condon, the grants manager at Hephzibah Children's Association. "It all started with a small group of students whose parents were already involved in supporting Hephzibah and now their membership is 70-plus. That growth is a testament to the kids who started it."
Their efforts have prompted the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation to recognize the organization with this year's Outstanding Philanthropic Youth Group award.
The foundation will present the award publicly on Tuesday, Feb. 26 during the organization's annual Celebration of Philanthropic Excellence. The event will be from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom of the Carleton Hotel, Marion and Pleasant in Oak Park.
The laurels come with a $500 award, which will go toward programming to benefit residents at Hephzibah's Group Home.
In her letter nominating the group for the honor, Condon stated: "The Hephzibah Huskies are the organization's "go-to" group of volunteers because they have proven as a group to be reliable, energetic, and bring new ideas and energy to the organization."
In an interview, Condon said the teens who invest their time as Hephzibah Huskies are "old enough that they are not seen by our kids as peers…they are definitely mentors, and the group has built a really positive rapport with the kids."
The children who reside at Hephzibah's Group Home have all experienced past abuse and neglect and are recovering and preparing to be adopted by a foster family.
Part of their recovery process is learning to trust peers and adults and to learn how to participate in a healthy family setting, Condon said. The presence of the Hephzibah Huskies contributes greatly to the children's recovery process.
The group's signature event is an annual Rodeo-themed fun fair that the students plan, organize and operate for the 26 children who reside in Hephzibah's Group Home each summer.
The students, on their own initiative, did the planning and raised funds to offset most of the $7,000 cost of operating the event.
"They weren't just content with doing some things here or there," Condon said. "They took ownership of the entire event."
The leaders of the Hephzibah Huskies, and many of their members, are also regular volunteers at the Group Home. They befriend the young residents, with an impact throughout the year that is readily evident, said Condon: "The kids light up when they see the high school students."
The Hephzibah Huskies also contribute to special events such as Winter Wonderland, a community holiday-themed event that took place in December at OPRF High and to which children at Hephzibah were invited.
"Hephzibah for a long time has been fortunate to have a lot of volunteers," Condon said, "but until the Hephzibah Huskies came along, we didn't have that many at this particular age."
In addition to the Hephzibah Huskies, the Celebration of Philanthropic Excellence will also honor one other organization, the Oak Park River Forest High school Alumni Association, for its Summer Enrichment Grant Program, as well as one individual, Donna Myers of Oak Park. Myers is being recognized for her strong support of the Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry.
Myers' award comes with a $1,000 grant that she has earmarked for the Food Pantry. The alumni association's $500 award will go to its Summer Enrichment Grant program in 2013.
The Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation is in its 54th year. With assets held for the community and others now over $50 million, the Foundation stimulates and facilitates individual philanthropy, serves as accountable and prudent managers of donor funds, makes responsive and informed grants and convenes resources to address community priorities and interests.
For more information about this unique community resource, visit www.oprfcf.org or call 708-848-1560. Find the Foundation on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/OPRFCF.The Foundation is located in the heart of downtown Oak Park at 1049 Lake Street with office hours Monday through Thursday 8 am to 6 pm.
If you would like to nominate a person, a business or group or a youth or youth group for next year's Excellence in Philanthropy Awards, please contact the Foundation to be placed on the mailing list for next year's opportunity.