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Hephzibah provides critical referrals for families at risk
Several years ago, when an unemployed single mom moved to Oak Park from Chicago, licensed social worker Patty Gross was prepared with empathy and multiple referrals.

"When this mom moved here, she had lost one child to a Chicago neighborhood and had three kids living with her," says Gross, co-director of the Family Support Services Program at Hephzibah Children's Association. "She had been involved with drugs and was a victim of domestic abuse. Another local agency was working with her teenager, and they referred her to us so we could find assistance for the younger children." 

First came a referral to counseling for the troubled teenager; then the younger siblings, who needed after-school care and recreation opportunities, were introduced to the Oak Park YMCA.

"This gave their mom time to finish her GED [General Education Development] and find employment while her kids were being enriched and cared for in a safe place," Gross says.

Complementing Hephzibah's long relationship with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, the program targets and helps families before they reach DCFS, Gross continues. It rests under the umbrella of the agency's Family Based Services Program and coexists with the Substance Abuse Assessment & Referral Program for Preteens and Teens.

Gross provides clients with community consultation, training, networking and short-term family assessments. Based on reviews, clients are referred to everything from respite care, homemaker services and daycare to specialized clinical services and casework support.

Last year, Gross estimates, her program served 120 families in Oak Park and River Forestâ€"that's in addition to the nearly 600 children served annually by Hephzibah's on-site school and summer daycare programs: nine school daycare sites and one summer daycare site.

Single working moms without adequate support systems, including affordable child care and after-school enrichment for their kids, are her most frequent callers.

"I work closely with the schools, the Oak Park Health Department, and now that we have been doing this for multiple years, we also get a lot of referrals by word-of-mouth," she says. "Many of the families we serve are isolated, so we might hook a parent up with Parenthesis, for example, which gets them out and involved in the community, and provides an ongoing support group that is prepared to be with them on a more long-term basis."

Donations of clothing and other supplies, she adds, are welcome, but please call first.


Senior Citizens' Center fast facts
Agency Name: Senior Citizens' Center of OP/RF, 414 S. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park, 708-848-5251

Your agency's basic mission: The Senior Citizens' Center inspires older adults to continue their quest for lifelong learning through educational, social and cultural activities. These activities widen their horizons and encourage their involvement within the community.

Year founded? 1954

How many people does your agency serve every year? 400-plus

How many employees/volunteers does your agency have? 110

What kind of volunteer opportunities does your agency offer? Class instructors; Hospital tray favor volunteers; creating objects for sale; board and  advisory committee members; chorus volunteers performing for nursing homes, etc.; staffing public events such as Holiday Fair; Economy Shop volunteers

If someone is interested in volunteering who should they contact? Nancy Grayson

In addition to monetary support, what other kinds of donations does your agency need? Craft items, material, wool yarn, office supplies

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