Hephzibah Home, as its name implies, strives to make the displaced children living there feel well and truly at home. Framed individual portraits featuring the smiling faces of current and former foster children line the walls, heightening the homey feel.
“We keep pictures of every child that’s ever come through here,” said Hephzibah executive director Merry Beth Sheets. “It’s your house; you’ve got to have pictures of yourself in your house.”
One of the many services under the Hephzibah Children’s Association umbrella, Hephzibah Home, at 946 North Blvd., is an extended-term therapeutic foster program for children for severely traumatized children, victims of neglect and abuse, age 3 to 12.
“It always helps them to feel good, to see their picture is up. That’s what I like about Hephzibah – that home feel,” said Hephzibah staff member Rashim Lettsome. “It’s not so rigid. It’s loving and caring.”
The program provides the security and stability necessary for healing and growth, with the end goal of returning children to their biological families or placing them in loving adoptive or foster homes.
“Even though the circumstances that brought a kid here are just overly tragic, this is not a sad place; it’s a very happy place,” Sheets said. “We have so much hope for these kids and what’s next for them.”
The portraits sit inside frames built by Oak Park Eagle Scout Drew Matticks, who attended daycare through Hephzibah, a program unrelated to its foster and adoption services.
“I’ve been involved with Hephzibah ever since kindergarten,” said Matticks.
Having two working parents, Matticks spent afternoons at Hephzibah Home throughout elementary school and in summers.
“I had a special connection with Hephzibah because of that,” he said. “When it came time to do my Eagle Scout project, that was an organization I wanted to do something for.”
The original project consisted of four frames made of pine and Plexiglas, with 20 slots in each to showcase each individual portrait. With help from his father, friends and fellow Scouts, Matticks completed the initial project in 2016.
“After that, they contacted me and wanted for me to make some more,” he said. Matticks made four more in 2018.
“I’d be more than happy to continue making them,” Matticks said. “I really like how they turned out.”
Oak Park photographer Bob Ebert, of Ebert Studio, started taking portraits of the Hephzibah children gratis in about 1985.
“He knew [former Hephzibah executive director] Mary Anne Brown and they put their heads together and thought of this idea,” said Jeff Ebert, Bob’s son. “I joined the business in 1990 and it became my project.”
Ebert has always had a place in his heart for kids in need of homes, he said, but his appreciation for the project grew considerably after he adopted two children, not from Hephzibah.
“As I got older, the project became much more meaningful to me, because now I have my own kids that were in the same situation really,” Ebert said.
On picture day, children head over to Ebert’s studio, located a few blocks away from Hephzibah, dressed in new outfits.
“It’s like princess or prince for a day,” Ebert said. “They come over and we take a few images and we have a lot of fun.”
“Hephzibah Home wants the kids to feel like they belong to a family, and that’s what we do. We photograph kids and we photograph families, so that they can be reminded of the love that they share on the wall in their homes,” Ebert said.
The same concept applies to the Hephzibah children.
“They’re part of a family, even if it’s temporary, at Hephzibah,” said Ebert. “They’re remembered after they move on.”