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The Giving Season

December is the giving season, a time of year when we shop for gifts to express our love and gratitude for those who are important in our lives. ​It’s also a time when the spirit of generosity inspires people to reach out to organizations that depend upon charitable support — a different but no less important kind of giving that makes an impact felt all year long.

  Through the generosity of donor funding, those who
  experience hair loss due to treatment receive a wig at
  no charge from the Cancer Support Center’s wig boutique.

  (Provided photo)


December is the giving season, a time of year when we shop for gifts to express our love and gratitude for those who are important in our lives. 

It’s also a time when the spirit of generosity inspires people to reach out to organizations that depend upon charitable support — a different but no less important kind of giving that makes an impact felt all year long. 

The Homewood-Flossmoor area is home to numerous nonprofits. Some provide food and shelter for our most vulnerable neighbors. Others find homes for stray animals, or bring world-class arts to this area. 

Year after year, generous donors in our midst come forward to make sure that these organizations can continue to perform their life-changing tasks. 

“If you can take care of yourself you should take care of others,” said Diane Kessler of Flossmoor. 

Kessler helped organize the South Suburban Family Shelter (SSFS) in the late 1970s. Since then, she has been a strong supporter of the SSFS and a donor to many other charitable organizations. 

Kessler said she has been fortunate in being able to provide for herself and her family. When that’s the case, she said, it is important to provide for people who are less fortunate. 
“Giving is part of my life,” Kessler said. “It’s something that I have always done.” 

Sue Perkins, a longtime Homewood resident who now lives in Flossmoor, has been a volunteer and board member at Respond Now for many years. The agency provides the first line of defense against poverty in 22 south suburban communities. 

Perkins is also a donor to Respond Now. 

“We donate to Respond Now because we see what it does for people every day,” Perkins said. “When you see the clients receiving food, or clothes, you know that this is a worthwhile cause. If we don’t do it, who will?” 

In this season of giving, the Chronicle looks at some of the nonprofit organizations that residents in Homewood and Flossmoor support. 

A safe place to get help 
South Suburban Family Shelter (SSFS) calls itself “a safe place to get help.” For 36 years, the Homewood-based agency has provided caring and confidential help to victims of domestic violence. In the past year, SSFS has provided services to 1,500 clients. 

Donations make up 40 percent of the agency’s budget, said Vicki Meilach, SSFS’s community outreach coordinator. 

And many people involved with SSFS – donors, volunteers and board members – have suffered domestic abuse or witnessed its effects. 

“This is their issue. They have seen what domestic abuse does to families and to its victims.” 

Volunteer hours play a significant role in helping the agency function. 

SSFS serves clients in the South Suburbs, Northwest Indiana, the south side of Chicago and as far west as Joliet and as far south as Kankakee. Opened in 1980, SSFS helps about 1,500 clients a year. 

The agency provides counseling and court advocacy for victims of domestic abuse. It can provide emergency housing for up to three nights for those who are in immediate danger and have nowhere else to go. One SSFS program, Sanctuary, provides housing for homeless women and children in a 12-unit apartment building. 

Donors include former clients who reach out years after their lives have stabilized. 

“Thanks to you,” one woman wrote, “my children and I were able to put our lives back together.” 

Helping people keep their pets 
At the South Suburban Humane Society (SSHS), it’s a happy time of year. 

  Philanthropic support makes
  a big difference at South
  Suburban Humane Society.
  Rachel, a terrier mix, looks
  hopeful about the prospects
  of finding a new home soon
  while receiving some care
  from Jacob Engelman, SSHS
  development director.
  by Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

“This is our best season for donations,” said CEO Emily Klehm. “Also, the Christmas season is generally a time when families adopt animals.” 

About 45 percent of the agency’s budget comes from donations, and end-ofyear contributions make a big difference. Klehm said if donations come in at the end of the year, the agency will meet its monetary goal for 2016. 

Support has enabled SSHS to launch two programs this year. The Humane Society has been directing pet owners with limited income to a low-cost veterinary clinic nearby. Sending people to the low-cost clinic has prevented 216 animals from being turned over to the humane society this year. 

“We are always looking for ways to help people keep their pets,” she said. 

In January, the Humane Society will open its on-site grooming area, thanks in part to a fundraiser by former Pooch Parlor owner Marion Bryer. Without proper grooming, dogs get matted hair and are more susceptible to health problems, Klehm said. 

News is good on the adoption front, too. In this year’s “nose count,” the humane society took in 3,300 animals but adopted an all-time high of 3,000 animals. 

“That’s a very positive trend,” she said. 

Living longer with a cancer diagnosis 
The end of the year is important for receiving donations, said Allison Smith, manager of marketing and communications for the Homewood-based Cancer Support Center (CSC).
“We are here because the community supports us,” she said. Corporate sponsors, such as CN Railroad, are also important. 

CSC provides strength, guidance and support to anyone living with a cancer diagnosis, as well as to their loved ones. All its programs and services are provided at no cost both to cancer survivors and their caregivers. 

“We are the only organization in our suburban area that offers these services free of charge,” Smith said. 

The need for its services continues to grow. In the past year, the number of visits to CSC programs increased by 42 percent, Smith said. 

“People are living longer with a cancer diagnosis. That means we need to provide programs that improve the quality of life,” Smith said. 

With just 16 staff members, the Cancer Support Center’s 500 volunteers play a key role in the agency fulfilling its mission. 

“We are a model for hyper-local organizations that provide important services to the community,” Smith said. 

A sense of community ownership 
“This is absolutely the most important time of the year for us,” said Carl Wolf, executive director of Respond Now. “During this period, there is an increase in giving both from individual donors and local churches and businesses.” 

  “If we don’t do it, who will?” said 
  longtime Respond Now volunteer 
  and donor Sue Perkins, shown 
  in the food pantry with Carl 
  Wolf, executive director. 

  (Provided photo)

The Chicago Heights-based social service agency receives about 30 to 40 percent of its budget from donations. And the news is good. 

“Local individual donations have been steady in the 10 years I’ve been here,” Wolf said. ”I’ve seen an increase. I think that is due to our ongoing relationship building. 

“There is a real sense of ownership in the local community for Respond Now. People know that it is accessible. People can come over and see what we’re doing. They have confidence in us.” 

Wolf said 14,000 area residents visit Respond Now on an annual basis. 

For this year’s Christmas season, Respond now is jointly giving away holiday packages with the Jones Center in Chicago Heights, which he called “a very important organization.” 

Bringing classical music to local residents 
“I think people are inspired by the holidays,” said Rachel Gilmore, director of marketing and public relations at the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO). “It is a time when they want to give back.” 

  Jeanne and Don Schwarz’
  winning tickets for the IPO’s
  Backstage Access raffle entitled
  them to an intermission meet
  and greet with the November
  soloist, pianist William Wolfram
(Provided photo
  by Ned Rissky)

Close to 50 percent of the IPO’s budget comes from donations, Gilmore said. An end-of-year giving campaign is now underway. 

As a local arts organization, the IPO faces unique challenges, Gilmore said. The IPO’s audience is aging, which is true for symphony orchestras across the country. However, she is happy to report that 50 new subscribers recently signed up for the concert season. 

“People are excited about what we’re doing,” Gilmore said. The IPO continues to offer outstanding music performed by a critically acclaimed orchestra at reasonable prices and close to home. 

The year’s special challenges include hosting several candidates to take over as music director and conductor; they have taken turns conducting concerts. And the orchestra lost its venue for the past several years when Lincoln-Way North High School closed in the spring. Performances during the current season, now in progress, are taking place at a handful of venues around the south suburban area. 

Thanks to local support, the IPO is continuing other popular programs that bring classical music to local residents. More than 4,000 students have experienced IPO performances as part of its Music in the Schools outreach program. 

The IPO’s summer series at Ravisloe Country Club in Homewood, which features smaller ensembles of musicians, has been a success and will return in 2017, she said. 

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