Social work students helping homeless in hands-on way

By Tom Siebert
Assistant Director for Community Relations
Public Action to Deliver Shelter (PADS) of Kendall County, Illinois

Brittani Dahlman recently received a bachelor’s degree in social work from Aurora University. She also earned an eclectic education in humanity. That’s because Ms. Dahlman, 22, served as an intern during this past school year for Public Action to Deliver Shelter (PADS) of Kendall County, west of Chicago.

“I got to work with a wide variety of the human population–people with addictions, mental illness, a veteran, the younger, the older,” she said. “It was very exciting.”

Ms. Dahlman and fellow intern Andrea Spanier teamed up to develop PADS’ new Guest Assistance Program. The GAP enabled the nonprofit, homeless assistance organization to move beyond its basic mission of providing food and shelter to also assisting with employment, permanent housing, and social services.

“Andrea and Brittani pioneered this essential program this year,” said Anne Engelhardt, executive director of Kendall County PADS. “They applied their learning, experience, and skills to building relationships with the guests and were able to offer direction and critical support.”

For the past seven years, Kendall County PADS has been providing nourishing meals, overnight stays, and kind hospitality to the local homeless from mid-October through mid-April at seven area churches. This was the first shelter season during which PADS partnered with Aurora University’s prestigious School of Social Work.

The two interns augmented the assistance provided by a social worker from the Kendall County Health Department, who has been helping PADS guests for several years, going to the Thursday evening shelter site and connecting them to the department’s social services.

Ms. Dahlman focused primarily on the employment needs of her clients, helping them write résumés and cover letters. She is particularly proud of one guest whom she helped land a job at the Caterpillar plant in Montgomery, where he was able to save enough money to secure stable housing.

“He just said, ‘I’m going to pull myself up by the bootstraps,'” she recounted. “And once he got the job, he started asking to work extra hours and shifts.”

Ms. Spanier, 40, had a successful career in marketing and advertising until she developed health problems that stemmed from giving birth to her daughter, now eight years’ old. “When I was sick, I relied a lot on my mom, my step-mom, and my husband,” she recalled.

Her recovery experience inspired her to go back to college and major in social work at Aurora University, where she plans to earn her master’s degree next year. Her PADS internship entailed volunteering during the school year on Tuesday nights at Harvest New Beginnings church in Oswego and on Saturday evenings at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Montgomery.

She assisted PADS guests mostly with medical issues such as eye, dental, and mental healthcare. And she successfully steered a female guest with an alcohol problem into a 12-step program.

Kendall County PADS is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization funded by donations received through grants, gifts, private donors, organizations, and businesses. Those who wish to donate or volunteer may call (630) 553-5073 or visit the website kendallcountypads.org.

Ms. Dahlman volunteered on Monday nights at Yorkville Congregational United Church of Christ and on Wednesday evenings at the United Methodist Church of Plano.

She begins working on her master’s degree at Aurora University next month and plans to continue volunteering at PADS in the fall. The soon-to-be graduate student hopes she won’t encounter any of her previous clients because that would mean that they had not obtained permanent housing. “But if I do see any of them, I will be happy to further help them in any way that I can.”

Ms. Spanier intends to specialize in gerontology because she wants to help the elderly, the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population. She also plans to volunteer her services again at PADS this fall, describing the work as its own reward. “The payment of social work is when that one person succeeds and you know that you’ve been a part of it.”

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Hard Rock Café features iconic guitars but also shows human side of stars

By Tom Siebert

I recently visited the Hard Rock Café in downtown Chicago and viewed guitars used by Chuck Berry, Eric Clapton, Bo Didley, Dire Straits, Jimi Hendrix, and Pete Townshend (a smashed acoustic). But the most poignant piece of memorabilia was a shoulder bag worn by John Lennon, which showed that he was just a regular guy with stuff to carry around.

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‘The Shack’ tackles tough questions about evil, good, and God

By Tom Siebert

Don’t let the controversy over “The Shack” deter you from seeing this important film. Granted, it is not biblically correct. But neither was “The Chronicles of Narnia” nor “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” in which Pharaoh was portrayed as an Elvis lookalike. “The Shack” answers the age-old question of why bad things happen to good people better than any sermon that I have ever heard. God, or “Papa,” is played brilliantly by Octavia Spencer, who evokes more feelings with her eyes than any actor since Steve McQueen.

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‘Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1’ is what it is: ‘Whistler’s Mother’––and motherhood writ large

By Tom Siebert

“Whistler’s Mother” is a colloquialism for Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1, a painting in oils on canvas created by American-born artist James McNeil Whistler in 1871. The work was lukewarmly received, forcing the artist to pawn the painting. But it was eventually acquired by the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and later acclaimed worldwide as a masterpiece. However, the artist always insisted that the painting should be viewed not as an affectionate portrait but as a groundbreaking configuration of earth-tone colors. “To me it is interesting as a picture of my mother; but what can or ought the public do to care about the identity of the portrait?” he asked. My answer across the ages came after seeing the painting in person at The Art Institute of Chicago, the first time the American icon had been displayed in the U.S. since 1954. Whistler’s magnum opus is more about motherhood than Mother Earth.

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‘Hidden Figures’ is a must-see movie that reveals the heroic women who helped overcome race and space

By Tom Siebert

Mary Jackson, Katherine G. Johnson, and Dorothy Vaughan were three African American women who rose above racism and sexism to help launch white male astronauts into space in the segregated 1960s and bring them safely back to Earth. In the astonishingly great movie Hidden Figures, this trio of NASA mathematicians is played with humanity and humor by Janelle Monåe, Taraji P. Henson, and Octavia Spencer, all of whom deserve Oscars. I shed tears of anguish at the cruel indignities that these women endured but quietly wept with joy as they overcame with brains and bravery. I give Hidden Figures four E’s for edification, education, entertainment, and excellence.

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Horror meets heroism in riveting film ‘Patriots Day’

By Tom Siebert

“Patriots Day” is a painful film to watch. And you can’t get through it with the assuring mantra “it’s only a movie.” Because it is not. It happened. This riveting docudrama recreates the horrific Boston Marathon bombings in April 2013 and the subsequent manhunt for the two terrorists who murdered four people, maimed many more, and injured hundreds. I had to remind myself that I was not watching a trailer for another mindless action film during the harrowing scene in which the terrorists blow up pursing police cruisers with pipe bombs that were intended for perhaps a far deadlier attack on New York City. “Patriots Day” humanizes and memorializes both the victims and heroes of a cataclysmic American tragedy. We should do all we can to prevent a sequel to this must-see movie.

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Women’s philanthropic group gives lift to local homeless

By Tom Siebert
Assistant director for community relations
Public Action to Deliver Shelter (PADS) of Kendall County, IL

The homeless have many hardships. In sprawling Kendall County, west of Chicago, there is no public transportation. So the toughest challenge can be just getting to the temporary housing shelters that are provided during the colder months by area churches.

However, transportation will continue to be available to overnight guests of Public Action to Deliver Shelter (PADS) of Kendall County, thanks to a $2,200 donation from the local chapter of a worldwide philanthropic organization.

“Congratulations to Kendall County PADS, who was the chosen charity this quarter!” said Amber Dillbeck, president of 100+ Women Who Care of Greater Will County, which meets four times per year to hear five-minute presentations from three local charities.

“After presentations, a private vote is taken and the charity receiving the most votes is given a donation of one hundred dollars on the spot from each member,” explained Ms. Dillbeck, who heads one of the more than 400 global chapters of 100+ Women Who Care.

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Karen Allred, a member of 100+ Women Who Care of Greater Will County, and Anne Engelhardt, executive director of Kendall County PADS, display blowup of check representing the donation that the philanthropic group recently gave to the homeless organization.

Last October, Kendall County PADS began its seventh season of providing meals and overnight housing to the homeless at seven churches on different nights of the week.

The shelters are open at 7 p.m. through April 15 on Sundays at Cross Lutheran Church, 8609 Route 47, Yorkville; Mondays, Yorkville Congregational United Church of Christ, 409 Center Parkway, Yorkville; Tuesdays, Harvest New Beginnings, 5315 Douglas Road, Oswego; Wednesdays, United Methodist Church of Plano, 219 North Hale Street, Plano; Thursdays, Trinity United Methodist Church, 2505 Boomer Lane, Yorkville; Fridays, Church of the Good Shepherd, 5 West Washington Street, Oswego; and Saturdays, St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, 53 Fernwood Road, Montgomery.

The overall travel distance from site to site is 57 miles. Moreover, the distance between churches ranges from 5 to 12 miles, making it difficult for anyone to walk the routes, especially in winter weather, and carrying a backpack or duffel bag. About half of PADS guests do not own vehicles, and in past years, some have traversed the treacherous routes on bicycles.

But with the new funding from 100+ Women Who Care, PADS will be able to continue its contract with Yorkville Express, a local taxi service that has been transporting the guests to and from the shelters. Yorkville Express provides rides nine times per week, some days in the mornings. Four nights per week, the taxi brings guests directly to the sites.

“The driver, Rob, really believes in the program,” said Barb Johnson, assistant director for transportation at Kendall County PADS.

Executive Director Anne Engelhardt expressed her great gratitude to the local chapter of 100+ Women Who Care. “This organization truly demonstrates their name through their support for people in need. Their generous financial donation to PADS will go a long way to providing needed transportation to and from the shelter sites for homeless people without vehicles.”

Overnight guests at PADS receive a hot meal, safe place to sleep, breakfast, and a packaged lunch to go. They also receive assistance with employment, social services, and housing referrals.

Kendall County PADS is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization funded by donations received through grants, gifts, private donors, organizations, and businesses. Those who wish to donate or volunteer may call (331) 207-8903 or visit the website at http://www.kendallcountypads.org.

Ms. Engelhardt added: “PADS is very fortunate to be supported by the greater community through financial contributions and by the gift of time from hundreds of volunteers who are the hands and hearts of the shelter program. Each intentional act of kindness connects the giver and the receiver.”

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