By Tom Siebert
Assistant director for community relations
Public Action to Deliver Shelter (PADS) of Kendall County, IL
The first guest of Kendall County PADS was a 34-year-old recovering alcoholic and single mother of four. That was on the evening of Oct. 18, 2010.
Since then the homeless support group has helped a total of 474 guests, providing 11,006 overnight stays and serving 33,325 meals, including breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.
Those impressive numbers belie the inauspicious beginnings of the local PADS chapter, when most area residents were unaware that there were those who had no place to live in the sprawling, rustic county with a 2010 population of about 127,000.
“They didn’t know there were homeless people in our community––people were oblivious to it,” said Anne Engelhardt, who recently announced that this shelter season would be her last as executive director of the nonprofit organization.
Ms. Engelhardt herself became aware of the problem when Yorkville Congregational United Church of Christ (YCUCC), where she is a member, was visited by a liaison from the Grundy-Kendall Regional Office of Education, which had been tracking the number of homeless students in area schools.
Then Anne and a few other concerned citizens visited a Grundy County PADS site, following it up with letters to local churches and editors of weekly newspapers to see if there was support for aiding the area’s homeless.
Thus began a series of organizational meetings at YCUCC throughout the spring and summer of 2010, where the social issue was discussed by pastors and churchgoers from the community.
The meetings grew exponentially from 12 attendees to 18, to 80, to 170 at the first volunteers training session in September of that year.
“There was definitely something happening that was bigger than us,” Ms. Engelhardt recalled. “People would stand up and say, ‘I want this at my church.’ I felt like the Holy Spirit was leading us.”
Shortly thereafter, Kendall County’s health department, food pantry, and sheriff’s office offered their services. And seven churches subsequently volunteered to provide temporary shelter sites one night of the week during the six colder months of the year.
In addition to YCUCC, they were Cross Lutheran Church in Yorkville, Harvest New Beginnings church in Oswego, United Methodist Church of Plano, Trinity United Methodist Church in Yorkville, Church of the Good Shepherd in Oswego, and St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Montgomery.
Six of those original seven churches will still be offering nutritious meals and a safe place to stay when PADS opens it tenth shelter season on Oct. 20. The seventh site is Parkview Christian Academy in Yorkville, which replaced United Methodist Church of Plano in 2017.
Over the past nine years, Kendall County PADS has widened the scope of the services that it offers.
The first challenge was providing transportation so that guests who did not own cars could travel from site to site throughout the week. Since the county has no bus service, PADS partnered in 2011 with Kendall Area Transit to provide rides during the week, and then Yorkville Express came aboard in 2015 to cover the weekends.
The two private transit firms not only shuttle guests to and from the shelter sites, but also get them to their worksites––for those who have jobs––or other important appointments.
In 2016 a guest assistance program was established with social work interns from Aurora University. The interns help PADS clients with such personal issues such as addiction, mental health challenges, finding employment, and securing permanent housing.
“That added a whole new dimension to what we do at PADS,” said Ms. Engelhardt. “We were able to offer our guests a lifeline to be able to help themselves. And we will always do that.”
She points with pride to those former guests who have become contributing members of the community and some who have even volunteered at the shelters.
One of those is Darrell McGhee, 39, who sought shelter at Cross Lutheran Church on a cold December night in 2014.
“I for one as a guest had a great experience there for a couple of winters,” said Mr. McGhee, who now has a steady job and a permanent place to live. “Anne was always positive and encouraging, always found a way she could help.”
He added: “She put in a great deal of effort and hard work to make this all come together.”
Kathy Farren, an assistant site coordinator and treasurer for the nonprofit organization, agreed.
“Anne has a great combination of energy and organizational skills beyond belief,” she said. “God put the right person in place at just the right time.”
Ms. Farren, a friend of Anne’s for more than 40 years, heads a task force that is searching for a new executive director.
They are seeking someone who has considerable computer, organizational, and interpersonal skills, said Ms. Engelhardt. “I’m sure someone is out there, and perhaps getting a whisper in the ear or a nudge in the heart.”
Ideally, she continued, PADS’ new leader would be able to shadow her and learn the position throughout this shelter season, which runs through April 18, 2020.
Ms. Engelhardt and her husband Jerry are both retired teachers who have been married for 49 years. The Yorkville couple has five adult children and nine grandchildren, with one on the way.
She expressed her profound appreciation to all those who have volunteered, donated, or contributed in some way to PADS over the past nine years. “I continue to be moved by the compassion of hundreds of people in the communities who graciously give their time and kindness to others in need.”
Those who wish to donate, volunteer, or learn more about helping the homeless community may call (630) 334-8180 or visit the website at kendallcountypads.org.
Although Anne’s role in Kendall County PADS will soon be reduced, her vision remains large.
“My hope is that our community leaders and social agents will gain an understanding of the complexity of the lives of homeless people,” she said. “I hope they will begin to recognize that homelessness is a social problem that requires systemic support for a better and different approach to solutions to reduce––and maybe someday end––homelessness.”