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Gift of Hope

Many know portions of the organ donation story. They have heard of individuals desperate for a heart or kidney or lung to replace their failing ones and they have read about grateful recipients who go on to live active, meaningful lives after receiving a lifesaving organ donation.

But few know about the work of organizations like Gift of Hope, which coordinates the organ and tissue donation process, asking people to sign their driver’s licenses or sign-up online, indicating their decision to choose organ donation in the event of their death; and share their important decisions with their loved one prior to an unforeseen tragic circumstance. Gift of Hope is responsible for taking care of donor families during this tragedy and help change the end of the story for their loved one through the selfless act of organ donation.

Gift of Hope is one of 58 federally-mandated agencies which coordinates the organ and tissue donation process. Operating in the northern three-quarters of Illinois and in northwest Indiana, Gift of Hope works with nine transplant centers and over 180 hospitals to allow every family the option of donation.

“In working with our hospital partners, Gift of Hope is notified when there is an impending death so that our caring and compassionate staff can evaluate if a patient can become a lifesaving hero,” said Marion Shuck, community affairs manager.

In the event of a tragic circumstance, if an individual has signed their drivers license or registered online to become a donor and after all life-sustaining measures by the hospital, Gift of Hope representatives will meet with the family to discuss the options for donation. Illinois is a First-Person Authorization state, which means your decision to become an organ and tissue donor cannot be overturned by family members.

If no decision has been pre-authorized, however, Gift of Hope will give families enough information to allow them to make an informed decision about continuing their loved one’s legacy by making a selfless donation. Through directed donation, family members and friends who are in need of a lifesaving organ and are on the transplant waiting list can be the recipient, Shuck said.

Organ donation includes heart, lungs, kidneys, pancreas, liver and small intestines. Tissue donation can include skin, heart valves, corneas, tendons, ligaments and bone.

“Registering online or signing your drivers license is a gift you give to your loved ones, too, because if tragedy occurs, they won’t be asked to make a decision under difficult circumstances … and they will be asked,” Shuck said.

“We change the end of a donor patient’s story by creating a lasting legacy and giving someone a second chance at life,” she added.

Our Children’s Homestead

Founded in Naperville in 1995, Our Children’s Homestead at 387 Shuman Blvd., is a foster care/adoption agency that provides foster homes and services to some of the most difficult wards of the State of Illinois. The Department of Children and Family Services refers these wards to Our Children’s Homestead because they are severely troubled and have specialized mental health needs. 

Many of the youth referred to the agency come from psychiatric and residential facilities. Our Children’s Homestead’s staff, therapists and foster parents provide intensive therapeutic and supportive services so that these children can thrive in their home, school and local community.

“All children deserve to be part of a family. Our Children’s Homestead works hard to reunite biological parents and kids. If that is not possible, we try to find adoptive parents so our kids can be connected to a family for life. Many of our kids are older and we assist them to prepare for adult life and independence. Our goal is that all kids are set on a trajectory for a stable and successful future,” said Marissa Allen, CEO.

“We do this by providing intensive clinical services, mentoring, educational support and case management to our families. Our foster parents are trained and supported to provide the best possible care to the children entrusted to them,” Allen added.

“We believe that every child deserves the opportunity to develop healthy family relationships; participate in local school and community activities; play on community sports teams; work part-time jobs; and have friends in the neighborhood. They deserve to have typical life experiences, despite being in a foster home,” she said.

  The agency also works with families who are looking to adopt children.  They have a domestic adoption program which has been very successful in completing families.  Since their founding, Our Children’s Homestead has helped over 1,000 youth in foster care and has also helped over 200 youth find their “forever families” through successfully completing adoptions.

NAMI DuPage

NAMI DuPage, an independent affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, has been serving the residents of DuPage County since 1985. Dedicated to improving the quality of lives of people affected by mental illnesses, NAMI provides services such as counseling, peer counseling, support groups, education, social and recreational programming and job training for those over 18 who are suffering from diagnoses of anxiety, depression, attention deficit, bi-polar disease, post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia.

NAMI offers services to help the mentally ill and their families cope with and understand their situations. They also educate police, fire and school personnel on de-escalating dangerous situations and feeling empathy.

A resource/crisis phone line is also offered, as is an emergency room alternative for those in mental crisis. In NAMI’s “Living Room” those in crisis are evaluated by professionals, provided with resources and then interact with peer counselors to de-escalate.

NAMI also offers job training and counseling and has an in-house print shop, café and catering business that trains clients, so they are prepared for meaningful, but low stress, work.

Reaching into middle schools and high schools with a program called “Ending the Silence,” NAMI also educates students about the signs and symptoms of mental illness and where to seek help.

“District administrators and teachers requested that we develop a program for the schools in order to prevent suicide and other destructive behaviors which can result from mental illness,” said Angela Adkins, executive director of NAMI DuPage.

“We can no longer have the attitude of 10 or 15 years ago when children were just told to ‘get over it.’ Today there are so many more issues that children are confronting with cyber bullying, gender issues and so forth,” Adkins added. “Cyber bullying just amplifies problems and children aren’t mature enough to see beyond the moment.”

About half of the clients that NAMI DuPage serves have a dual diagnosis of mental illness and substance abuse. Many individuals with mental illness turn to drugs and alcohol to reduce the pain. “We know that for some adolescents, the brain chemistry can be changed by some drugs, leading to psychosis and other mental health problems. It is estimated that as many as 90 percent of those that have substance abuse issues, also suffer from mental health problems,” Adkins said.

The majority of NAMI programs are free but because NAMI receives no state or federal support, clients are asked to pay for individual counseling, based on what they can afford.