Family Service has provided support to Lake County families in need since 1930. Over the years, Lake Forest and Lake Bluff residents have volunteered their time and benefited from their dedicated service.
Lake Forest and Lake Bluff have an image of wealth and success, and then sometimes underneath that image there’s a lot of need,” says Paul Dean, Executive Director at Family Service. “Then right next door there’s a lot of need, too. People recognize that these are our neighbors and want to help.”
Part of the reason that Family Service isn’t more widely recognized in our area is that their mission is so immense. They served nearly 5,000 individuals last year in communities from Shields, Moraine, Deerfield, Barrington, and Wauconda Townships, in their eight locations, and their services encompass so many things that it’s difficult to sum them up in a concise and memorable sound bite. But their main services fall into three simple categories: counseling, senior services, and Latino/youth services.
Though they began in Highland Park during the Great Depression as a community chest operation to keep local families fallen on hard times from eating out of trash cans, they introduced counseling services in 1947, and it’s been the cornerstone of their operation ever since. Counseling services include general, child, family, couples, and bilingual counseling, and the list goes on—they see anyone about anything. Given that they receive funding to service all of Lake County, they see people on a sliding fee scale so that an inability to pay won’t deter anyone from finding the help they need. The scale starts at $100 an hour, but because of economic circumstances, the scale for Lake County residents has slid to a shocking average of $16 an hour for a counseling session. The counselors working for them are all qualified at a master’s level and practically all of them average 20 years of post-license experience. “The truth is that if a family or individual is facing a hardship, like they’re out of work or facing some severe financial difficulty, we waive the fee completely,” says Paul. “Some Lake Forest residents come to [the Highland Park] office. It’s not far and not everyone wants to be seen in their own community. There are a lot of ways that we can keep things confidential.”
Counseling also comes into play under their senior services category and can be found at work in the Lake Forest/Lake Bluff Senior Center at Dickinson Hall. Family Service provides a full-time social worker to the senior center for a position called a senior advocate, currently held by Janet Fryer. Janet meets with seniors one-on-one to counsel them through difficult decisions like Medicare Part D plans, supplemental insurance plans, paperwork, and she participates in the senior center’s transportation services, even meeting with people in their own homes if they can’t travel. She leads counseling and support groups for seniors, seniors living alone, grandparents who are raising children, family caregivers of seniors, ill family members, and more, all with no out-of-pocket cost to participants. “There was not funding through the cities of Lake Forest and Lake Bluff to staff another individual, but because of the existence of Family Service and their interest in serving the community, they were able to provide trained staff and create this opportunity,” says Marla Schachtel, Executive Director of the Lake Forest/Lake Bluff Senior Center. Family Service also allocates funds to provide a Caregiver Resource Center that provides many necessities to caregivers in need of some help like wheelchair ramps, grab bars for bathrooms and showers, even funds for respite and gap-filling services.
The third category, Latino/youth services, is changing lives throughout Highwood and Highland Park for the vibrant Latino community there. They founded the Nuestro Center in 1997 as a place for elementary school children to go for help with their homework and a nutritious meal after school before their parents were done with work. That was the aspect of Family Service that captured the attention of Jim Utts of Lake Forest. “I was really struck by the mission of the organization,” he says. “I had the occasion to go visit the Nuestro Center during the afterschool program, and I watched the kids light up and saw how focused they were on doing their homework. You could just tell by the way they were interacting with the people there how much they appreciated and loved being there. I thought, ‘What could be better than this?’” He’s currently serving as the Development Chair, the Chair of the Latino Fundraising Team, and the Vice President of the Family Services Board. Family Service has since added a program called the Latino Youth Initiative through their constant partnership with United Way to have the same type of program for high school students at Highland Park High School, and they just initiated YESS: Youth Educational Support and Success to do the same for middle school children in the community, finally providing gapless educational support and more than 150 nutritious meals every day. Family Service also reaches out to Latino adults in the community to get the whole family involved and introduced to social services and the local school system through a wildly popular soccer league, community holiday gatherings like a church hosted Día de los Muertos party, English as a Second Language classes, and computer classes.
“A lot of people in Lake Forest and Lake Bluff frequent restaurants and have connections with the people in Highwood,” says Jim. “We need to care about Highwood. We can help to keep that a positive, vibrant, thriving community and a positive neighbor.”
Many people from Lake Forest and Lake Bluff have felt the positive impact of Family Service, either through counseling, their comprehensive web of referrals, their connection with the senior center, or through their positive influence that spreads out through all of Lake County. Many from our community have given back as well, either by volunteering their time or by donating money at their annual comedy fund-raiser in May. “A lot of people in Lake County don’t know how much need there is here,” Paul says. “So the theme for this year is neighbors helping neighbors, because that’s really what it takes.”
Family Service headquarters are located at 777 Central Avenue in Highland Park. Their annual comedy night is scheduled for May 11, at the Art Center of Highland Park. For more information, call 847-432-4981, or visit them online at fsslc.org.