Updated: Sep 5
As one of the founders of FamilyForward, Lou Walton was there before the beginning. And as an original and ongoing board member, she has played an important part in the development and growth of FCH/FF over the past 20+ years.
Lou Walton has seen it all. As one of the founders of FamilyForward (originally known as Faith Community Homes), Lou was there before the beginning. And as an original and ongoing board member, she has played an important part in the development and growth of FCH/FF over the past 20+ years. Her commitment remains strong today, exemplified in her continuing efforts to serve as a guiding hand, focused on building a successful future for FamilyForward and its mission to strengthen low-income, working families across Chicago’s northwest suburbs.
A team gets to work, a plan is set in motion
In March 2002, Lou was part of small team of individuals — also including Carrie Miller, SLW, the Rev. David Russell, and others — tasked by the Arlington Heights Ministerial Association with developing a program to address the problem of insufficient affordable housing in the local community. The team members were each involved in the AHMA through their various faith organizations, and all felt called to do more.
To get things started: “We studied the Bridge Communities program in DuPage County and formulated our new program around their concept of volunteer mentors,” Lou explains. And because several churches in the AHMA pledged their support, the new program “was thus named Faith Community Homes.” The concept and organization grew from there, as more people stepped in to help early on, including another FCH/FF founder, Donna Anderson, and Greg Ford. Both served on the very first board of directors and are still serving today.
Getting things going, witnessing change
As they dug into the work of developing FCH/FF, the team was grateful to have the backing of several churches, which pledged financial support. The first board members also came from these church communities, according to Lou. Additionally, Lou and the rest of team felt very fortunate that Sister Carrie Miller had a social service background and agreed to become the first program manager. Initial steps also included recruiting and training the first mentors before Faith Community Homes was officially ready to accept its first family, in 2003.
Since that early burst of creative energy and action on the development team, Lou has served on a variety of committees and projects as a board member and leader at FCH/FF. She particularly enjoyed recruiting and working with some of the first mentors. “This was a new program, and they jumped in with such enthusiasm.” She is still delighted when members of the community step up. “When our friends and neighbors are aware of the needs of families close to home, they always want to help!” She also feels fortunate and thankful to work with “all the amazing and dedicated board members and staff” over the years, and to see the organization grow to serve families in several communities.
Growing need, growing awareness
The need for affordable housing has only increased across the northwest suburbs. FamilyForward continues to adapt to changing community circumstances to assist and equip parents to meet the many challenges they face as they work to provide a secure and stable home for their families. Indeed, Lou believes the greatest ways FF improves people’s lives is “by giving families the backing and confidence to strive for a better life.” She remains impressed with the patience and abilities of both mentors and staff, as their work and guidance “directly impact the success of our families.” Lou also gives credit to each family, “because of their hard work to follow their action plans, often doing unfamiliar things (like schooling or budgeting) to reach their goals.”
Over the years, Lou has witnessed the growing community awareness of FCH/FF. She is proud of the support gained from individuals, community groups, corporations, churches and government entities. She believes that raising awareness — among individuals and organizations — of the real needs within local northwest suburban neighborhoods has been key to making an impact in the greater community.
Moving forward, Lou points to the need for FamilyForward to stay focused on its mission. “Our first and only mission is to serve families who are struggling and help raise them up to become self-supporting and confident members of our communities.” Her advice for the future? “Carry on!”