Long-time leaders share favorite memories and insights about the important work and accomplishments over the past 20 years of FamilyForward, formerly known as Faith Community Homes.
As part of the 20th anniversary celebration of FamilyForward, formerly known as Faith Community Homes (FCH/FF), we connected with several long-time leaders to collect their insights into the success of this organization. It was encouraging to hear their memories, stories and favorite highlights from the past two decades. What emerged was a clear picture of the most significant objectives, strengths and achievements of FCH/FF.
Celebrating the milestones
FCH/FF has reached a number of important milestones since its beginning in 2003, with each marking a significant point of advancement for the organization. Achievements have included becoming incorporated as a 501(c)3 organization; recruiting and training the first mentors; accepting the first families into the program; hiring the first program manager, case managers and executive director; and expanding community support.
We have shaped and grown our family program while widening and deepening our base of support. We have expanded family services from our foundation in Arlington Heights to many other villages, towns and townships across the northwest suburbs.
The highlights our leaders shared from the past 20 years encapsulate five key objectives — and primary markers of success — for FCH/FF.
Measuring the markers of success
At the top of the list is the success of the mentoring component of the family program. Tim Wayman, current board chair and board member since 2009, sums it up: “Mentoring of families with guidance by professional social workers is the differentiator and key element of our program. Challenging families to reach their goals while providing necessary support make all the difference.”
Tim and his wife, Connie, experienced this personally when they began mentoring a family in late 2005. As their relationship with the family grew, they were pleased to see the development of the young-adult siblings they mentored for two years. They kept in touch, and years later, “it was heartwarming to see them successful in their jobs and raising families of their own.”
Lou Walton, FCH/FF co-founder and original and ongoing board member, says she particularly enjoyed recruiting and working with some of the first mentors. “This was a new program, and they jumped in with such enthusiasm. I have always been so impressed with our mentors’ patience and competence, particularly in working with difficult situations.”
Additionally, Lou points out the importance of the role of FamilyForward staff. “The dedication of our case managers and program manager in partnership with mentors, and their careful plans of action and goals for each family have impacted every family’s success.” She also gives “a lot of credit to each family. It’s hard work following those plans, often doing unfamiliar budgeting, and perhaps schooling, and reaching for those goals.”
Another major highlight for FCH/FF was the expansion of services beyond Arlington Heights and across the northwest suburbs. “It was a critical development in our mission’s growth,” says Tim Wayman.
The first expansion was into Palatine, at the invitation of several churches, in 2013. This was a high point for Jim Mayer, who joined the board in 2010 and was serving as board chair at the time. The interest and excitement by the churches and social service agencies in Palatine was an important indicator of the future growth of FCH/FF. “It was exciting — our first move outside of Arlington Heights,” Jim says.
Chuck Warner, executive director from 2010 through 2021, agrees that the growth of FCH/FF into additional areas has been very important. Following the expansion into Palatine, FCH/FF next reached into Elk Grove Village, Hoffman Estates, Mount Prospect, Prospect Heights, Rolling Meadows, Schaumburg and Wheeling, from 2019 to 2022. “This was significant, as it marked the growth, maturity and broader acceptance of the concept of our program,” Chuck says.
INVOLVING PASSIONATE LEADERS.
The value and achievements of committed board members, staff and volunteers cannot be overstated. “Each board member has something special to add and does so unselfishly. We are extraordinarily blessed by board members and committee volunteers. They are the heartbeat of the organization,” says Donna Anderson, FCH/FF co-founder, original and ongoing board member, and former board chair. Likewise, the expertise and work of the program managers and case managers over the years continue to provide the daily direction of the program, specialized help for client families, and the professional guidance required for the volunteer mentors to be successful in encouraging and guiding these families.
Chris Farnsworth, who joined the board in 2007, also points to the hiring of the first part-time executive director back in 2010 as an important step in the development of the organization. “The work Chuck Warner did to network and spread the word about FCH/FF among business groups, surrounding villages and towns, and townships was critical to our growth,” she says. “Most important, he was compassionate and dedicated to serving the families.”
The growth and caring leadership have continued since Erica Chianelli took the helm in late 2021. “Her fresh ideas for fundraising, efforts to expand support by creating an Advisory Board of young professionals, and resourcefulness in finding ways to improve the collection and organization of data represent some of her contributions,” Chris adds. The other members of the staff team, Program Manager Sarah Harte and Case Manager Pam Van De Walle, have continued to strengthen FamilyForward in their critical roles as coordinators, coaches and advocates for all families in the program.
HOSTING SUCCESSFUL FUNDRAISING EVENTS.
FCH/FF has hosted many exciting events, including golf outings, wine tastings, game nights, sporting-event outings, and the highly successful annual Giving Hope event. These activities have played an important role in getting the word out about FCH/FF and raising critically needed funds to assist families.
Without a doubt, the Giving Hope event is one of the very top highlights for FCH/FF leaders. “Giving Hope is my annual favorite. It gives all our supporters the opportunity to hear stories of success,” says Donna Anderson. “It is thrilling to see people open their hearts and donate money for the families,” adds Chris Farnsworth. “The amazing success of our Giving Hope events indicates the respect that our communities have for FamilyForward,” Lou Walton points out.
Although the event is always fun and exciting, the most inspirational part is usually the family story. “Hearing family testimonials, including the struggles faced and successes achieved, are particularly moving,” says Tim Wayman.
Jim Mayer recalls a family story presented at an early Giving Hope event at the Metropolis Performing Arts Center in Arlington Heights. “A former client provided testimony on the impact our program had on them, and at the end of their story they shared they had just purchased their first home. It was powerful and moving, and there was not a dry eye in the house.” This story is one of countless stories of remarkable family achievements empowered by the partnership and dedication of FCH/FF volunteers, staff and supporters.
IMPACTING THE COMMUNITY.
One the greatest impacts FCH/FF has had on the community has been to raise awareness of “the existence and concerns of low-income families in our suburbs,” according to Lou Walton. “By doing so, many community organizations have become involved in regularly supporting our families (with financial help, school supplies, Christmas donations, gift cards, etc.).” These include service organizations like chambers of commerce, Kiwanis, Rotary Clubs, women’s groups as well as many church groups. “Just as important, we are continually receiving recognition and support from governmental bodies such as townships and village boards.”
Donna Anderson continues to admire the commitment of the mentors and “the required accountability of the clients.” She has always been proud of the way the family program empowers parents to build and improve career and life skills to create their own success.
For Chuck Warner, “the most significant element is simply our presence with families. Financial support, mentoring, all the work to get families to record and justify their expenses is important and useful. But what makes FamilyForward unique and impactful is to just be with the family, to listen and understand.”
Throughout two decades of continued development, growth and expansion, FCH/FF leaders have focused on the five areas of strength outlined above. Along the way they have cherished the journey and celebrated each milestone. There is a palpable sense of both reward and accomplishment when you speak with them. Theirs is a joy at having crafted the infrastructure to carry out the vision for FCH/FF and a satisfaction in creating and supporting an effective program to assist and empower local, low-income, working families to build a better future. But they also know there is much more to do. The work of FamilyForward continues, thanks to these and many other leaders who have stepped up and gotten involved over the years. Here’s to another 20 years!