For more than 20 years, the Hyatt Regency Woodfield in Schaumburg has partnered with Arlington Heights-based Shelter Inc. to play host to one of the area's biggest social events Shelter's annual Charity Ball.
More than 300 guests came to the Hyatt's grand ballroom Frida to find it transformed into the sleek and sophisticated "Zebra Lounge" for the black tie-optional affair.
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Shelter Inc is the Northwest suburbs' only child welfare agency; its mission is to protect abused and neglected children. The nonprofit organization provides foster care and emergency shelter, as well as long-term group home services for adolescents. It also has three group homes in Arlington Heights, Palatine and Schaumburg that all were built with proceeds from the Charity Ball, the agency's largest fundraiser.
Ric Pena, a regional executive with Zurich North America in Schaumburg, toured the Boys' Group Home in Palatine to prepare for his role as the event's honorary chairman.
"I was impressed with the services they provide," Pena said. "As a company we try to support charities that impact children, and we're especially interested in being active with those in the Northwest suburbs."
Anchorman Dick Johnson of WMAQ-TV Channel 5 served as emcee for the evening; his colleague Sandy Goldberg, a nutrition consultant on the station, did red carpet interviews with guests entering the ballroom.
"This is the kind of organization that you don't know is here until you need it," Johnson said.
Shelter officials said their services are needed more than ever during the economic downturn. Last year the agency served 1,500 families, which is an increase, they said.
"With people losing their jobs and their homes, they take out their frustration on the children," said Executive Director Pat Beck, who made an emotional appeal before dinner.
Bill Vainisi of Palatine, president of Shelter's board of directors, added that the increased need for services is coming at a time when state funding is six months in arrears, and individual and corporate donations have been cut back.
"You've got the combination of decreased funding and increased demand," Vainisi said. "It's the perfect storm. But we have a very loyal and generous donor base."
Over the years, Shelter officials have become proactive in preventing abuse by offering the Healthy Families Program, which provides home visits to first-time parents to emphasize children's well-being and positive parenting.
They also have broadened their community education efforts, heightening public awareness of child abuse, neglect and other social problems that directly impact children and their families.