A home in Palatine quietly blends into the surrounding neighborhood, seemingly unaware of its milestone role.
It was 25 years ago that Shelter Inc. -- which offers emergency and long-term housing for children and adolescents -- held its first Charity Ball.
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"This is the home that the Charity Ball built," Carol Brown, development director, said during a tour last week.
The 4,000-square-foot home welcomes teens into a large open family room, with a TV and fireplace, that extends into the nearby eating area and fully equipped kitchen.
A newly refurbished deck sits out back and runs across the length of the house, overlooking a large backyard. A wing with bedrooms extends along the side of the house, outfitted with twin beds and desks, as well as a game room stocked with the latest video equipment.
What makes this home different is the staff office situated near the front door that accommodates a professional coordinator, group home workers and a night staff.
And what makes it unusual is its clientele, said Tom Eagan, associate director of Shelter Inc., which is based in Arlington Heights.
"These are not wards of the state. They are kids from the surrounding communities," he said
The reasons they come to the home vary. Their families lock them out of their home, or the child refuses to go home. Some teenage boys are there because their families are homeless, others are runaways.
"They are coming from families in serious turmoil," Eagan said.
Teens also are referred to the group home when they are discharged as inpatients at behavioral health facilities, or by mental health counselors who believe the child and family need a cooling-off period.
The group home is licensed to house up to six boys at a time, though the number fluctuates every day. Typically, Eagan said, the home houses 100 boys over the course of the year.
"Most of them are well behaved and cooperate with us when they are here," said Andy Nogar, coordinator of the home. "They like having a nice place to stay, where there's food in the fridge and people treat them nicely."
The average length of stay, Nogar adds, is 10-12 days, with the ultimate goal of reuniting the youths with their families.
The initial mission of the charity gala was to raise startup funds to build the group home for adolescent boys who needed emergency placement.
Robert Galvin, former chairman of Motorola who died a year ago, served as honorary chair of the inaugural event and helped to secure the evening's reputation as one of the premiere events in the North and West suburbs.
Galvin's support also helped to legitimize the agency and its mission to serve abused and neglected children in the Northwest suburbs.
An Arlington Heights policeman, Paul Buckholz, helped start the organization. He saw a need for a local social service agency that would help care for children who needed to be removed from their families.
"He wanted to make sure these kids had somewhere to go and would not be placed in a child welfare agency in Chicago," said Pat Beck, Shelter director.
"He wanted to keep them in their community, where they could attend their own school and stay in touch with their friends and teachers."
Shelter started in 1975 with a group of volunteer foster families that took in infants and children in an emergency.
The agency now has a network of 45 families that provide short-term emergency foster care as well as another 40 "home of relative" foster care families.
The organization operates three group homes for adolescents, including the Jennings Home for Girls in Schaumburg, as well as the boys' group home in Palatine and a transitional home for older adolescent boys in Arlington Heights.
Shelter officials also take a proactive stance on supporting families. They started the Healthy Families program 16 years ago to support the needs of at-risk, first-time parents.
The organization's professional counselors provide home visitations to promote positive parenting skills that optimize child development and ensure that children receive well-baby care and immunizations.
"In our 16 years of running the program, we've never had a child from one of these families have to be placed in one of our (group home or foster care) programs," Beck said. "We consider that a success."