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Article updated: 2/24/2013 9:53 PM

Daily Herald columnist receives Maryville spirit award

By Madhu Krishnamurthy

Daily Herald columnist Burt Constable received the Spirit of Maryville Award Saturday during Maryville Academy's seventh annual Guardian Medallion Award Gala held at the Marriott in downtown Chicago.

That spirit is about "respecting and nurturing the dignity of each young person who comes to Maryville," Maryville Academy Executive Director Sister Catherine Ryan said.

Ryan said many of the children served by Maryville have been abused, neglected and faced childhood traumas.

"It's important to us to be able to tell their story in a way that respects what they have been through and also listens to and sees their hopes and dreams for the future because our children are so much more than all of the wounds that they have suffered," Ryan said.

Ryan said Constable's stories help shed a light on the challenges these marginalized children face as they fight against all odds to accomplish their dreams and become contributing members of society.

"The way he interacted with our children was so respectful, so low key, listening, hearing what they had to say, and then the stories he told were so insightful and so compassionate," she said.

The Friends of the Maryville Crisis Nursery also was honored with the Guardian Medallion Award Saturday. The gala, which is Maryville Academy's largest fundraiser of the year, benefits the crisis nursery program, located on Chicago's northwest side, which offers emergency care to newborns and children up to 6 years old for families in crisis.

"It is very humbling to be mentioned alongside the Friends of the Maryville Crisis Nursery, who work so hard to keep children safe and support their families," Constable said.

"Under the leadership of Sister Catherine Ryan, Maryville continues to do important work that transforms lives and delivers help to the most vulnerable members of our society.," he said. "In my job with the Daily Herald, I have been given opportunities to share some of those stories with our readers, and I always come away impressed not only with the professional services given to children with mental illnesses and special needs, but with the kindness, dedication and extra effort shown by the people who work for Maryville."

Constable said among the stories that touched his heart are those of teenager Shelby Williams, who went from an angry, troubled girl to an adult dreaming of becoming a firefighter, and of another teenager impregnated by a 30-year-old man as an eighth-grader, and how she had been abused, abandoned and was living on the streets before she found a home at Casa Imani, Maryville Academy's group home in Bartlett for young moms and pregnant girls with mental illnesses.

"The stories I've written about Maryville stick with me because the people involved in them always manage to find hope in the midst of truly awful situations that otherwise would be described as hopeless," Constable said. "While the media often focus on stories where people beat the odds and become champions and heroes and celebrities, I like the simple grace of those Maryville moments, when the greatest achievement might just be a child's realization that someone cares about her."

In his introduction of Constable for the award, Maryville spokesman John Gorman said Constable's work lives up to the standard set by his predecessor and friend, the late, legendary Daily Herald columnist Jack Mabley, and reflected a similar "regard for the sanctity and dignity of human life."

"Each story was beautifully and compassionately crafted to show how we treat our children with great care, dignity and respect," Gorman said.

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