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updated: 4/22/2013 9:22 AM

Daybreak helps homeless families get back on their feet

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  • Mary Ellen Durbin, right, and her husband, Ron Durbin, co-founded Daybreak of Lisle to help homeless families transition to self-sufficiency. Sister Helen Jilek, center, has served as treasurer of Daybreak since the organization's inception in 1989.

    Mary Ellen Durbin, right, and her husband, Ron Durbin, co-founded Daybreak of Lisle to help homeless families transition to self-sufficiency. Sister Helen Jilek, center, has served as treasurer of Daybreak since the organization's inception in 1989.
    Courtesy of Joan Broz


Bringing hope and housing to homeless families has been the primary goal of Daybreak of Lisle since its inception.

The nonprofit charity helps families with children become self-sufficient by mentoring their progress while giving them a place to call home. To date, the volunteers have helped 80 guest families learn to be independent, to budget for their needs, to provide for their children and to take pride in their success.

In 1989, the group sought to make a difference with a single apartment. It was an image of a single homeless mother with two children pulling a wagon filled with their belongings that stayed with Lisle resident Mary Ellen Durbin and spurred her to help launch Daybreak.

"From the beginning, the hardest hurdle to overcome was our fears," said Durbin, who founded Daybreak with her husband, Ron.

The couple was concerned about any liability they might incur as well as what would happen if the place were trashed or if the family refused to leave when the support ended. Their concerns were offset by their desire to make a difference.

"We did pray a lot then and decided to ask some of our friends for money," Durbin said. "Rents were about $500 a month at that time and we decided to ask people to pay just one month's rent to get the program started."

Within three weeks, the Durbins had six months of rent and a determination to move forward. The Benedictine Sisters of Sacred Heart Monastery in Lisle helped store donations for household goods and furnishings. Sister Helen Jilek came on board to be the organization's treasurer, and Sister Mary Bratrsovsky, the prioress of Sacred Heart Monastery, is the current president of Daybreak of Lisle.

Today, donations of $25 to $50 are at the core of the organization, Durbin said.

"Most of our donations are from people who just want to help," she said. "A $25 donation is going to help defray the rent, pay a monthly utility bill or help us give groceries to people in need."

Vital to the organization's success is its volunteers. They meet once a month to pray, reflect and help each other. Each brings to the organization a variety of skills. Many mentor a family on a regular basis. The group's goal remains to return each family to affordable housing and family stability.

Lisle resident Yolanda Kocemba became a volunteer in October.

"I am most thankful for this opportunity to help others and be a part of this wonderful organization," Kocemba said.

Another Lisle resident, Ed Hatfield has volunteered since 2008. He became aware of the needs of the homeless by helping Ron Durbin for several years with Sleep-out Saturday Night.

"I am now helping my fourth family with Daybreak of Lisle," Hatfield said. "Each situation is an interesting experience, but I also help out with home maintenance."

Hatfield says he makes good use of the life skills he learned growing up on a farm and estimates he puts in a couple of hours a week volunteering for Daybreak.

Celeste, a guest family parent helped by Daybreak of Lisle, recently expressed her sincere thanks to the volunteers at a gathering to celebrate Daybreak's long-term experience with Bridge Communities. She also is now a volunteer mentor with Daybreak.

The organization's thriving partnership with Bridge Communities brought continued success to Daybreak. Bridge, a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Mark Milligan and Bob Wahlgren began the group in 1988 to serve DuPage County's homeless population.

Although Daybreak maintains one house and four apartments, it is Bridge that provides case management, the preselection process and owns buildings that it rents to Daybreak for a little less than fair market, explained Durbin.

"Another hurdle we face is where a family goes after the two years in our transitional program," Durbin said. "Bridge Communities offers employment counseling, children's programs and some subsidized programs."

Mary Keating, director of community services for DuPage County and chairwoman of the DuPage Homeless Continuum of Care, said the number of families with children under the age of 18 who used emergency shelter services over the last three years is down, but the number of students identified as homeless in DuPage County is on the rise.

"Homeless students include kids whose families are doubled up with other families, so those would not be counted in the families utilizing emergency shelter," Keating said. "Families typically will exhaust every option before accessing emergency shelter, so they often will stay with other family members, friends or neighbors but they still do not have a permanent living situation."

Durbin finds there is no single reason why people are homeless.

"For the most part, there are a series of things," Durbin said. "Someone might lose a job, spend down their assets, and then end up not able to pay their rent. Others might have medical crises, financial instability and the breakup of a relationship."

Keating points to the partnership Bridge has with Habitat For Humanity as an opportunity for guest families, who after moving through the full continuum of care of homeless services, can go on to be a partner family with Habitat.

"These are wonderful families with a great outcome," Keating said.

Individuals interested in being part of the solution, may contact Daybreak of Lisle at 1910 Maple Ave., Lisle, 60532, and Bridge Communities at

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