Lea Minalga formed the Geneva-based Hearts of Hope in 1998 to educate and prevent people from using heroin, counsel addicts and provide support to their families.
"The power of this drug -- it comes from the bowels of hell, it's so addicting," said the St. Charles woman, whose son started using at 16, but is now 34 and heroin free.
About this series"Someone to be Thankful for" is a holiday series of stories focusing on the unsung heroes in our Fox Valley and Tri-Cities communities. If you know someone who deserves recognition, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Heroin is a murderer. We can't hide our eyes; we have to face it head on."
The nonprofit group incorporated in 2001 and, for the coming year, Minalga says Hearts of Hope will continue to focus on education and prevention, visiting dozens of schools primarily in the Kane County area, but reaching out to other counties as far away as Lake County.
Years ago, Minalga said, schools didn't want her to come and talk about heroin addiction.
Now collar county leaders are fighting the problem on all fronts. Minalga said parents are the first line of defense and need to talk to their kids -- repeatedly.
"I do believe prevention works. Prevention is very effective," said Minalga, who also is a certified substance abuse counselor. "When (students) get the truth, the light goes on. We can't hide our eyes, we have to face it head on."
Minalga also has attended hundreds of funerals to support families whose child has died of an overdose. She said she's never been turned away.
"Many times, I don't know the family, but I'll just go in there. I've never had anybody not be grateful that I'm there," she said. "Someone's heart has just been broken into a thousand pieces."
For more information, visit heartsofhope.net or call (630) 327-9937.
The group, which relies on donations, hosts family monthly support meetings the second and fourth Mondays of each month.
"That would be our goal, to put ourselves out of business," Minalga said. "That isn't going to be a reality, at least for now. But we won't stop working."