Lake County Haven employees celebrate 25 years of helping homeless

Twenty-five years on the job is a unique achievement when most employees stay an average of four years with an employer, but for three women at Lake County Haven in Libertyville, it is the only place they want to be.

Laura Sabino, executive director; Barbara McCarty, site supervisor; and Sharon Halbert, counselor; still love encouraging and supporting homeless women and children at Lake County Haven, a nonprofit organization providing shelter, housing and supportive services.

Halbert and McCarty were once clients who successfully graduated from Lake County Haven before becoming staff.

“I remember the pain, the guilt, feeling less than,” Halbert recalled of the period she was homeless.

After McCarty and Halbert successfully completed the program at Lake County Haven, Sabino asked them both to come work for the agency. She knew there was no message that was more meaningful to a homeless woman than to hear from someone else who had been there and had gone on to live a good life.

The three call each other family; laugh about the quirks they know all so well in each other and marvel at the fact they are still at Lake County Haven.

McCarty and Halbert have become like sisters through their experiences “working in the trenches together,” Halbert said. They have helped countless women find their own path to independent living, leaving abusive relationships and the violence of the streets behind. And they credit Sabino with showing them the way, giving them the resources they needed, and always advocating for women.

Even after 25 years, Sabino loves her multi-faceted position, which, on any given day, could have her writing an article on trauma, training staff, mapping out a strategic plan or speaking to a local club. For Sabino, though, it is the residents that keep her heart engaged in the work.

“We become like a family for them,” she said. “They are inviting us into their lives at a very deep level. They are trusting us to help them when they are the most vulnerable.”

Daniel B. Shanes, chief judge of the 19th Judicial Court of Lake County, sees a lot from his bench about what can go wrong in a person’s life, but also what can go right. That’s why he is a big fan of Lake County Haven and Sabino in particular, calling her a gem and the force that has made Lake County Haven such a pivotal agency in the community.

“Every day for 25 years, with Laura Sabino’s leadership, Lake County Haven quietly saves lives,” Shanes said, “providing opportunities for women and their children to find safety, support, and ultimately success. Lake County is a better place because of Lake County Haven, and these women are heroes for making it happen.”

A group of Lake Forest residents recognized a need for housing for homeless women and children and opened Lake County Haven in 1992 as a single shelter in Libertyville. The board of directors ran the organization the first several years and hired Sabino as their first executive director and full-time employee in 1996. The agency has expanded to two shelters, Hope House and Renewal House, and has longer-term housing sites scattered throughout the area.

Matt Dudley, president of the board of directors and a partner at the Libertyville law firm Dudley & Lake, said Lake County Haven has a reputation as a very effective organization. He congratulated Sabino, Halbert and McCarty for making a such a significant impact on the lives of homeless women and children.

“You just see how much good Lake County Haven does,” Dudley said. “Laura (Sabino) has transformed the organization over the years. She puts people in a position where they excel. That is what good leaders do.”

Sabino, McCarty and Halbert talked about their experiences as they looked back on 25 years of service in jobs that are not always easy.

“Sharon and Barbara are hugely important to me as some of the people I have known the longest in my life,” Sabino said.

Halbert and McCarty expressed similar feelings.

“I cannot tell you how much I love that lady (Sabino), and I have undying, unconditional love for Lake County Haven,” Halbert said. “I may say this more than once - Lake County Haven saved my life.”

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