Naperville club shares Ribfest funds as tools against child abuse
Once the mini tissue boxes were placed on each table, the crowd Friday at Meson Sabika in Naperville was fully prepared for the messages ahead.
Roughly 160 people gathered to hear the work of 46 nonprofits supported by the Exchange Club of Naperville and their sometimes sob-worthy stories of helping child abuse victims or stepping in to save struggling families from homelessness.
The event was the club's annual allocation luncheon, in which members recognize groups chosen to receive funding from the Ribfest celebration the previous July 4 weekend.
This year, club leaders declined to provide the total raised and distributed from the 2018 event, the 31st annual. But club President John Dunham said 95 percent of the net proceeds from last year's fest "have been directed back to the community."
Top recipients were Project HELP -- an Exchange Club-founded organization that works to empower parents, nurture families and strengthen communities -- and the Care Center at Edward Hospital, which assists children and teens who have been sexually abused.
Peggy McGuire, executive director of Project HELP, spoke of the agency's growth from five years ago, when it was serving 11 families with key services of parent education and mentoring, to last year, when it assisted more than 400 families with the same services. The agency also has a waiting list of 142 people seeking parenting help and advice.
"They want to become stronger families," McGuire said. "And we have built that trust in the community."
Dr. Sangita Rangala, medical director of the Edward Hospital Care Center, admitted that she sometimes finds it tough to face the trauma and tragedy of the young people she treats who have endured sexual abuse.
"I hate going to work sometimes," Rangala said. "Every now and then, I'll just walk in bawling ... and then I have to kick myself in the butt and go, 'Listen, what the heck? Think of what they went through. Your patient is here. We're going to get our butts in order and go take care of it.'"
Other funding recipients such as Breaking Free, Respite Endowment Organization and Evangelical Child and Family Agency shared stories of teaching child abuse prevention to clients in a substance use treatment program, expanding programs that give a break to parents of children with special needs, and recovering from a fire to continue providing counseling, adoption and family supports.
"It really makes us proud to be able to give you the tools that you need to get your job done," Dunham said.
The allocation event comes as Exchange Club members continue to evaluate a list of 22 options for where to host Ribfest in 2020 and beyond, when the event no longer will be able to occupy Naperville Park District's Knoch Park because of planned renovations.
Exchange Club members offered little insight Friday into their decision-making. While giving an invocation, club member Kevin Dolan asked funding recipients to "hang in there with us" as leaders ponder "necessary changes" and where to relocate.