Tough love: FamilyForward's two-year mentorship program helps families get back on their feet

Even in the best of times it can be tough to make ends meet. And with rising costs, families that are already struggling to pay rent, buy food or pay for child care are finding it hard to just get by with the basics.

That's where FamilyForward comes in.

The Arlington Heights-based organization isn't about giving a handout, but educating and mentoring families on how to budget their money and pay their bills.

According to Erica Chianelli, executive director of FamilyForward, families in the program pay 30% of their income toward rent every month, while FamilyForward pays for the rest. Over the course of the program, clients start to pay more until they are doing it on their own.

Along the way, families are given moral support and financial guidance to make sure they can continue to sustain themselves.

Donors and sponsors are needed to ensure FamilyForward can keep their program going. In order to raise funds, the nonprofit holds its Giving Hope event, this year on Oct. 2 at Chevy Chase Country Club in Wheeling.

“As our largest, most important fundraising event of the year, Giving Hope provides essential support that enables us to fulfill our mission of strengthening local low-income, working families through our targeted, two-year program of rental assistance and intensive mentoring for families in need across the Northwest suburbs of Chicago,” Chianelli said in an email.

Chianelli talks about FamilyForward, the upcoming fundraiser and how donors and sponsors can help make this program a success for families in need.

Q: What is FamilyForward? Give a brief overview of what the organization does and who you serve.

A: FamilyForward is a nonprofit social service organization formed in 2003 that works to strengthen low-income, working families to achieve financial independence and stability through rental assistance, mentoring and other support services. The families we serve live in the Northwest suburbs.

FamilyForward case manager Pam Van De Walle, left, and board member Donna Anderson were on hand to help at the FamilyFOREward Golf Outing June 2 at Old Orchard Country Club, Mount Prospect. Courtesy of FamilyForward

Q: Where do the majority of your donations come from?

A: We have a diverse source of funding, with about 29% from fundraisers; 28% from corporations, individuals, and community organizations; 21% from churches and religious institutions; 18% from government agencies; and the rest from other/restricted funds.

Q: How many people per year do you serve?

A: In the last fiscal year, we served 157 people from 45 families.

Q: What are some of your programs?

A: Our two-year program assists low-income, working families in the Northwest suburbs in Elk Grove Township, Palatine Township, Schaumburg Township and Wheeling Township. The program consists of two core components: rental assistance and mentoring.

Participants in our program contribute 30% of their income toward rent every month, and FamilyForward pays the rest. Over the course of the two years, FamilyForward's portion gradually decreases, so that by the end of the two years, program participants are paying 100% of their market-rate rent on their own.

Families in our program must live in our service area, have an adult living in the household who is working full time, as well as a child (age 22 or younger) living at home.

During their time in the program, participants meet weekly with a pair of trained volunteer mentors, who work with them toward customized, defined goals. In addition to working on increasing income and decreasing expenses and paying down debt, our mentors develop strong relationships with clients, becoming a support system many have never experienced before.

For Papa's Sake Home Care, Arlington Heights, collected gift cards and then matched, dollar for dollar, these gift card amounts, making a total donation of more than $11,270 to help local families served by FamilyForward. Shown, left to right, are the management team at For Papa's Sake: Kaileigh Boggs, Laurie Kruchten, Sarah Harte (FamilyForward program manager), Natalie Blaze, and Nikki Swoboda. Courtesy of FamilyForward

Our mentors not only provide sound financial guidance and other life lessons, but also moral support, accountability and a consistent voice of reason. They are compassionate supporters who offer tough love and also act as cheerleaders, good listeners and nonjudgmental supporters.

FamilyForward can also offer financial assistance including, but not limited to, child care costs, educational costs for parents working to improve their employment skills, and case management assistance for families in the program.

Q: Tell us about the upcoming fundraiser.

A: Our biggest fundraiser of the year is coming up on Sunday, Oct. 2, from 12:30-3:30 p.m. at Chevy Chase Country Club, 1000 N. Milwaukee Ave., Wheeling.

Registration for “Giving Hope: Home Coming” is $75 per person and includes a variety of fun and inspirational activities, including a silent auction and raffle; cash bar and gourmet lunch buffet with carving station; livestreaming of the Bears game; engaging entertainment by District 214 students; and a live appeal to raise funds for families. Participants are also invited to wear their high school or college colors as we celebrate our “Home Coming” theme!

One program highlight will be the opportunity to hear from a family whose lives were changed by the intensive, targeted program at FamilyForward. This year's goal is to raise at least $50,000 to help client families as they continue to face struggles only aggravated by the pandemic, inflation, and ever-rising costs for rental housing.

Visit to learn more and register. Sponsorships and donated silent auction and raffle items are also welcome through Sept. 12.

Donations from the June 2022 paper products drive for FamilyForward, sponsored by the Historic Arlington Neighborhood Association (HANA) in Arlington Heights. Courtesy of FamilyForward

Q: How can people participate?

A: We are looking for sponsors, silent auction and raffle prize donors, and attendees for our event. All the details can be found at

Q: How can readers help if they can't participate in the event?

A: Our silent auction will be open to the general public about a week before the event, so people who can't attend can still bid online to support FamilyForward.

Q: What else would you like readers to know?

A: We are trying very hard to build awareness for FamilyForward and grow our circle of engaged supporters in the community. If you feel called to assist this work, you can help advance our mission by donating in-kind goods, volunteering to become a mentor, joining our board of directors or advisory board, or participating as an individual or corporate financial supporter.

We are so grateful for the long-term, recurring support of many dedicated donors over the years. Our mission resonates with many because we are not about giving handouts for a Band-Aid solution.

Our program helps to bridge the gap that many hardworking, low-income families are struggling to fill.

We feel called to ensure that those who work in, and contribute to, the community can afford to live in the community. At FamilyForward, we transform lives, one family at a time.

'Giving Hope: Home Coming'

What: A fundraiser for FamilyForward in Arlington Heights

When: 12:30-3:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 2

Where: Chevy Chase Country Club, 1000 N. Milwaukee Ave., Wheeling

Cost: $75


Sponsorships and donated silent auction and raffle items are welcome through Sept. 12; visit the website for details.

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