My View: CAC Finally Finds Its Forever Home

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By Nick Reiher

As the bright, clear skies began to darken under the shadow of the moon the afternoon of April 8, I hunted down Lisa Las, Executive Director of the Will County Children’s Advocacy Center.

Officials and county leaders and workers – and a group of colleagues from southern Illinois — were filling the parking lot of the CAC’s new building, a renovated Montessori school on Cedarwood Drive in Crest Hill.

It’s a really nice building, inside and out, built in 2008, purchased for about $3.4 million and renovated by county workers for just $1.8 million. Later during the ribbon-cutting ceremony, we would learn many hands chipped in to make the new CAC home happen, including IKEA.

IKEA had helped CAC set up new digs during at least one of its previous five moves since Will County State’s Attorney Jim Glasgow founded the program that has served more than 11,600 severely abused and neglected children 1995.

During her remarks, Las said most of the new building was ready. But the lower floor still needed work and furniture. IKEA – which already had donated some 3,000 toys for the CAC — once again stepped in to provide the cozy furniture designed to put young clients at ease.

An IKEA rep was overheard to say this was their largest donation ever. That says a lot. I did wonder if the furniture came assembled.

I had passed by the TLC Learning Center many times. A really nice building. But it didn’t seem to be used. Turns out, COVID – as in many cases – hit the school hard, and they didn’t need such a large building anymore.

How the CAC came to know about the building is what Glasgow and Las called another instance of “divine intervention” that had kept the agency going for nearly 40 years.

Former County Board Member Mike Fricilone said he had been talking to real estate agent Bonnie Willis about some property issues in Homer Township. A member of the CAC back then, Mike asked Willis if she happened to have any free land.

Willis said, no, but she knew of a former school for sale in Crest Hill. Mike and a group from the county toured the building, and it didn’t take long to make an impression.

“As soon as we walked in,” he said, “I knew it was home.”

Now, this was saying a lot. The first CAC office was in a donated space in the former Silver Cross Hospital in Joliet. Since then, it has bounced around to various locations, mostly centering around Downtown Joliet, including above a former bank building.

I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to change addresses every few years, and never finding quite the right space to do some of the most difficult, sensitive work with the most vulnerable of children.

The pictures on Facebook and other social media always showed smiling faces; not the kids, of course. The therapists having a bit of fun, or Outreach Coordinator Cheri Johnson, who also is Coordinator for the Paws-4-Kids services. She and husband, Kurt, home Labrador Retrievers — Malley and Kiwi — to comfort the children who come there for services.

The first of the bunch was Jackson, now gone, who because of an intense fascination for squirrels, dropped out of leader canine training to become a favorite of kids and adults alike. He also was the first, and I think only, pup to be inducted as a member of the Exchange Club of Joliet. He was a very good boy.

Those of us at the April 8 ceremony got a brief look into the intense situations those who work with the CAC must deal with. Joliet Police Det. Kristoff Petro told the crowd she didn’t know what to expect when she shadowed a fellow detective at CAC several years ago.

The experience then, and since then, opened her eyes to what horrible things some children go through. Later, she said it can be a mixed blessing going home to her kids at night, and being able to compartmentalize what she had seen that day.

Glasgow, for all the cases he has prosecuted, said he couldn’t do it. Not all of his cases were extreme ones, he said, but Petro and the other therapists at CAC deal with the same horrors children experience every day.

Last year, the Will County CAC served 700 children from throughout Will County and neighboring counties. That number has been growing each year, Glasgow’s office said.

Now, they have the room and the appropriate space to work with children who more than anything need comfort and security. Space that was designed for them; not around them.

Still, I had to tweak my old friend Lisa once I hunted her down. I asked her how many years until they move again.

“Never,” she said. “We’re here forever.”

Nick Reiher is editor of Farmers Weekly Review.

 

 

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