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Podcast: Transforming Lives with Hephzibah Children’s Association – Merry Beth Sheets

Monday, December 19, 2022
Podcast – Merry Beth Sheets: Hephzibah Children’s Association Transforms Lives of Children and Families

This week, on The One Thing Podcast by The Horton Group, our host, Jason Helfert, talks to our guest, Merry Beth Sheets, Executive Director of Hephzibah Children’s Association. This organization provides group homes for neglected and abused children, comprehensive services for children and families in crisis, foster care, adoption and daycare – enhancing the safety and well-being of children while preserving the dignity of parents and families.

For the last 125 years, this organization’s work has been transforming lives, creating an environment where children can grow into beautiful, strong, caring members of society. These children have suffered extreme cases of neglect and abuse, but they view Hephzibah as a happy, fun and safe therapeutic place to heal, grow and get better. Last March, they had the organization had the privilege of hearing Hephzibah’s oldest living former resident (who is 90 years old) speak at their annual gala about his experience.

Hephzibah staff find their jobs rewarding, but they’ve come across several workforce challenges over the past few years.

“When we don’t have an office space position where folks can easily work remotely, that poses challenges,” Sheets says. “We had to get creative in terms of attracting and retaining folks who are really dedicated to helping these children heal, and who understand that this can’t always happen in a remote setting.”

Despite these obstacles, Hephzibah staff is passionate about what they do. A large part of that is due to their programming, which goes above and beyond to ensure that the children are getting everything they need. Two of their staff members started the Children’s Equity Committee, which addresses racial and gender equity issues that could play out among the staff and in the care of the children. It challenges others to look through different lenses and facilitate an open environment to share experiences and ask questions.

“We’ve learned that not everybody needs the same thing,” Sheets said. “For example, we we’ll ask the kids what kind of foods are prominent in their culture that we could put on the menu, or what holidays they celebrate.”

Listen to our podcast above for the full interview with Merry Beth Sheets to learn more about how Hephzibah helps children come together and heal through several different avenues.


Hello and welcome to The One Thing podcast brought to you by the Horton Group. We specialize in insurance and employee benefits and risk advisory. I’m your host, Jason Helfert. William McKinley is the the 25th president of the United States, Bram Stoker publishes Dracula, the Oldsmobile was created and a social service agency was found there in Oak Park. Illinois the year. 1897.

For today’s podcast, we’re going to speak with the now executive director of that Social Services Agency, Merry Beth Sheets of Hephzibah Children’s Association. How are you doing Merry Beth? I’m doing great. Thank you so much for having us on Jason. Thanks for being here, we certainly appreciate it. And if we could This way, I pulled a couple things from your website that kind of hit home to me and I want to share them with you, just get your commentary on it, I think they’re pretty impactful. So some couple of testimonials hepzibah is one of the best places for abused and neglected children in Illinois. They have an outstanding team that truly cares for the well-being of the children who are trusted in their care. We’re fortunate to have such a great non-profit serving the Chicagoland area. Thanks abbs Eva. I’m a volunteer at had been for over 13 years. I keep coming back for the children. Have been dozens over the years, but they all needed. The same thing, love the staff and other volunteers have been fantastic. Curing people. We are truly. It’s what a truly happy place for a child to come for help smiles, hugs and loves abound. So when you hear things like that, you maybe you might even know who those people are. When you hear things like them. How does that make you feel? And what makes hepzibah’s such a Oil place.

Well, it absolutely humbles. My heart and makes me smile every time and I don’t know who those people. So, it’s great that our constituents. Whoever they might be feel that way about us because we certainly do too and it has really been the privilege of my career to lead this organization for the past five years and that is the experience that we create here at Hephzibah. We want to make sure that any child, any family that we work with. Has an exceptional experience that they are treated with care and love that. It is not thought of as an unhappy place, but a very Lively happy place where children come to get better and to heal in our residential program, it’s a place where children live so that is what we are all about. So, I am just so grateful that our constituents feel the same way that I do about our organization. Well, good. Well, good. It will. It’s coming through. There’s about a dozen other testimonials on Website too, so keep up the good work. And for Mary Beth, for those that might not be familiar with helps about that may be in different states or even Chicagoans maybe in heard of him. You know, what can you share about Hap’s? What can you share about the programs and the services and the resource? For those those kiddos that you love to serve, of course, so our organization as you stated was founded in 1897. So we are celebrating our 125th anniversary this year regulations and we and we have Evolved over the years, the needs of our community way back. When we’re very different than the needs of our community now, and we have what we call our three-legged stool. We have three core program areas, two of which are directly related to child welfare. So we have what we call our family Based Services which is our foster care program and are intact families program. So those two programs really are providing in-home supports for families in crisis who really need care and In the case of foster care, we work with children with special needs due to the emotional and behavioral challenges that they are facing. That really need a loving home, a place where they can continue their Journey, they can get the therapies and the treatment that they need to heal. And ideally, this is a temporary stop where they’re being well cared for their being loved and the all of us. All of our caseworkers. The system. We are all working to help that child find there. Forever home, ultimately. So whether that’s back into a family setting or whether it’s those foster parents who wish to adopt that child, that’s the whole purpose of that program and I mentioned our residential services. So here in Oak Park, we have hepzibah home and this home was built in the 1920s and we’ve been serving children in this home for a very, very long time. Back in the day, it started as an orphanage and now it is a residential treatment program for children. Out the state of Illinois and the Very youngest age group. So we serve kiddos ages, 3 to 11 here in our program. And these kids, unfortunately have suffered some of the most extreme cases of abuse and neglect that we see and therefore they’re experiencing a lot of challenges, a lot of trauma response, emotional and Behavioral Health needs. And they come here and it’s happy and safe and fun therapeutic place to be and they A heel and they grow and they get better. Yeah, well that’s it’s a pretty noble Mission very important Endeavor, your undertaking. And and since you alluded to it a hundred, twenty-five years is a long time for anything, right? And it’s a long time for the agency to serve the community, which is wonderful. I mean, just take two minutes in the Widow, great legacy. The agency has already built and you did share that. Some of the things have evolved over change over time. Like any business would write up. But so how have you had to change helps about? What are some of the Sources that you’ve had to adopt or you’re looking to adapt to address maybe the needs of the population of serving now or just life’s different. And so have you had to evolve from that standpoint, if you could well, that’s a great question and I hope we’ll have some time to get back to our third leg of our three-legged stool because I want to talk a little bit about our daycare program as well, but you know, obviously what we’ve all gone through as across the world. These last couple of years have really changed And our business practices in many, many different ways. Most mostly what we are still dealing with particularly in the not-for-profit sector is Workforce challenges. Sure. And so not prop, non-for-profits have notoriously paid lower wages than for-profit corporations. And our work is really challenging. It is incredibly rewarding, but it is also really challenging. And so, when we don’t have a sort of an office-based position, where folks can easily work, Remotely for their entire schedule that posed some initial challenges when we were seeing that demand from the workforce and so we’ve had to get incredibly creative and figure out new and different ways where we can attract and retain folks who are really dedicated to helping these children heal and knowing that that can’t happen. Always and in remote setting, yep, hundred percent. And we’ve time, you’ve seen this, you’ve you’re living it right now and I know 10 years ago in the in the industry. Three, I think for profit wasn’t always a competitor. You know. It was you were in for proper nonprofit. Didn’t bleed over so much but now that’s really not the case. We are dealing with Amazon’s and for-profits are going to pay, you know, twenty one dollars, an hour, twenty dollars an hour. For what might be deemed. I’m using this easier work and it’s not as rewarding and that’s that’s a challenge. We’re seeing now with all of our nonprofit friends that is just a were dealing now with this competitive landscape where we didn’t have to before with a, for the for-profit company. So we feel you there, You want to touch on the third leg now or you want to go to something? L sure. I would love to tell you a little bit about our daycare program, so that to has been an evolution. So we offer on-site after school care in all of the elementary schools in Oak Park. So, and it really started as we actually had the first kindergarten that operated here out of the hepzibah home before school districts started getting kindergarten within their district. And so we’ve had this parallel. SS alongside of our Child Welfare Services. Offering these incredible child development services. We offer also a full day summer camp program throughout the entire Summer. From the time school is out until the time it starts again. So we are just really fully embedded in healthy and positive Child Development, providing treatment to the kids who need it the most and just trying to tackle that in all different ways. Whether you’re part of a child welfare system or you’re a working parent, who needs a safe and healthy, Child development program for your child during the summer and after school. So if you’re if we if I had a child or somebody at a child, was going to the summer care that the daycare the day camp programs, what type of experiences are they? That kids going to get to experience there? Well, it is an amazing program and I know that’s a theme. I’m so passionate about the work that we do, but the daycare team goes above and beyond in. Ensuring that these kids have amazing experiences. And some are because it’s a full day, really gives them the opportunity to get Their creative juices flowing. So it is not

babysitting not that there’s anything wrong with babysitting. But it is a fully engaging child development program and these kids get exposed to all different kinds of things. They are developing and learning new skills and talents that they may not have even known. They had, we spend a lot of time on friendship, building how to be a good friend, character-based types of things. And it’s just I don’t have enough a It was to describe how amazing the experiences our kids and families are satisfaction. Surveys Are Over the Top. In terms of the experience that our kids have in the program. Is that is that different Maribeth than Camp helps about like The Sibling camp or? Is that the same? It is very different and so Camp. Hepzebiah is a really special thing that we do. Folks, might not realize when children are coming into the child, welfare system, due to an unsafe condition, In in their family, home, brothers and sisters. Often don’t get to stay together, especially if it’s a large family. It’s very challenging to find foster parents that do that are able to take multiple kids. So brothers and sisters get split up and have some a recognize that many years ago and we started camp hepzibah and it’s a way for siblings to come together for a week-long Sleepaway Camp in the summer to really re-establish and rebuild those Ships between brothers and sisters who are separated in the child welfare system. Yeah. That one, this one caught me and I was really against this last night of Camp is one Joy tempered by sadness. All the children realize that they were assumed you separate from the siblings again, but the week has worked. It’s magic, may the children Spire to take a more active role in staying in touch with their siblings through letters emails or phone calls when they return to the group Foster or adoptive homes. And that, that’s cool. You’re giving them the tools and the resources now to not only, Do you know, be connected with their foster home, but with their biological siblings that maybe they didn’t, they didn’t know how to do that before. Certainly, as children age, you know, they’re more apt to use technology and things like that, that you, that you and I would and I’m getting kind of the chills because that’s, that’s pretty special, it is, and we actually started a program called our Junior counselors program. So you think, you know, well 13, 14, 15 16 year old kids don’t want to go to summer camp but we put them. We give them an opportunity to be in a leadership role and they Just junior counselor role and they do have an oversight function, helping the younger kids through different kinds of activities and it really helps keep those older teens engaged because if they, if we didn’t have that transition and we started seeing them not wanting to attend, then they would lose those connections potentially with their siblings over time. But that piece of how we teach them in those those few days that they’re at Camp how to maintain those connections. And how with all the technology we have before us, there is no reason why they can’t continue those relationships and some of these kids are separated by pretty significant geography sure. So sometimes technology is their only tool and so we’re we are all about making sure that they keep those biological connections really important. Yeah, I think so too. And I think you mentioned on something, I didn’t even think about is that the leadership development peace and you know, you’re an exec director there any of leaders that We’re going to you that you work with sharp side by side and board members. And they all, we all came from somewhere. You know, you weren’t just born a leader, maybe some people are, I don’t know, but I wasn’t. I had a lot of coaching and mentoring and helping I still am along the way. But think about what you just shared with in this example, is that. Yes, you’re even on the ability to keep in touch with her siblings, which is, I mean Paramount, right? It’s the most wildly important thing out of that camp, but neither developing the next generation of leaders

and Leadership is not Not only important in a business for profit nonprofit but in life in general, you’re teaching them accountability skills being responsibility for somebody else besides themselves. And I think that if we can’t, we can’t start that at an early enough age. And so if you’re doing that for the, you know, the 13 or 14, or 15 year olds, keeping them engaged, and have some about keeping them engaged with their siblings, but also teaching a valuable life, in valuable life skill. I mean, it’s a, it’s an infinite need in this world. Absolutely. And the other way, that that plays out. Just with our older siblings that are already in child. Welfare, we have this tremendous partnership with the local high school program for high school. We have our husky helpers program. Okay, so for our children who live here in the hepzibah home, you know, they have staff, they have people in their lives, that take really good care of them, but what do they want to do? They want to hang out with? They want to hang out with older teens, especially teen boys. So we started this amazing husky helpers program and so we get volunteer teens from the local high school. That actually, Really come in and volunteer in hopes of a home with our kids and they do all kinds of fun activities with them. All different kinds of things that they are really interested in doing that and and they can get things with our kids differently than our staff can. And so it’s a two-fold that’s that. These kids really get this great mentorship relationship and our husky helpers, get this sense of volunteerism. They’re really seeing the kinds of struggles that sometimes our kids have gone through and it’s helping them build those Half thick relationships and they’re developing their leadership skills along the way as well. Mmm, that’s especially a time. It’s such a developmental age. If people are coming in and wage, right, they’re starting to form their own opinions and beliefs about the world. And so we could help, you know, Mentor them through some of these things. And they’re dealing with new things for the first time. New Life Experiences. Absolutely. And you know, I think about all of the really unique things that we do here and have somebody. You mentioned a couple of them with the sibling can camp and the different things that we offer the Husky helpers program. But one thing I really wanted to highlight for you today as well as our children’s Equity committee. This is a committee that two of our staff started on their own that work here in the hopes of a home and it’s a committee where the staff come together. And they really talk about racial Equity, issues, gender, Equity issues, all different, kinds of things that can play out among the staff. And, and in the care of our Children because as I said our children come from the entire State, we have very diverse backgrounds of the children that we serve and we want to make sure that our staff are getting giving the kids what they need. You know, we’ve all, we’ve all seen that Equity diagram where you’ve got all the kids on the same box and the tall kid can see over the fence for the short kid can’t. And so we’ve learned that not everybody needs the same thing. Everybody needs something different and so how they is a staff can work collaboratively Actively together to really meet each of our children where they are and make sure that they have what they need. And we are just so proud of this very Innovative committee. We actually had our staff go and present at our national conference. Our accrediting body put on their National Conference. They went and spoke about it. So, I really feel like it’s a very Innovative practice that we utilize. So, I just, I can talk all day about the really exceptional unique things that we do here that really makes My so special in all of our programs but I really wanted to highlight that particular committee for your listeners as well. Yeah no I mean it’s obviously it’s always been an important issue for certainly more front and center now than it has been at least in my lifetime. And I think it’s wonderful because it appreciation for people with their differences and openness to share and also it challenged every to look through a different lens ones that they weren’t born with or given any. It’s just it allows a Already have it, such a different more renewed sense of appreciation for individuals that are different than themselves and I think if we can get to that place where we could be have a trusting environment and open environment to share and to ask questions, right? And not be penalized for asking a question where we might not know the answer because we were, we were born a different, you know, in a different lifestyle. So I think that’s that’s been I think a challenge a lot of people is the openness to share and ask questions with a feeling a safe place. And if you created a safe place with his Equity committee that you could ask questions and not be like, Persecuted for asking a question. I think that’s, that’s wonderful. And I think we need more of that. Yeah. If you think about all the ways in a congregate, living situation where these things could come up, you know, what are, what are your unique culture cultural values, what kind of foods do you like to eat, or have you grown up eating that? You might not see on the menu. So let’s get them on there and make sure that we’re honoring that. What kind of holidays? Do you celebrate? You know, it’s it just runs the gamut when you’re when you’re living in such Close Quarters with 86 children, by the way, I don’t think I deserve that number earlier. So we have we served 26 children here in our home. And so you’ve got 26 very unique and diverse individuals who have individual needs that. It is our responsibility and goal to make sure that every one of them are met. And we see these kids transform from the time they come in until the time they leave. So well from the feedback you’re getting in the reputation, it sounds like R doing things really? Really well. I’m making a huge impact and want to go back to if we can 125 years. So is there a celebration for the big anniversary? Well we’ve been celebrating all year long.

We get out. We’ve been we’ve been doing a lot of wonderful, things are biggest celebration actually occurred this past March and it happens, every March. So folks certainly would have an opportunity coming up in a couple of months here, but we had our annual Gala. It is our largest fundraiser of the year and we really launched our 125th anniversary celebration. We are still in touch with our oldest living known former resident of hepzibah home. He is now 90 years old curing and he spoke at our Gala and really kicked off our celebration. But we’ve been doing things all throughout the year. We are actually doing a new event this weekend. We are having a house of a fun run throughout the River Forest Community. There’s information about it on our website and anybody I would like to go I’m out what’s the website

hepzibah home dot org and it’s very hard to spell. You want me to try to do that? But for something,

and this Sunday morning is family friendly event, you can come in costume. It’s an easy course. It’s under under a mile and a half, so that, that is our next event that we have coming up and celebration of all things, halves about. But if folks want to get involved and participate in our upcoming Gala, it will be in March 20 23. It’s the first Friday of March in 2023 and we would be happy to Have you participate? And again always information on our website regarding all of our events. Sure. If for those also that are listening that one or one a career in rewarding field and have a passion for the work that helps about does provide for the community. All the kiddos, I’m sure Mary Beth would be happy to speak with you about that. So before we hop off any, anything else, anything else you want the listeners to? No, no. I just I just really appreciate the time to Jason to really talk about Have some fun when I was thinking about what’s the one thing? The one thing is I really want everyone to know about hepzebiah and the incredible work that the team here does, with these children who needed the most, we are actively recruiting for many positions. There’s information again on our website about that. If you are really looking for mission-driven work, where you can truly make a difference in the life of a child, who needs you now more than ever with everything? Everyone’s been through, please make an inquiry and reach out to our human. Resources department and our system as a whole, is always looking for foster homes. So if you’ve always thought about fostering, if you would like to get a little bit more information, we have information sessions all the time. No commitment necessary. And that information is on our website as well. Great, well, I, I can’t think of a better way to end it than that with a with that kind of message. So I want to say Mary Beth. Thank you so much for taking some time with us today and That’ll wrap it up. So until next time on behalf of the horde group, I’m Jason Helfert. Thank you for listening to the one thing podcast.

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