Peoria's Guardian Angel Home

Finds a Helping Hand
Corporate involvement augments program that rescues troubled kids.

George Bernard Shaw said, "In heaven, an angel is nobody in particular." But things are different here on Earth. And in Peoria, some angels are doing very special work with some of the most challenged youths in Illinois.

"You can't save everyone; you've got to recognize that at the outset," explains Guardian Angel Home Program Coordinator Jim Kleine. "We deliver a number of services, but our primary goal is to provide a safe haven for kids who have come from very bad situations. For us, ‘success' means having a child return safely to his community, rather than going to another institution or entering the criminal justice system."

A long-term residential treatment facility for boys aged six to 18, the Guardian Angel Home in Peoria, Illinois, is run by the Catholic Charities Diocese of Peoria. (The on-grounds school functions scholastically as part of the Peoria School District.) The home primarily takes boys referred by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services-young men who often have been abused or neglected, and who usually present significant mental health, emotional and behavioral issues.

To meet their social and emotional needs, the Guardian Angel Home provides a structured environment that focuses on therapeutic relationships. The home delivers a host of services, such as food and shelter; individual, family, and group counseling; independent-living preparation; and medical and dental services. According to Kleine, though, one element provides a particularly positive influence on the boys.

"The teachers are with them all the time. And they do a fantastic job. Before they got here, most of these kids experienced school as a crowded, anonymous battleground. Here they have a teacher, a teacher's aide, and at most eight children in a class. That close attention is very beneficial.

"Behavior isn't the only issue. Most of the boys are way behind academically too. That's understandable; when survival itself is an issue, studies take a backseat. So, not only do our teachers handle kids who have been preconditioned against school, but they also have to teach material from all of the grades to kids of every age in mixed classrooms. That's very difficult."

Guardian Angel lead teacher Karen Lune cites the program's comprehensive approach as its most beneficial feature. Equipped with a battery of resources and substantial support, the home does provide a safe learning environment. According to Lune, though, another unique element really helps.

"We have an adopt-a-school partner-the Peoria office of AECOM. Their employees are active in our students' lives. We pair each child with an employee, first as pen pals. They write back and forth every two weeks and, over time, develop a pretty close relationship. The pen pals also visit us every other week. Though primarily educational, the pen pal program also gives the kids a sense of belonging, a connection to someone who cares about them. Many of these kids have never had that."

The local office of AECOM joined Peoria's district-wide adopt-a-school program in 1995. A global architecture and engineering firm with more than 43,000 employees, AECOM fully supports the Peoria office's involvement in the program. And according to AECOM's Guardian Angel point person, Assistant Project Engineer Kerri Borlin, the employees love working with the kids. "We were lucky to be assigned to the Guardian Angel Home. The school only has about 16 kids, so we can really get to know them."

Borlin continues, "The company purchases tickets to send the boys to a play at the Peoria Civic Center each fall, and to the symphony in the spring. Our read-aloud volunteers visit the classroom regularly, and our pen pal volunteers bring treats and presents for Christmas and Valentine's Day parties. We also host the students at our office. Every Halloween we bring them in for a tour. Everyone-kids and employees alike-dresses up and the kids trick-or-treat at each cubicle. We treat them to a potluck lunch with their pen pals, and then send them back to school with huge bags of candy. But the big event is the year-end celebration at a Chiefs' game."

"The Peoria Chiefs are a minor league baseball team in the Chicago Cubs franchise," explains Guardian Angel pen pal Jim Ash, a senior project landscape architect with AECOM. "Before the game, we take the kids to Bradley Park for a picnic. We always go on free-peanuts-and-hot-dog day so the kids can have as much as they want. They really love that. But the most important thing, by far, is the time we get to spend together."

"These events all involve spending time-something these kids really need," adds Ash. "Society has basically written them off. But if you give them a little time and attention, you'll find they're just normal kids. That's the most important lesson I've gotten from this program: never give up on a child.

"I visited my new pen pal-a kid dealing with a lot of issues-at the last Valentine's Day party. During the party, the kids were learning origami. Although I'm pretty deft with pencil and paper, origami is beyond me. But my kid did it like an artist. Then he taught me how to do it. I got as much out of that visit as he did."

An eight-year veteran of the program, Ash applauds Borlin's coordination efforts and the work of the Guardian Angel team. For both sides, though, the greatest benefit of the program is the intense personal involvement.

"This isn't a blind donation or a hollow gesture," explains Lune. "The AECOM folks are really involved. And they really care about the kids. Whenever we need something, Kerri and AECOM are always willing to help. It's a great partnership."

"These are normal kids," Kleine adds. "They just weren't dealt the same cards most of us got. Even though we're not always successful, we can reach a lot of these kids. And we'll always keep them safe."

Shaw said, "In heaven, an angel is nobody in particular." On Earth, however, things are different. And in Peoria, "Guardian Angel" has a very special meaning. iBi

Arthur Schurr is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, NY.

Comments

former resident

I am a former resident of guardian angel and i have to say i am 42 now i was 16 when i came there and that place got my head screwed on straight. I don't know if anyone that worked there that long ago is still there but i still remember my experience there

hi deb

hi deb i was there at the same time as you my name then was mike king

 

Former Resident

I also am a former resident of Guardian Angel. I am now 34, was 14 when I went there. Guardian Angel changed me for life, an experience that I will never forget. Everyone was so supportive and caring. I remember many of the staff as well. I now am a mother of three. I am also a Nurse living a happy healthy lifestyle. Thank you Guardian Angel.....and I'm glad to see that you are still helping kids!!!!

former resident

i also lived here from 86-88. i had learned quite alot of jim kline which is stil there to this date man this guy really care if he has been there that long .i dont have nothing bad to say about this place , i only remember alot of good times there. if anyone care to e-mail me back feel free to would love to hear from the people who lived there and worked there at the time i was there . god bless .... rickjockisch@yahoo.com

does anyone rember me

hello i used to live there do you rember me?do you remember steophany brock?love to hear from you,gardian angle was a memorable time of my life.pl;ease contact me at crowtrucker@yahoo.com

Hey Mikey

Dude i think i remeber you but not sure when was you there and for how long.

friends

I didnt live there - I lived across the field.  I remember Sat morning football games and weekday baseball played at the grounds there with many of the kids who lived there.   Between the neighbor kids and those at the home - we had some pretty big turnouts and we all became friends.   Even though I did not live there I must say I learned a lot through those friendships.

my uncontrollable son

can someone please tell me if i can get my uncontrollable son in this program without dcfs recommending me? he is 13 and dont want to listen to anyone argues and fights daily. dad wont take him and i cant do it anymore.

The Best Place for Kids!!!

I was there form 91 to 93. I would love to hear from everyone, staff, and residents. You guys were my family, when I needed one! Thank You Very Much!!!

 

The pic I have of a Nate I believe it is u

I came across your name on here Nate fosdick, and I was like I have a pic still to this day of a Nate, we were their at the same time, hit me up looking for old friends!!

I used to live there when it

I used to live there when it was a co-ed place back in the early 90's I have pics of the girls and boys and staff there. I'm trying to remember the last name of the rev. back them his first name was bob. I do have a Fb page jody seward ramsey,il

group home

I found a pic of bob waldschmidt that used to be the pastor there in the 90's, and I did find someone that I was close to there it took me 16 yrs to reconnect but found him, he was my soulmate then and he still is to this day!!

former resident

I lived there back in the early 90s... my counseler theresa was amazing! I learned so much... I would love 2 get in touch with some of the people that were there. my teacher mrs cox was the best teacher i ever had! so many memories... good & bad lol... (with a bunch of kids that want everything their way they cant all b good lol) if any1 was there when i was id love 2 hear from you... mommy2xkjj@aol.com :)

Interested in volunteet

Hello, 

My name is Jenna. I'm currently a college student, and have been doing a lot of research regarding volunteering to help children. This seems like an excellent opportunity,and I would Love to know more regarding volunteer opportunities. Thank you for your time.

-Jenna

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