Over its 154-year history, Children’s Home has been headquartered in a variety of spaces throughout the city. But no location is more iconic than its current headquarters on Knoxville Avenue. We’ve called this three-story, red brick building “home” since 1921, and thousands upon thousands of children and families have received help and healing within its safe confines.
Working in a building that is nearly a century old comes with its own set of challenges, as you may well imagine. Routine maintenance is a given, but adapting this brick-and-mortar structure to accommodate changes in safety, accessibility, technology and other requirements requires a dedicated allocation of dollars. A 2018 facilities review revealed our headquarters would benefit from a multi-phase construction project that would involve the addition of an elevator and a new entry point to the building; an overhaul of the kitchen, cafeteria and conference room; and updates to the second-floor offices. The project just wrapped up this winter.
While the physical changes to our headquarters are awesome, perhaps more impactful is what this investment signifies on a social-emotional level. For over a century and a half, our building has represented safety, healing and home to hundreds of youth. It is a staple of the community, a landmark that the subconscious may not necessarily notice—but would surely miss. I liken it to a neighborhood tree you climbed in and picnicked under as a child; if it were to suddenly fall, your intuition would let you know something was off when you drove by. I truly believe that the investment we’ve made in our landmark building signifies so much to our community:
- It tells the East Bluff neighbors and neighborhood businesses that we believe in them. Children’s Home draws clients from all over, and it is our responsibility to take care of the community we live and work in. Our presence in the East Bluff is a stabilizing force. Neighborhoods need fixtures—places that you can count on, no matter what the times bring. Children’s Home is one of them. If we are willing to stay and invest in the area, other businesses and agencies may be more apt to do the same.
- It reiterates to our employees that we value what they do. Social service work is a tough gig. The hours are long and the demands are great, but those who are called to it feel compelled to serve. By making physical improvements to their workspaces, we are telling our employees that their needs and those of their clients are important. We want them to be proud of the building they work in and have a break room that is warm and inviting. We’ll do all we can to accommodate client accessibility and meeting space. We may not be able to do a mass overhaul all at once, but we will always keep their needs top of mind. The hope is that this engagement strengthens our reputation among the local professional community and boosts both recruitment and retention.
- It proclaims our commitment to the community. Relationships are a vital part of my job, and making “big asks” of individuals, businesses and organizations is commonplace. But to be in that position, I must first have great mutual respect with the people I approach. We have to be tied together in the community that we all care about. If I’m asking a sponsor to back Children’s Home, I’ll of course tell them meaningful stories that demonstrate the impact of our service to the community. But I also have to show that we give back to them as well. Capital investments obviously sustain local contractors and pump dollars into the economy, which benefits us all. But again, the underlying message is clear: we’re here to stay. We’re willing to put our “money where our mouth is” while we continue to service those most in need.
Whether it’s a $1,000 improvement or a $10 million dollar new build, an investment in your business is also an investment in your community. It exhibits not only the strength of your organization, but your commitment to the wellbeing of the place you call home. And in the case of Children’s Home, it demonstrates that we are dedicated to changing lives and saving lives every day for another 150 years. PM
Matt George is CEO of Children’s Home Association of Illinois.