Program Helping McHenry Residents Rebuild Their Lives
By Pat Szpekowski, Observer Correspondent
February 23, 2017

MCHENRY—Building a new life to escape long-term poverty is not easy, but the innovative Hope Takes Action program in McHenry has become a beacon of hope for those individuals who seek positive change.

A group of six men and women from McHenry County, ranging in age from 43 to 64, took the challenge and became the program’s first “investigators.”

On Feb. 16 at a dinner in their honor, they graduated from the local 20-week “Getting Ahead in a Just Gettin’ By World” poverty busting program.

More than 100 people attended the emotional and inspiring dinner, including Susan Low, mayor of McHenry; Bill Meath, program director of Hope Takes Action; Dennis Quinn, Rockford Diocese council president for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and a number of volunteers, mentors and sponsors who guided the program.

In his opening remarks, Meath recalled the two-year journey of planning and development for Hope Takes Action.

“God truly had a hand in this program,” he said. Meath recalled how he always found the right volunteer for each skill needed to make Hope Takes Action move forward.

“When I needed a trainer, a coordinator, a bookkeeper, a secretary, a grant writer, or an organizer, I always met the perfect person who could help us or knew someone who could. This is an amazing collaboration of very dedicated people,” he said.

Meath acknowledged many key people, including Edith Varga, Len Trimble, Joyce Creasey, Jackie Trost, Tom Kearnes, Len Bannon, Sam Tenuto, Carol Quamme, and Katherine Violett.

According to Meath, the graduates have been living in long-term poverty but by participating in the program they clearly sought to escape it by formulating a personal plan of action.

They were guided by program mentors “who volunteered to have 10 hours of training and then have a long-term relationship with a stranger.”

The end result has been a formation of solid friendships.

The work of Hope Takes Action has made an impact on the City of McHenry, too.

“It is such an honor to be here,” said Mayor Low. “I have known Bill my entire life and I am so proud of this program and the graduates for what you have done to move forward with courage and hope.”

She added, “we are not all the same, but everyone is a genius in some way. Each of us brings something to the table and we must find what it is.

“No dream is too small or too big. Life has setbacks, but your success is based on what is your genius. Look at your own heart; you will find it,” Low said.

While shy to be in the spotlight, each graduate, one-by-one, stood in front of the guests and expressed his or her appreciation. The experience of the Hope Takes Action program has changed them. Their remarks of deeply personal stories were powerful.

“Before this I didn’t have much hope living in a homeless shelter with 14 people who just complained about their life,” said Patrick Dietzler. “I am so grateful for this program which did give me hope. I’m going to get into a class and start doing something about my life.”

Julie Zavorski said that when she was first approached to get involved, “I had my doubts about going through with it.” She went ahead, attended, and drew up a plan and goals for her life.

“I already have accomplished so much,” she said, “as I’ve gotten insurance, made plans to attend McHenry County College in the fall, and now even moved into a bigger house with my family. This has made me a stronger person.”

She has been so transformed that Zavorski plans on being a Hope Takes Action facilitator in the future.
Thaddeus Rajca said the program made him feel more comfortable and self-reliant. He thanked the volunteers who did much to help out.

Meath congratulated Rajca who “never missed a day of the 20-week course with perfect attendance.”
The room exploded with applause and smiles from his fellow classmates.

Rosemary Leith and Sharon Braskett expressed how much the program made them feel important.

“This group never judged me,” said Leith, “we were all accepted. Together the six of us are the pioneers in this program and we did it hand in hand.”

Braskett softly, yet proudly, added that she has renewed hope “to learn new skills and get my kids back.”

Michael Moore said, “I gave up on everything.” He valued support of the program and  of Church of the Holy Apostles  in McHenry.

“My number one goal is to get my GED certificate, go to a computer class and then go any direction I want to have freedom out of poverty.”

He closed by saying, “the Hope Takes Action mentors did a good job of raising the six of us.”

One of the guests, Luis Aguilar, was startled when he heard one of the “graduates” speak.

“I worked with her and never knew what she was going through,” he said.

Plans are underway to enroll the next group of “investigators” who will begin the program in the fall. The new group will have the advantage of looking ahead through the reflection of the pioneers who made the decision to change their lives.

In 2012, The Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s National Council, in collaboration with aha! Process, initiated a vision to “End Poverty Through Systematic Change”. In cooperation with that vision, the St. Vincent de Paul Rockford Council developed “Hope Takes Action”, incorporating “Bridges Out of Poverty” community education and “Getting Ahead in a Just Gettin’ By World” workshops for those suffering poverty.