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Hinsdale, Illinois |

Published Oct. 14, 2010                                                    

Times are changing at HCS Family Services

New direction helps long-standing agency continue to help those in need of food, shelter

By Pamela Lannom

   The past 18 months have been busy for HCS Family Services.
   In that time, the nonprofit agency has gotten a new name, new logo, new executive director, new development director and new board president.
   And things are only getting started.
   “We are just totally transitioning everything and how we talk about ourselves,” said Susan Fritz, who joined the organization as executive director in May 2009. A new marketing committee is working on new mission and vision statements that reflect a new direction for this 74-year-old agency.
   “We really want to see strong, healthy families,” Fritz said. “That doesn’t mean it’s just to provide for the basic needs or their practical needs. It also means we have to help them stay with their parenting skills or we have to help them become economically self-sufficient. It’s not just one angle that is going to help them be a strong family.”
   HCS Family Services will continue to provide the food pantry at the Hinsdale Memorial Building that has been a hallmark of Hinsdale Community Services since its inception in 1936. But HCS Family Services now also offers a mobile food pantry once a month Hinsdale Lake Terrace in Willowbrook. That program is allowing staff members to get to know people who might be in need of other services they can provide.
   “Most people come to us as a result of the food, and that’s why we love our mobile pantry out of Willowbrook,” said Deb Baker, development director. “We’re starting to build some great relationships out there.”
   The agency’s new name better reflects its service area, which includes Hinsdale and six nearby towns. It also helps people who need services think of the agency a little differently.
   “ ‘We’re from Hinsdale and we’re coming in to rescue you’ — that is not how we see this relationship,” Fritz said. “We are right there to walk with them and help them see they can realize some big dreams in life.”
   Most of the agency’s clients come from Westmont and Willowbrook, and many residents of Hinsdale Lake Terrace receive housing assistance from HCS. Some clients, though, might come as a surprise.
   “We do get a number of clients who are from communities you wouldn’t expect — Oak Brook, Burr Ridge, Hinsdale,” Fritz said. “There’s a lot of individuals who are maybe more typical to this area. Maybe their husband lost their job or maybe it’s a woman who was recently divorced and she lives here in Hinsdale and all of the sudden she doesn’t have the support she had.”
   Regardless of clients’ circumstances, HCS wants to do more than simply provide food or rent assistance in a time of crisis. The goal is to help them reach a point where they don’t need services at all. That focus is what impressed Hinsdalean Al Sunseri when he joined the board three years ago.
   “I like the idea of their emphasis on counseling people to self-sufficiency,” he said. “That’s the reason I joined. It was not just a give-away organization. It was one that took people and moved them along with specific goals with the end goal being self-sufficiency,” said Sunseri, who was elected board president in October 2009.
   The plan is for HCS to provide support in four areas: practical assistance and resources; guidance, support and advocacy; family building; and education and career development. Some of the offerings, such as the three-year Elites program, are quite comprehensive.
   “Everyone is going to have different needs,” Fritz said. “Ideally we see all of the programs working together. There will be some folks that come in and might only receive rental assistance from us. They might not be a good candidate to come in and let us help them through the Elites program.
   “It’s a two-way street,” she added. “If they don’t want this for their lives, we can’t force it. I would say 75 percent of the time people do want this for their lives. They just don’t know how to get there.”

An evolving board
Changes at HCS aren’t only taking place in terms of staff and services. The board of directors is in a time of transition as well.
   Sunseri is recruiting other professionals to the board and a implementing a new approach to directing the agency.
   “We’re running it like a business, and that may be something that I’m bringing to the board,” he said. “My overall goal in being president of the board is trying to combine the best of the business community and the service community. Because it’s a service organization doesn’t mean the board has to be run like a service organization.”
   Among those business professionals who have recently joined the board is Dan Dunn, president of Aqueity, a computer networking company in Oak Brook. He first got involved when board member Paul Swanson asked if his company did any pro bono work for nonprofits. The answer was yes, and after meeting Fritz and Sunseri, Dunn agreed to take on the project. His team spent about six months working to bring the office up to speed in terms of computer and phone systems.
   “I respected their leadership and was inspired to have my team take action,” he said.
   After helping HCS achieve part of its vision from a technology standpoint, Dunn was ready to do more. When Fritz and Sunseri invited him to lunch to talk about the board, he quickly agreed to sit in on a meeting.
   “At that point I was already pretty inspired,” he said. “I knew a lot more about the programs. I was much more involved in the organization.”
   Meeting other board members further convinced Dunn he wanted to join the group.
   “I was really inspired by some of the challenges that were coming up for HCS. I was inspired by the board members.”
   Dunn was elected vice president a few months after joining the board, and he looks forward to bringing other new faces and new assets to the table.
   “I’m really excited to develop the board with other high-profile board members who can attract other resources,” he said.
   But what Dunn finds the most motivating are the success stories he has the chance to hear on a fairly regular basis.
   “What really gets met the most excited about everything (is) probably every other board meeting, a family member that has been helped by HCS will just randomly walk into a meeting and tell us about what we’ve done as an organization. That’s what’s really inspiring.”
   Seeing the difference HCS has made in people’s lives is what keeps Sunseri committed to the organization as well. He recently spent time with HCS clients who were allowed to shop for free for an hour at the Union Church resale after it closed to the public. Watching their faces as they piled up bags of clothes and linens was extremely rewarding.
   Being part of an organization that is growing and changing also has appealed to Sunseri.
   “I joined HCS at that particular time because it was a success that is going to happen,” he said. “We have a direction now where we didn’t have a direction before.”






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