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Terri Wilkerson Appointed as LSSI’s First Executive Director of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion

Chicago resident Terri Wilkerson has been appointed Executive Director for Equity, Diversity & Inclusion at Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI), a nonprofit, statewide social services organization headquartered in Des Plaines with more than 50 locations statewide.

Wilkerson’s position is one that was newly created as part of LSSI’s strategic plan to build a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive culture. As part of this strategic priority, LSSI’s Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (EDI) Steering Committee, comprised of 15 employees, developed recommendations. One of the highest priorities they identified was for LSSI to define the structure of EDI within the organization and to identify a leader who will drive those efforts.

In her role as Executive Director for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at LSSI, Wilkerson brings over 15 years of experience in the nonprofit and social services fields, including as an EDI coach and facilitator. Her past experience includes Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Manager for UCAN, a Chicago nonprofit organization serving over 21,000 at-risk children, youth, and families. As part of her role there, she increased civic engagement and provided strategic direction for diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Her work resulted in increased employee engagement and retention through various defined employee resource groups.

“Our employees are committed to improving our communities and the lives of the people we serve, and this is what unites us,” said Mark Stutrud, LSSI President and CEO. “EDI is a complex and important opportunity to build that vision. Terri Wilkerson’s experience gives her the ability to understand EDI from both an organizational and individual perspective. She has the talent to encourage individual participation and to connect the benefits of EDI work at the organizational level to better client outcomes.”

“I have a passion for EDI work,” Wilkerson said, noting she was drawn to EDI principles back when she was a camp counselor as a teen, even before it had a formal name. “LSSI’s employees are our most important resource. In my role as Executive Director for EDI, I am here to serve the staff so they can better serve our clients and each other.”

Wilkerson graduated from DePaul University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, as well as a master’s degree in nonprofit management. She is on the board of directors of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago.

About Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI)

Serving Illinois since 1867, Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI) is a nonprofit social service organization of the three Illinois synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). LSSI is one of the largest statewide social service providers. The organization provides critical programs for Illinois residents including foster care; mental health services; alcohol and drug treatment; senior services including affordable housing and home care; residential programs for people with developmental disabilities; and services that help people and families who have been impacted by incarceration.

MEDIA CONTACT:
Barb Hailey  
847.635.4686  
Barb.Hailey@LSSI.org

Near-Death Accident Inspires Life-Giving Generosity in Northern Illinois Family

In 2006, Brian Peight endured a serious car accident. When medical workers placed a badly injured Brian into a helicopter that night, he was given a zero percent chance of living.

Somehow with his wife, Annie, there to support him, he pulled through the night and received numerous blood transfusions. While still in the hospital, Brian’s brother hosted a blood drive in Brian’s honor to pay back that life-saving act of generosity. Their hometown of Lena in northern Illinois answered the call, donating blood back to the community.

Since that blood drive in 2006, Annie and Brian had two children, Avery and Quinn, and they have continued to host annual blood drives to help others. In addition, they raise money to support an organization that they believe in. The fundraising started as a bake sale at the site of the blood drive and turned into a lemonade stand.

Annie’s cousin had become a foster parent through Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI) and connected Annie to their foster parent licensing representative. Annie and Brian decided to become foster parents with LSSI, and to date they have fostered five children.

“We want to help children who are struggling,” Annie said. “We want to give them a loving home and a foundation to go back to their biological parents.”

Annie notes that the bake sale and now lemonade stand, the portion of their annual blood drive is largely to instill a sense in their children of giving back to their community since they let their children choose where the money will be donated.

We believe that Avery and Quinn have learned to give to people in need, in all of the years they have done the lemonade stand or bake sale,” she said.

At their last event, Avery and Quinn decided to donate the money they raised to LSSI in order to send a child in foster care to summer camp.

LSSI and our foster children have touched our hearts in ways we never imagined,” said Annie. “We are so thankful to have given other children a place in our home and hearts, even if it is only for a short amount of time.”

Visit LSSI.org/fostercare to learn about becoming a foster parent.

2021 Impact Statement

LSSI’s 2021 Impact Statement highlights the organizations’ outcomes that affected the lives of 38,000 children, adults, and seniors across Illinois.


LSSI Expands Therapeutic Foster Care Program: New Peoria Location to Serve Children with Severe Emotional/Behavioral Needs Throughout Central Illinois

Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI), the largest statewide provider of foster care services, is expanding its innovative Therapeutic Foster Care Program to Central Illinois, serving children who live within a one-hour radius of Peoria. Started as a pilot program in 2016 through a selection process by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), LSSI’s Therapeutic Foster Care Program now has five treatment teams in Peoria, Aurora, Chicago, and Rockford.

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U.S. Surgeon General Issues Advisory on Youth Mental Health Crisis Further Exposed by COVID-19 Pandemic

As a provider of mental health and prevention services for children, LSSI is sharing an advisory report issued by the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy. An important gift we can give children and youth is one of strong mental health, and the advisory offers practical suggestions for youth and caregivers on ways to improve their mental health.

“Mental health challenges in children, adolescents, and young adults are real and widespread. Even before the pandemic, an alarming number of young people struggled with feelings of helplessness, depression, and thoughts of suicide—and rates have increased over the past decade,” said Dr. Murthy. “The future well-being of our country depends on how we support and invest in the next generation. Especially at this moment, as we work to protect the health of Americans in the face of a new variant, we also need to focus on how we can emerge stronger on the other side. This advisory shows us how we can all work together to step up for our children during this dual crisis.”

Surgeon General’s Advisories are public statements that call the American people’s attention to a public health issue and provide recommendations for how it should be addressed. Advisories are reserved for significant public health challenges that need the American people’s immediate attention.

Read the full Surgeon General’s Advisory on Protecting Youth Mental Health – PDF.

Community Foundation of Fox River Valley Awards $5,000 Grant to LSSI

LSSI was granted $5,000 from the Community Foundation of the Fox River Valley to support the organization’s efforts to improve the Fox Hill Prader-Willi Group Home in Aurora.

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Love “Bears” All Things

ST. JAMES LUTHERAN CHURCH, LAKE FOREST

For over 30 years, The Sewing Group at St. James Lutheran Church, Lake Forest, has used their sewing and knitting talents to show “God’s Work, Our Hands” for children in LSSI’s foster care program in Chicago. The group has sewn hundreds of whimsical teddy bears and knitted just as many infant hats. The oldest member of the group is 96 and carefully cuts out all of the bear faces to be sewn. Their sewing/knitting sessions also provide wonderful fellowship as they use their talents for a shared cause.

“Children in our foster care program receive a [St. James] teddy bear soon after they come into our care,” said Debbie Saucedo, Associate Executive Director for LSSI’s Children’s Community Services in Cook County. “It helps soothe each child and gives them something to hug and call their own.”

“God seems to provide the people with the talents to do these different jobs,” said congregation member Ann Anderson, who coordinates the group. “It’s nice to get together, but it’s a social outing with meaning.”

In addition to their “hands-on” work, members of St. James have provided philanthropic support to LSSI over the years, including a $50,000 challenge grant that bolstered programming for the organization.

True Friends Make Celebration a Success

Over 200 “devices” joined the virtual 40th Annual True Friend Celebration: Traveling Route LSSI on Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021 that raised $200,000 for LSSI’s Foster Care program. Additionally, over 100 people attended small, in-person gatherings in Carbondale, Downers Grove, Geneseo, Glenview, and Rockford.

The True Friend Award was presented to Bev Moody and honored the life of Dick Moody. “It is really a privilege and an honor to be recognized as a true friend of this fantastic, efficient organization that serves so many people in need,” Moody said. “LSSI answers the Gospel direction, ‘Love one another.’”

The keynote speaker was a conversation with travel writer and television personality Rick Steves, “Travel as a Spiritual Act,” moderated by Pr. Peter Marty, editor of The Christian Century. Other offerings included Illinois state trivia hosted by Pr. Brian Wise, and live and online auctions. Special thanks to The Women’s Network of LSSI and those who hosted gatherings.

To see photos and videos from the event, as well as a list of sponsors, visit LSSI.org/TrueFriend.

LSSI Connect: A Vital Resource

BEHAVIORAL HEALTH SERVICES

People can now access LSSI’s Behavioral Health Services through LSSI Connect—833.610.5774—a direct resource number formerly known as Central Intake. LSSI’s professional staff offer compassionate, convenient help for people to access services. The number also enables people to activate mobile crisis services on Chicago’s northwest side.

Supervisor Melanie Fonseca, one of four LSSI Connect staff, might be the person to answer a call. “We’re the first point of contact,” Fonseca said. “We connect people to the resources they need.”

LSSI received grant funding last year from the Chicago Department of Public Health to support awareness efforts for the behavioral health services resourced by LSSI Connect. These programs can vary but include mobile crisis services, counseling and therapy, school-based counseling, mental health group homes, substance use treatment, and services for adults with developmental disabilities.

LSSI Connect staff are prepared for any type of call. Someone could be in an immediate crisis or looking for a first step in finding help. “Over time you gain an understanding of what the call could be,” Fonseca explained. “We do try and decompress with each other. It’s great having a team.”

If a caller needs services beyond what LSSI provides, the LSSI Connect team can help offer the most appropriate resources. “We are whole-person oriented, doing what’s best for the client,” said Nora Hilton,

MSW LCSW, Central Intake Supervisor. “We try to prioritize everyone.”

Emily Gaus, a 2021 Valparaiso University Calling and Purpose in Society (CAPS)Fellow, contributed this story.

Supporting Shared Values

DONOR PROFILE: PASTOR KATHIE BENDER SCHWICH AND PASTOR DANIEL SCHWICK

For over two decades, Pastor Kathie Bender Schwich and Pastor Daniel Schwick have maintained a deep connection to LSSI, whose mission aligns closely with their shared values. It was only natural the ELCA pastors chose to leave a percentage of their estate to LSSI and join its Cornerstone Society.

Dan, pastor of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in Mt. Prospect, worked at LSSI for 18 years.

“I’ve seen the power of LSSI to impact our communities from the inside,” he said. “I’ve seen people whose lives are very positively impacted because of the work that LSSI staff and social workers do.”

Kathie, who has worked at Advocate Aurora Health for 12 years, currently as Chief Spiritual Officer, serves on LSSI’s Board of Directors and has been part of the Women’s Network since the late 1990s.

“For me, the Women’s Network exemplifies how people of God in congregations who see a need do something to meet it,” said Kathie. “The people of God saying ‘Yes, these people on the margins are God’s people, too, and we are called to assist them.’”

Learn more about LSSI’s Planned Giving Initiative, There’s a Place in Your Heart for LSSI, and how you can join the Cornerstone Society at LSSI.org/PlannedGiving.


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