ICL readers extend a helping hand to Illinois children in crisis

We often mention the seven cooperative principles in the pages of this magazine, particularly Concern for Community. Usually, it is in reference to the efforts of electric cooperatives giving back to their communities. In this instance, however, it is in the good works of cooperative member-
owners themselves that we see this principle in action.

In response to the November 2019 article, “Treasure, not trash: Serving an invisible population,” (which can be viewed online at
icl.coop/treasure-not-trash-serving-an-invisible-population), Illinois Country Living readers came together. As a result, a wrong against Illinois children in crisis has been righted.

The article told the story of a small nonprofit called Fostering Dignity in Towanda, Ill., founded to provide backpacks to children in the process of being removed from their homes by the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). Without those backpacks, these children — at perhaps the most volatile time of their young lives — were forced to carry their few belongings in trash bags.

According to one of its founders, Valerie Beguin, readers’ reactions were strong. Often included with their monetary gifts were written messages, one saying, “I cried when I read that story;” another, “This is happening all around me, and I had no idea;” and yet another, “I can’t stand if another kid has to.”

One reader donor shared with Beguin that he had been a Woodford County judge for 20-plus years. According to him, “The day that impacted me most was when three children stood in front of my bench, each holding a brown paper bag with their belongings in it.”

After a decade of service and donations, the work of Fostering Dignity has come to an end. That’s because its services are no longer needed as recent legislation passed requiring the state to fund the purchase of duffle bags and backpacks for children entering foster care. For Beguin, it’s a bittersweet goodbye.

“I called senators and reps all the time trying to get this to happen,” she says. “[But] I didn’t expect that deep sense of loss.” The former DCFS investigator isn’t resting on her laurels, however. She is already back to work contributing her time and talents to For a Better Tomorrow, another nonprofit based in Bloomington-Normal.

Beguin says she learned a lot during Fostering Dignity’s 10 years. “I became aware of what servant leadership really is,” she says. “And what generosity really is, by the way that people responded.”

With that in mind, she won’t accept credit for this victory. “It’s about the community — how they listened and heard and met a need,” she says. “It’s about the community that came together.”