Ladies lead Derby Day down the home stretch

After a single father lost custody of his seven children because of his drug addiction, he reached out to Brightpoint for the tools to get his life back on track and his kids back home.

At last year's Derby Day fundraiser, sponsored by the agency's Hinsdale Auxiliary, guests were stirred by the man's powerful testimony of redemption.

"And now he actually works for Brightpoint in their 'Fathers First' program," related auxiliary volunteer Beth Lyons. "It's nice to hear those happy stories."

Lyons, of Elmhurst, and Hinsdale's Margaret Facchini are co-chairs of the 69th annual Kentucky Derby-inspired Derby Day Party at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, May 4 at Butterfield Country Club (see Page 16 for details). Facchini said Brightpoint - formerly Children's Home & Aid - works to support families experiencing crisis to keep children from having to enter the foster care system.

"(Brightpoint) tries to help in any way they can, whether it's counseling for the families, whether it's child care, whether it's food, diapers," she said.

The organization articulates its mission as advancing "the well-being of children by investing in families to disrupt the systemic and multi-generational cycle of racial, social and economic inequality." It operates several Child & Family Centers in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs providing early education as well as medical, dental, mental health and nutrition resources while also equipping parents with skills to meet life's challenges.

"They get services there, all of their meals, after-school care. Parents can drop them off so they can go to work and know they're in a safe place," said Facchini, who visited one of the centers as dozens of little ones were making art. "We all worked in a room, and it was really fun to be with the kids."

The vision hits home for Facchini, who shared her own journey growing up with five siblings being raised by their divorced mom.

"It was welfare and food stamps," she said of the support network in that time. "I cleaned houses in high school. We did what we could."

Both Facchini and Lyons linked up with Brightpoint about three years ago. But Lyons had been familiar with the outreach for some time.

"Friends of my parents used to go 25, 30 years ago," Lyons said.

Putting together a Derby Day event requires flexibility and organizational skills, the duo agreed, as well a good team of volunteers.

"We are small but mighty," Lyons said.

"We have a lot of people who, when a job needs to get done, it gets done," Facchini added. "The women that work with us at Brightpoint are amazing."

Emcee Alex Maragos of NBC Chicago will keep things on track, so to speak, although the fact that the Kentucky Derby lasts only two minutes makes for an efficient affair.

"This whole event is wrapped around less than five minutes," Facchini quipped.

Amidst the fascinators and mint juleps, people at Derby Day are mindful that resources collected will go to help families get out of the gate toward a more stable future.

"We can live in our little bubbles here and think that (family struggle) doesn't happen, but it does," Lyons said.

"Everybody needs a hand," Facchini said.

- story by Ken Knutson, photo by Jim Slonoff

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean