Special From The West Suburban Journal

West Suburban PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter) sponsored its eighth annual 2006 benefit dinner Saturday night at the Villa Brunetti in Franklin Park.

The title of this year’s Have-a-Heart dinner was “One Heart, One Night,” but more than 350 generous “hearts” turned up to pledge their support ” and money – in the battle against homelessness in the western suburbs.

West Suburban PADS, now in its 14th year, is a non-profit organization committed to serving the needs of families and individuals who are homeless or at risk for homelessness in west suburban Cook County.

The organization’s administrative offices are located in Forest Park at the St. Bernardine’s Convent, 816 Marengo Ave.

The organization is supported by more than 40 congregations and 1000 volunteers, many of whom attended Saturday’s event.

The dinner was a virtual political “who’s who” of the western suburban communities, attended in support by mayors Henderson Yarbrough of Maywood, Frank Pasquale of Bellwood and Joe Tamburino of Hillside, Oak Park Village President David Pope, State Rep. Deborah Graham, and State Sen. Don Harmon, as well as many village trustees.

Master of Ceremonies was John Callaway, host of WTTW’s “Chicago Stories.”

Leah Beckwith, chair of this year’s dinner committee, said that although PADS holds several fundraisers throughout the year to support its many programs and services, the Have-a-Heart dinner tends to garner the most funding and support.

The event raises money for its cause each year with ticket sales for an evening of dinner and dancing, a silent auction of donated items, the sale of raffle tickets and the collection of charitable contributions.

Beckwith said she hoped this year’s event would top 2005’s Have-a-Heart earnings, which totaled more than $36,000.

Given the organization can support one person with one night’s shelter and services for just $10 per day, a sum that large could mean many good things for the program and its more than 600 annual recipients.

Homelessness is a problem that affects millions of people every year in cities across the globe.

The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless estimates that between 2.3 and 3.5 million people experience homelessness nationwide over the course of a year, with 166,000 people affected in the Chicago metropolitan area alone.

The roots of the problem run deep into our social, political and economic systems, although their manifestation is often interpreted as a personal lack of ambition or laziness on the part of the individual.

Lynda Schueler, executive director of PADS, pointed out that homelessness can often be transitional rather than lasting long-term or a lifetime.

“People can be homeless for just a few days or a few weeks,” Schueler said. “Sometimes it just takes a short time and some help to get them back on their feet.”

Helping people to get back on their feet is exactly what West Suburban PADS does, and no one knows it better than those who have been touched by the program’s outreach.

George Olson, a former beneficiary of PADS services now employed by the program, offered his testimonial at the benefit dinner, thanking the staff and volunteers for their part in helping him break away from homelessness.

“People used to ask me when I’d be able to get away from PADS,” Olson said. “Now I don’t ever see myself wanting to get away.”

In referring to the photo ID tag that he has sentimentally kept since first entering the program, Olson said: “You never give away a winning ticket.”

The homeless men, women and children of west suburban Cook County aren’t the only ones whose lives are changed by participation in PADS programs.

Laurence Msall, a volunteer and contributor to the growing organization, said that working with PADS to bring about visible change in the community has been nothing short of a wonderful experience.

“I really get a lot more out of it than I give,” Msall said.

According to Beckwith, PADS simply couldn’t do all that it does without its volunteers.

The program runs a rotating system of emergency shelters seven nights a week in Oak Park, Forest Park, Berwyn and Franklin Park, offering 40-65 beds each evening from Sept. 15 through May 15. This program provides dinner, breakfast, sack lunches, showers, a weekly medical clinic, bi-weekly eye clinic and monthly legal clinic for its participants.

PADS also runs a support center for guests in the emergency shelter program that offers phones, lockers, showers, voicemail, a mailing address, job search assistance and full time case management services year round.

Transitional Housing is a 3-24 month program for homeless individuals and families who are referred through the PADS emergency shelter program. The goals of Transitional Housing are to provide emotional stability, a savings plan and financial management skills, support in employment efforts and development of the skills necessary for independence and residential stability for those entering the program.

PADS is also a partner in Project WIN, a collaborative effort designed to provide care in the areas of mental health, medical health and substance abuse treatment.

For more information on West Suburban PADS or to make a donation, visit www.westsuburbanpads.org.