When Michelle Prickett was an adopted child growing up, she had to visit her birth mother in a courthouse. She said she believed the unwelcoming and unofficial space was one of the reasons her mother ultimately abandoned her.
“Like so many birth parents, all the blocks were stacked against them,” said Prickett, now executive director of Kids in Need of McHenry County. “My mother said it was too hard with five children, so I fell. We don’t want that to happen with the children our organization helps.
Kids in Need of McHenry County opened a family resource and visitation house a year ago, the first such facility in McHenry County, and this week opened the house at 55 E. Crystal Lake Ave. has undergone a major renovation.
The goal is to provide a space where foster children can meet and connect with their birth parents in a more relationship-building setting than a courthouse or library, Prickett said. .
Nearly 50 families living in Kane, Lake and McHenry counties have collectively spent more than 2,000 hours in the visiting home since it opened last year, said Amber Rakozcy, owner and director of ROAN Solutions, which provides the home services.
“Some families have never eaten with their kids before or had a meal with them,” Prickett said. “This house provides a safe atmosphere, a normal environment.”
The renovation is part of a partnership between Kids in Need and home-builder Lennar, which chose the one-day project for its annual Day of Caring event.
“This is one of the most rewarding projects we’ve ever done,” said Lennar Chicago Division President Chris Gillen. “The whole company supported him.”
Members of Lennar’s Focus Acts of Caring committee were looking to organize some sort of community-building event, and several Lennar employees in the Crystal Lake area approached them in March about the Kids in Need house, a said Gillen.
This included Kari Moritz, vice president of sales and marketing, and Sean Burke, vice president of purchasing.
“I thought it would be a great opportunity to continue the work we’ve done in the past as Stuff the Duffel,” Moritz said, referring to a donation drive from Second Bridge, now part of Kids in Need. , to collect assets for adoptive children.
The fundraiser was created after the death of AJ Freund, a 5-year-old child killed by his parents in Crystal Lake in 2019. Moritz said she was greatly affected by the incident and was happy to contribute to this week’s partnership.
“It’s a fantastic, straight-to-the-point event,” Burke said Friday afternoon. “It definitely exceeded expectations.”
Lennar and his partners raised more than $70,000 in cash or material donations for the renovation, Gillen said. About 50 Lennar associates and another 20 from contract partners spent Friday painting, furnishing and cleaning the home.
Keller Williams Realty, which did preparatory work on Thursday, also contributed $15,000 for home renovations, Prickett said.
Some new features will include a newly paved and regraded rear driveway and parking space, new front landscaping and plants, and a new outdoor play area. Various rooms and cabinets were repainted, the plumbing was reconfigured and new sofas were donated.
The house includes a variety of spaces where parents can have supervised visits with their children and learn skills such as cooking and bathing. Different rooms are designed for different age groups, including a playroom for older children and larger spaces for families visiting multiple children who may live with different host families, Prickett said.
Therapists and others work with parents to manage anxiety levels as they learn to care for their children safely and successfully, Rakoczy said.
The goal of Kids in Need and the home is to find a permanent solution for affected children, whether that means reuniting with their birth parents or finding a permanent foster home, Prickett and Rakoczy said.
Even in the latter case, the halfway house can provide a space where children and their birth parents can build a healthy relationship or visit each other several times a year, Rakoczy said.
“The truth is that the parents who come to our doors love their children fiercely,” Rakoczy said. “They may not have the parenting skills or have suffered generational patterns of trauma or abuse. Parents make choices. The community may not always tolerate these decisions or support them, but maybe it will once we understand where these people are coming from.
Although Rakoczy has said she thinks ROAN and Kids in Need see the reconnection “win” daily, one of her favorite accomplishments involves reuniting a 2-year-old with her dad, who previously knew he was. had a child.
Prickett said she and her husband adopted four foster children who met their aunt, grandmother, mother and younger sister.
One of the adoptive siblings, Prickett said, told her it was “the best day of her life” when she was able to have a meal and play games with the Pricketts and her birth family, in watching them get along and, therefore, feeling more comfortable about the whole situation.
“You hear stories of kids walking around with suitcases,” Prickett said. “There is no chance of bonding or cooking in the offices. This represents a different approach to working with families. They can create memories here.
Kids in Need expected families to be able to use the house again from Saturday, Rakoczy said on Friday, noting that normally the house is open seven days a week.
“Parents are always surprised when they come here for the first time,” Rakoczy said. “They are used to offices, a library or McDonald’s. I think when they come here this week they’re going to be really amazed at the new decor and backyard play.