Chicago is famous for plenty of reasons — it’s home to some of the country’s best pizza, beautiful Lake Michigan, ludicrously sub-zero temperatures … and the list goes on and on. What you might not know about our fair city, though, is that Chicago is a hotbed of charitable activity. In fact, a 2015 study by Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy on behalf of The Chicago Community Trust recognized Chicago as the most philanthropic city in the country. We’ve always sought to connect our readers to carefully vetted nonprofits, first and foremost through our annual Philanthropy Awards, but with a city positively teeming with deserving nonprofits, we simply can’t stop there. This December, as you look for ways to brighten someone else’s holiday season, check out this list of 11 incredible nonprofits that also happen to all be past runners up for Philanthropy Awards. No matter which one you support, you’ll be helping to make a big difference in Chicago and beyond.
Zacharias Sexual Abuse Center
Known casually as the ZCenter, the Zacharias Sexual Abuse Center has been helping sexual assault and abuse survivors in northwestern Illinois since 1983. In fact, ZCenter is the only rape crisis center in Lake County and has been serving survivors for 35 years, helping them take back their lives and supporting them as they move from being victims to living as thriving, empowered survivors. In 2018 alone, the organization counseled more than 1,000 clients (including transgender and nonbinary individuals, who are at special risk for sexual assault and violence) and educated more than 13,000 students in Lake County schools about preventing sexual violence. ZCenter also provides advocates in emergency rooms and trains law enforcement in dealing with victims of sexual assault. Volunteers can do everything from manning the 24-hour support hotline to accompanying survivors to court appointments. Survivors can take part in both individual and group counseling in a holistic environment that focuses on guiding clients back to health through gentle compassion.
The condition of the three tennis courts dismayed Ali Barnett. She drove past them in New York, some 10 years ago. She was a sophomore in high school and already a veteran varsity tennis player. Each empty court at the public facility lacked a net.
Each empty court sported skateboard skid marks—wall graffiti’s cousins.
Barnett, who grew up on Long Island and volunteered at two U.S. Open Tennis Championships in New York City, wanted to do something, anything, to restore the courts, to see young tennis players on the three courts running and hitting winners and smiling.
“I started a summer tennis program for underserved kids,” Barnett, sitting in a booth at Country Kitchen in Highland Park, says. “It was sad to me, noticing unused courts. I went to local tennis shops and asked for donations. They donated tennis rackets and tennis balls.”
Nets and netters reappeared on the courts. Skateboarders had to find another place to roll.
Barnett ran the program for two summers. “Your best shot in tennis?” I ask.
“My forehand,” the humble 27-year-old replies
somewhat hesitantly, fearing the answer would make her sound boastful.
“Any topspin?” I ask.
“Some topspin,” she says, a slight smile forming above her order of scrambled eggs, a cup of mixed fruit and a glass of orange juice.
Ali Barnett, a Highland Park resident, also serves quite well—off the court. For more than two years, she has been the director of development at Zacharias Sexual Abuse Center (ZCenter), the lone rape crisis center in Lake County. In fiscal year 2018 it was a haven for 232 survivors who were served in emergency rooms. A total of 1,030 clients underwent counseling in the same 12 months. One welcoming ZCenter building is located in Gurnee, the other in Skokie. From July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018, more than 13,000 students in Lake County schools received prevention education from ZCenter personnel.
Founded in 1983, the nonprofit’s mission is to provide a place where survivors of sexual assault and abuse can heal, and to mobilize the community toward action to end sexual violence.
“I don’t consider what I do a job,” Barnett says. “I’m helping—all of us at ZCenter are helping— those who don’t have a voice, those who need to be believed and validated and empowered. It’s heartbreaking, every single case. I’ve heard some people say the topic of sexual abuse is depressing, numbing. I don’t look at it that way.
“It’s not depressing,” she adds, “when it’s ad- dressed and each victim uses our center as a bridge to healing.”
Among ZCenter’s generous donors are Highland Park Community Foundation and Healthcare Foundation of Highland Park.
Barnett provides statistics about sexual abuse and assault. The numbers? They’re awful.
Abuse or assault takes place every 98 seconds. A child is abused or assaulted every eight minutes. One in four girls is abused or assaulted before
the age of 18. One in six boys is abused or assaulted before the age of 18. One in three women is abused or assaulted on college campuses.
ZCenter services are free. Its services: counseling; 24-hour support line (847-872-7799), which features a partnership with a translation service; medical and legal advocacy; professional training for first responders, medical staff, faith-based leaders and
others who work with survivors of sexual abuse; and prevention education programs for students (pre-kindergarten through college).
ZCenter’s 7th annual RacetoZero5K&8K Run/Walk will be staged on April 14 at Independence Grove Forest Preserve in Libertyville. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
The soothing sight of a fireplace greets visitors near the front door at both
ZCenter sites. In the warm, expansive lobby area in the Gurnee building,
Frank the Bear, a 5-foot-some-thing stuffed animal, sits casually at the
end of a couch to the left of the fireplace, one hind leg slightly bent.
Frank, Barnett assures me, moves around (presumably with the help of humans). ZCenter staffers hand a considerably smaller version of Frank to sexual-abuse victims in ERs. Instant comfort. ZCenter contains critical spaces inside, from art and play therapy rooms to a training room for its 100-plus volunteers, who served for more than a combined 3,600 hours in fiscal year 2018.
Chicago Bears rookies built the outdoor playground at the Gurnee location in 2015.
All ZCenter hallways are wide. For a reason. For a significant reason.
“A power dynamic does not exist when people walk side-by-side in a spacious hallway,” Barnett says.
Ali— the daughter of Jed, a doctor, and Robin, a teacher and former social worker—traversed thE paths inside academic buildings at Northwestern University, earning a degree in Learning and Organizational Change. She then oversaw, as an account manager in Aetna’s health- care IT consultancy, vital benefits tech- nology for large corporations. At NU she met another tennis enthusiast, Sam Barnett, who would net a PhD in neuroscience and embark on a career in the financial and healthcare industries. Sam Barnett and Ben Woldenberg were Highland Park High School tennis teammates and captured the doubles cham- pionship at the state meet in 2008.
Ali and Sam’s first date started with dinner and ended with a comedy show in Chicago. “I wanted to get to the show early so we wouldn’t be forced to sit near the front,” Ali recalls. “You know what stand-up comics often like to do. They like to pick on the audience members sitting near the f ront. They like to embarrass them.
“We sat in the back.”
They got married in 2016. They’re still avid tennis players. Sam, somehow, has found the time to play in professional singles and doubles tournaments in the U.S. and abroad. Ali continues to rely on her forehand, the one with a smidgen of topspin, in between yoga and Pilates sessions and cherished chunks of time with the couple’s Golden Retriever, Troy.
“The sweetest boy,” Ali says. “Troy is also well-behaved and smart. We’d like him to become a therapy dog someday.”
The day Barnett learned about Zacharias Sexual Abuse Center was the day she read the alarming statistics the center strives to reduce. Every year.
“I had also read victims’ stories,” she says. “So many adults, too many children, need help healing every day. ZCenter is a special place for them, I had discovered while researching it. I didn’t just want to work for a nonprofit, something I had thought about for a while; I wanted to be a part of an organization that’s positive and committed to advocacy and caring and prevention.
“All of us at ZCenter want to work ourselves out of our jobs.”
Zacharias Sexual Abuse Centers are located at 4275 Old Grand Avenue in Gurnee and at 4232 Dempster Street in Skokie. Visit zcenter. org or call the main office at 847-244-1187 for more information. Ali Barnett’s email address is email@example.com.
4232 Dempster Street, Skokie, IL 60076 847.972.1790
We staff a 24/7 Support Line, which serves over 600 people per year: 847.872.7799
In 2018, over 1,000 men, women and children received counseling at ZCenter and over 200 survivors were served in the ER by our medical advocates. In addition, 13,500 Lake County students received prevention education.
The seventh- annual Zacharias Sexual Abuse Center Race to Zero stepped off Sunday under heavy snow flurries at 35 degrees in Libertyville.
“Let’s melt some snow,” said an announcer via megaphone, asking participants to assemble at the start line shortly after 9 a.m.
“I’d rather have snow than rain. I love it,” said a smiling Janet Walsh of Fox Lake, development and events coordinator at the Gurnee location of the Zacharias Sexual Abuse Center.
The weather brought eventual whiteout conditions for the duration of the event.
“Despite the snow, people know this is such an important cause and we’re grateful for their support,” said Ali Barnett of Highland Park, director of development of the Zacharias Sexual Abuse Center.
The one-mile family fun run/walk and chip-timed 5K and 8K run/walk at Independence Grove became an event record-breaker in attendance and fundraising, according to the organization also known as the “ZCenter.”
Approximately 400 people were registered, with the money raised surpassing $54,000, “both record levels for ZCenter’s annual Race to Zero event,” Barnett said.
“The funds support ZCenter’s wide range of services, provided free of charge to our clients, including counseling and medical advocacy for survivors of sexual assault,” she said.
In 2018, more than 1,000 men, women and children received counseling at ZCenter, and more than 200 survivors were served in the emergency room by center medical advocates. In addition, more than 600 people called ZCenter’s 24/7 support line (847-872-7799), Barnett said.
In addition,13,500 Lake County students received prevention education, she added.
The start and finish lines were located on the west side of the preserve, along Independence Grove Lake.
GURNEE – The Zacharias Sexual Abuse Center will host its fourth annual Taste of the Town to support the center Nov. 6.
The event will feature guest speaker Sarah Klein.
Klein is an attorney and an advocate for victims of sexual abuse. She is a former competitive gymnast and the first known survivor of former U.S. Olympic Women’s Gymnastics Team doctor and now-convicted serial criminal Larry Nassar.
Klein is an alumna of Columbia University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Global Entrepreneurship program.
In July 2018, she received ESPN’s Arthur Ashe Courage Award.
Support the ZCenter while tasting amazing bites from the area’s best restaurants.
The night includes survivor speakers, a silent auction, fund-a-need paddle raise, and a mystery raffle, as well as fan-favorite Heads or Tails.
The event will take place from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Nov. 6 at The Drake Hotel, 140 E. Walton Place, Chicago. Attire for Taste of the Town is business-cocktail.
Valet parking at The Drake Hotel is available for a reduced rate of $26 for the event.
To register, call Emily Prey by Oct. 25 at 847-244-1187 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
For information on how to stay involved with ZCenter, visit www.zcenter.org.
WAUKEGAN – Shoulders hunched, people hurried up the walkway to the Lake County courthouse, eager to seek the warmth waiting behind the automatic glass doors during the unexpected snowfall April 9.
Few of them slowed their pace long enough to acknowledge the 14 silent individuals lining the walkway. Even fewer paused to read the signs these silent protesters held.
“Only seven out of every 1,000 rapes will lead to a felony conviction,” one read.
Another stated, “Ninety-three percent of juvenile survivors of sexual abuse knew the perpetrators (of sexual abuse cases reported to law enforcement).”
“Your voice has power,” read yet another. “Use it to support survivors.”
Other signs displayed equally alarming and disheartening statistics regarding sexual assault and abuse.
The individuals – nearly all women – were part of a silent protest called “Standing Silent Witness,” organized by the Zacharias Sexual Abuse Center (ZCenter). For one hour, the protesters stood in a show of silent solidarity with the survivors of sexual assault and abuse – both those who have come forward with their story and those who continue to suffer in silence.
ZCenter has held silent protests every April for nearly a decade as part of the national Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
“It really comes from really acknowledging that there are so many survivors of sexual violence who are just not able to talk about what happened to them or who have tried to talk about what’s happened to them but have been silenced by someone else,” said Ashley Dawson, ZCenter’s volunteer and outreach coordinator.
Medical advocate Amy Chaness said events such as these are important to raise awareness not only of the prevalence of sexual assault, but also its continued social stigma. Social movements such as “#MeToo” have helped bring it closer to the forefront of social consciousness, she said, but there is still much work to be done.
“I think some women, some people – men too – are more empowered [by #MeToo],” Chaness said. “But I think other people, too, still feel there’s a lot of shame and embarrassment around it as well.”
Jennifer Evans, ZCenter’s senior associate of development and marketing, watched as the group of protesters gathered signs and took positions at the end of the courthouse walkway just before 8:30 a.m. April 9. She held her own sign, preparing to join them. She said that social stigma is part of what pressures survivors into remaining silent after an attack.
“That uncomfortable feeling is a big reason that survivors are very cautious about who they tell and who they confide in,” she said. “One of the national messages for this month is ‘Believe survivors.’ Believe them; validate their experiences. This is not something that you need to keep quiet about or that people have to find their own ways to deal with.”
ZCenter provides resources and support for survivors, including a 24-hour support line, counseling and medical and legal advocacy. Last year, ZCenter provided more than 1,000 survivors with counseling and served nearly 200 in the emergency room in the days immediately after an attack. Lake County hospitals call in these medical advocates any time a patient is being treated for sexual assault. Evans said these advocates are there to provide whatever help the survivor needs – even if it’s simply a hand to hold.
“[Medical advocates provide] whatever that survivor needs to kind of feel like they’re back in control of the situation,” Evans said later in a telephone interview. “The traumatic experience of a sexual assault is that a survivor has lost control of what’s happening to them and what’s happening to their body.”
An elderly woman walked down the walkway from the courthouse huddled in her purple parka and rolling a backpack behind her. She approached the protesters and their signs, but instead of lowering her gaze and walking by, she slowed to a standstill and read each sign individually.
She finally sighed, indicating the staggering numbers represented on the signs.
“It is very sad to see such big numbers,” she said, her whisper amplified in heavy silence surrounding the protesters.
“[ZCenter is] here to help with the healing,” Evans said. “In order to do that, it takes a lot of bravery. It takes that courageous first step to reach out and tell somebody and then get help.”
Wintry weather, including snow, didn’t deter about 15 demonstrators from “standing silent witness” outside of the Lake County Courthouse in Waukegan Monday morning to honor sexual assault survivors.
Borrowing a tradition initially established by a Chicago rape victim advocacy group, the demonstrators — workers, volunteers and friends with the Gurnee-based Zacharias Sexual Abuse Center — displayed shirts and signs, and held silent vigil from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. Monday.
Zacharias Center spokeswoman Jennifer Evans said the tribute was designed “to mark all of the survivors who don’t have a voice.”
“A lot of sexual violence is about loss of power,” Evans said.
The Zacharias Center, formed as a non-profit center against sexual assault and abuse in 1983, is marking April’s designation as Sexual Assault Awareness Month with events, beginning with Monday’s appearance at the courthouse and concluding with a 5K event April 22 at the Independence Grove Forest Preserve in Libertyville.
As the demonstrators stood sturdy in the face of a chilly wind and light snow, Evans said one member of the group was designated to answer any questions and provide information to those entering and leaving the courthouse.
“The weather has thrown us a bit of a curveball, but it’s OK,” Evans said.
Ashley Dawson of Wauconda held a sign that read “93 percent of juvenile sexual abuse knew the perpetrator,” and said the silence of the demonstrators reflects the silence of many abuse and assault victims who often have no voice.
“It’s about showing the survivors we support them and know they’re out there,” Dawson said.
Nikki Hannon of Chicago displayed a brightly-colored T-shirt that she hoped to wear Monday but held up in front of her coat instead.
Monday marked the eighth year Zacharias Center has upheld the silent witness tradition, Evans said.
She said the silent gathering demonstrates that the Zacharias Center participants show solidarity with people who have survived an assault, and also stand for those who have stayed in silence and have yet to disclose their experiences.
“Silence can be louder than words,” said Zacharias Center Administrative Assistant Joanna Akkala, who attended the event with members of her family. “As a community, we stand together come snow, rain or shine to help end sexual violence.”
The Zacharias Center now operates from two locations, with a facility in Skokie joining the Gurnee center.
Evans said the Zacharias Center provides places where survivors of sexual violence can heal and mobilizes the community toward action to end sexual violence.
Services are available free of charge to all survivors, regardless of race, gender, language, ability to pay, sexual orientation or religion. For more information online, visit ZCenter.org.