Chicago Bears rookies volunteer at ZCenter

Chicago Bears rookies volunteer at ZCenter

Chicago Bears rookies volunteer at sexual assault center

Chicago Bears players Kevin White (left), Khari Lee (center) and Gannon Sinclair (right) greet fans Tuesday at the Zacharias Sexual Abuse Center in Gurnee, before they helped build an outdoor playground as part of the United Way Hometown Huddle. (Mark Kodiak Ukena / Lake County News-Sun)

When Chicago Bears wide receiver Cameron Meredith led a crew of his fellow rookies into the Zacharias Sexual Assault Center in Gurnee on Tuesday, it was no coincidence that a fireplace was lit and displays of flowers lined the shelves.

Advocates with the “Z Center” explained that this welcoming atmosphere is rolled out at all times for those coming in the doors, not just when NFL players arrive to volunteer their time.

“A big part of our philosophy is our holistic environment,” said Danielle Gordon, a marketing and social change advocate, pointing to a new logo unveiled this summer by the non-profit agency. “The colors represent our healing and holistic atmosphere; green represents growth and healing, the orange is a sense of warmth and connectedness, and teal represents not only the color of sexual-assault awareness, but again, a sense of comfort.”

The Bears rookies were on hand to put the finishing touches on yet another element of that approach — a children’s play area that Gordon said can be used for both recreation and therapy.

“We have a lot of children here as clients,” she said, “and a lot of therapists will tell you that it’s good to have a space where children can feel safe and trusting with their counselors.”

Meredith was joined by teammates Kevin White, Khari Lee and Gannon Sinclair in assembling swings on the playground, which took shape over the last two to three weeks using a $20,000 donation from the United Way of Lake County’s annual Hometown Huddle program.

Part of a nationwide partnership with the NFL, the Hometown Huddle Day of Service has been active in Lake County since 2007, with Bears rookies collaborating on local projects including restoration of a fitness room at Round Lake High School and installation of a handicapped-accessible playground outside Clearview Elementary School in Waukegan.

United Way spokeswoman Jennifer Yonan said when the 2015 effort was taking shape, Bears officials specifically requested projects that would benefit agencies that assist survivors of sexual assault and their families. Along with the Z Center playground, which replaced wooden equipment that had been in place since the Old Grand Avenue facility opened 18 years ago, a play area was also constructed outside the Lake County Children’s Advocacy Center on O’Plaine Road.

After building the play set, the Bears teammates signed autographs for fans that included Boy Scouts from Troop 96 in Grayslake, who dissembled the old equipment earlier this month.

Meredith, a Westchester native who played in college at Illinois State University, said Tuesday’s volunteer visits were a mix of effort and education.

“We planted some shrubs at the other shelter and took a tour and got to know a little bit about what they’re doing over there,” he said. “It was good time, being over there and getting to know all those people.

“We like to give back to the community as often as we can,” he added, “so whenever there’s an opportunity that presents itself, we try to take advantage of it.”

The improvement at the Zacharias Center comes as a second facility under the same banner takes shape in Skokie. Funded primarily through a $1 million donation by the North Suburban Healthcare Foundation, the new site is expected to open in January and will be staffed initially with employees rotating from the Gurnee office while programs are fine-tuned.

“It’s been a two-year labor of love putting it together,” said Jennifer Harris, chair of the Z Center’s board of directors, adding that the Skokie location will primarily serve clients in northeast Cook County but, like the Gurnee center, is open to anyone in need.

Adam Robinson, who will serve as the Skokie center’s executive director, said the new location will try to mirror the physical components of the original building, including the use of large windows and skylights to keep clients from feeling closed in.

“Environments are a critical part of healing,” said Robinson, adding that the goal in both Gurnee and Skokie is to provide “a building where you would want to come for comfort and support.”


NEWS-SUN | OCT 27, 2015 AT 7:15 PM

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