From the Top: Peggy McGuire, Project HELP

<p>Project HELP, a child abuse prevention program that has been serving the community since 1992, has named Elmhurst native Peggy McGuire as its new executive director. | Submtited</p>

Project HELP, a child abuse prevention program that has been serving the community since 1992, has named Elmhurst native Peggy McGuire as its new executive director. | Submtited

Peggy McGuire knows what it means to need a little help when trying to raise a family these days. Her two sons might be in college now, but she knows she didn’t raise them in a vacuum.

She’s happy to share that knowledge with the clients of Project HELP, a child abuse prevention program that has been serving the community since 1992. She recently was named its new executive director.

“The thing I like about HELP is that it’s not just for people at risk,” she said. “The program is accessible and is a way to develop stronger parents and families through mentoring, parental training and support. It provides a way for parents to strengthen their skills.”

Part of the program is helping families struggling to find quality time with one another provide structure and guidance for children.

“I have known Peggy for more than 11 years, and she is a dedicated and committed person when it comes to helping pregnant teens as well as families,” said Naperville resident Lucy Ferri, who worked with her at the DuPage Regional Education Office. “Peggy used to be my boss, but she was not a supervisor but rather someone who worked with us as a team. She has learned lots of ways to connect well with teens.”

McGuire grew up in Elmhurst where she still lives. She graduated from the University of Illinois in Champaign and earned a degree in human development and family studies. Her work experience includes 13 years with the DuPage Regional Office of Education in the same program as Ferri, as well as 10 years as the director of an adoption agency.

“I worked with the teen parents at my previous job with DuPage County’s Regional Office of Education, and I am committed to working toward strengthening families and the communities they live in,” she said.

She said the HELP organization appealed to her because it helps a range of people.

McGuire said the group is working with about 25 children and also provides classes for parenting, which she teaches along with others. Today’s families, she said, face time challenges given the demands of work as well as the bombardment of media.

“With kids today, there is no way we’re going to take overwhelming media options away, and it’s hard for families to find a lot of ‘down’ time,” she said. “With family financial issues, a lack of structure and a routine, we have to look for ways to help balance all of that out.

“I had a state’s attorney tell me once that media-related issues were the cause behind about 80 percent of the domestic violence cases today.”

As HELP’s new executive director, McGuire said she has set three goals for herself, which she hopes will make a significant impact.

“My first goal is to grow our volunteer base and get people who are well-trained and have support and supervision,” she said. “About 90 percent of the people who volunteer walk away from the experience better as a result of mentoring families.”

Her second goal is to broaden the base of families the organization serves, and the third involves creating a larger funding base to offer more services and keep it financially solid.

McGuire comes from a large family and is the mother of two sons — experiences, she says, have fueled her passion for the job.

“I believe a person’s family is her foundation in life, and if we want to live in a world where people prosper and find happiness, we need to have strong foundations from which to grow,” she says.

As a child from a family of seven children, she learned early that support comes from many places.

“All parents can benefit from mentorship and having support systems in place,” she says. “… My family flourished because we had many streams of support. I want to see this same opportunity for all parents.”

Ferri adds that McGuire will be successful because of her individual approach.

“The biggest challenge in meeting the needs of these families is realizing that each situation is unique and each brings a different set of challenges to the table,” Ferri said. “Peggy knows that and doesn’t treat them the same, and she knows the resources to use in each particular case.”

Email suggestions for From The Top to community news editor Heather Pfundstein at hpfundstein@stmedianetwork.com.

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