Once homeless COD graduate credits nonprofits
Submitted October 22, 2012 6:44PM
Megan DeAngelis, now a graduate of College of DuPage and a graduate student at Benedictine University, found herself homeless because her husband had abandoned her and her two boys.
Updated: November 25, 2012 11:27AM
It wasn’t too many years ago that Megan DeAngelis, a graduate student at Benedictine University, found herself homeless because, she says, her husband left her and her two boys.
“Although I had a job running a deli at a senior living facility, I didn’t have enough to support my family, and my nearest relatives lived hours away,” the Naperville resident said. “I didn’t have many options.”
She contacted several agencies, which eventually sent her to Bridge Communities, a local nonprofit organization that assists homeless families in DuPage County. After helping DeAngelis evaluate her needs, Bridge Communities connected her with program partner Families Helping Families in Naperville.
It was there that DeAngelis met the group’s founder Vicky Joseph, who later became one of her mentors and led her on a pathway back to College of DuPage.
Joseph started Naperville-based Families Helping Families 18 years ago after aspiring to help a single mother in need of assistance. After contacting Bridge Communities and explaining her plan to “adopt” a family to help them succeed, she raised funds and sought help from many community groups and businesses. With Bridge Communities providing professional case management, Joseph created FHF to add an educational component and extend the program to two years.
Today Bridge Communities, with their 45 partners around DuPage County, provides mentoring and housing for 102 families. The goal is to help these families gain the skills and education to find a better-paying job and become self-sufficient. Joseph and the other mentors make a commitment to work with a client for the two years it takes to meet the client’s goals.
“People who volunteer to mentor are the first line of support for these families,” Joseph said. “They help these individuals gain financial literacy and pursue their educational goals, and are a listening and loving ear. In any situations that arise, the mentor says, ‘Let’s make a plan together that works.’”
DeAngelis was skeptical at first of the offers of housing and additional help.
“You know you need help but are hesitant. However, everyone throughout the process was nonjudgmental and welcomed me with open arms,” she said. “I felt comfortable and was able to trust them. I was able to get some control at a point in my life when I felt I had no control.”
Since one of the goals of FHF is to help its clients become better educated, Joseph and her mentors are in touch with colleges, including College of DuPage. DeAngelis decided that earning her associate degree in general studies was her first step. While attending COD, she qualified for a federal work-study program.
“One of my biggest supports came from the service learning department with Steve Gustis,” she said. “I was a federal work-study student who did data entry, converting paper records to electronic. Working with Steve was an eye opener. The members of his department proved to me that the concept of doing community service while in school is invaluable. Our country is failing in teaching us how to be good citizens. Unless you have experienced what it’s like to help somebody, you don’t know the rewards. COD does that.”
Gustis wasn’t aware of DeAngelis’ background initially but later realized it fueled her passion to promote service learning.
“Megan’s background motivated her,” he said. “She also wanted to give back to Families Helping Families by making people aware of the good work they do every day.”
DeAngelis earned her associate’s degree and, together with Joseph, made a plan for the next phase of her education, a bachelor’s degree from Benedictine University. With Joseph’s help in navigating what DeAngelis calls the “intricate web of resources provided by Benedictine and FHF,” she earned her bachelor’s degree in management in 2008.
DeAngelis now is a graduate student at Benedictine University. She wants to work in public health where she can use her education and life experience to help others who are struggling. While proud of her achievements, she said that FHF did more than just help her.
“They helped my entire family,” she said. “My children went through the program, too. They received tutoring and counseling and were helped in so many ways.”
DeAngelis is giving back by speaking about her experiences to mentors in training and to community philanthropy groups. She also credits institutions like College of DuPage for working with these groups to help residents when they need it most.
“Vicky is a humble angel with the ability to move mountains and never ask for credit,” she said. “At College of DuPage, anything I needed I was able to get. I never once had a class that I did not get something out of.
“You don’t triumph unless you fully engage your experience. And you excel for your kids. One of my proudest moments is that my boys got to see me graduate from college.”
Courtesy of College of DuPage