Janet Derrick — This nonprofit executive director confirms: Naperville CARES

April 2012 View more

NMAG0412_NeighborhoodThe dictionary defines the term “cares” with words like “attention” and “protection,” phrases that evoke a sense of affection and dignity toward its recipient—a true representation of the work that goes on at Naperville CARES. Executive director Janet Derrick was first aligned with the organization when she “retired” from her corporate career to spend more time with her young boys; she also became involved with the St. Vincent DePaul ministry at her parish. “I went to a presentation about Naperville CARES and I started volunteering in 2002. At that time we just had a little space in the back of the Loaves & Fishes office,” she recalls. Derrick eventually served on the agency’s board and seven years later, when board members felt it was time to hire an executive director, she was ready to go back to work. “I had a sales background,” she admits, “but the board was willing to take a chance on me.”

“Janet is perfectly suited to be our executive director,” says board member Tom Cordaro. “Her firsthand knowledge of the CARES mission, coupled with her extensive business background, made the choice an easy one.” Cordaro is also the justice/outreach minister at St. Margaret Mary; the parish is one among many members of a tight community network of local service organizations that work together to provide assistance to residents in need, says Derrick. “What’s great about the network is that we each do something different. Our main goal is to provide short-term financial assistance—this could be anything that will keep [clients] housed and employed. We collaborate and coordinate the financial assistance with other agencies.”

Before receiving aid, clients fill out a detailed application; once the information is verified, agencies coordinate a package of assistance. “We view ourselves as the short-term help agency, but if it’s a long-term issue we try to resolve that with other agencies,” Derrick says. For instance, a child with counseling needs could be referred to 360 Youth Services, or food needs can be met through Loaves & Fishes, and Bridge Communities might provide housing assistance. “It’s really a strong collaborative effort to help people as best we can,” says Derrick. To facilitate this cooperation, Derrick represents Naperville CARES on many boards and committees across the area; she’s currently the chair of the not-for-profit network, a subgroup of the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce.

One long-term focus of Naperville CARES is its car program. “In the suburbs,” explains Derrick, “lack of transportation is a critical issue for employment.” Donated cars are provided to needy clients, and Derrick is proud that the Naperville CARES program is really held up as a model to try to help eliminate poverty. Community support for the program is the key: Continental Motors recently donated eight cars, and car repair is provided by local certified mechanics at Naper Auto Works, Becker Service Center, and Comprehensive Auto Repair.

Many of the car recipients are female heads of households, who represent 65 percent of Naperville CARES’ client base. Before the recession, says Derrick, clients usually were employed, but had unexpected expenses that required short-term assistance. “Now we’re seeing clients who have long-term unemployment issues, or they are underemployed. We’re also seeing bigger needs,” Derrick explains, “which take longer to solve.” The federal stimulus package that came in a few years ago helped bridge the gap between state cutbacks and resident need, says Derrick, but homeless prevention funds just ran out. “People are getting bounced from agency to agency due to lack of funding. We’re worried about the next six to 12 months.”

To support its programs, Naperville CARES hosts two large fundraising event each year; the spring event, Cuisine for a Cause, features samples of signature dishes from local restaurants with an open bar, wine tasting, entertainment, and a live/silent auctions. Derrick describes the event as a big cocktail party, noting that when people come for the first time, they typically come back.

Photo by Robyn Sheldon