Project HELP—Strengthening Families and Shaping Lives

September 2014 View more

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Peggy McGuire, Executive Director; Sarah Sheehan, Project HELP Volunteer

When Sarah Sheehan, a volunteer parent mentor with Project HELP, first met her client, it was clear that the young mother of a preschooler was overwhelmed. Despite the mother’s best efforts, she was at a loss at how to cope with an uncooperative co-parent and to how to manage the resulting behaviors of a toddler confused by conflicting parenting styles. One year later, however, the family is noticeably improved. “The whole situation turned out so much better. There’s so much more calm in the family,” Sheehan says with a smile in her voice. “You can see the peace on their faces.”

Strengthening Families

For Sheehan, awarded this year’s Exchange Club Parent Aid of the Year, and other parent mentors with Project HELP, this story is just one of many that describes how their weekly home-visitation program and parenting education workshops have helped strengthen families. For 22 years, Project HELP has worked along side a variety of families to help them better manage the everyday stresses of life and to more effectively parent their children.

Where It All Began

Founded in 1992 by The Exchange Club of Naperville with a mission to enhance and strengthen the lives of children and families in School Districts 203 and 204 and to prevent child abuse, this nonprofit organization now serves as a national model for Exchange Club centers around the country.

Shaping Lives

Sharing their passion for shaping lives, Peggy McGuire joined the Project HELP team as their new executive director this past March. “I am from a big family, the youngest of six and come from a strong family,” says McGuire about the influence of her positive upbringing. “When I worked in adoption 10 years after college, I discovered being part of creating families was addictive. I loved changing the trajectory of people’s lives. It’s my passion.”

McGuire’s 23-year track record of strengthening families and their communities certainly speaks volumes about her heart-felt dedication. Equipped with a degree from the University of Illinois, Champaign, in Human Development and Family Studies, along with certifications through the Parents as Teachers National Center, McGuire served 13 years as a parent educator and then program coordinator for the curriculum for Parents as Teachers in the DuPage County Regional Office of Education, and was a case worker and then director for 10 years with Adoption World.

Parent-Mentoring Model

Recognizing the effectiveness of the parent-mentoring model, McGuire is eager to expand their volunteer base, citing the benefits not only to parents, but to the mentors themselves. “Rarely do people volunteer that don’t get something out of it,” she explains. “It brings a lot to their lives and to those they mentor.”

And it’s easy to see why the mentoring program, a free, in-home service for families with children under the age of 12, has been so successful. Over the course of a year, they help parents and caregivers create a personalized plan to provide tools for nurturing their child’s development, strategize solutions to reduce stress, locate resources specific to the family’s needs, and create a home environment where each family member is able to reach their full potential.

Each volunteer is provided 12 hours of training and supervised monthly with the support of a supervisor, social worker, and psychologist. Because mentors often come from a wide variety of professional and family backgrounds, their unique strengths and personalities can be matched according to a family’s particular needs. For many, like Sheehan, they see their experience as a win-win. 

Training and free in-home services are made possible thanks to fundraisers like this month’s Saddle Up event on September 23. For more information visit,, or call 630.357.5683.