SSFS launches month of ‘change’ to fight violence

By: Carole Sharwarko
HF Chronicle October 11, 2019 – 21:39
Be the Change cards created by South Suburban Family Shelter offer a suggestion for each day in October Domestic Violence Awareness Month. (Carole Sharwarko/H-F Chronicle)
Be the Change cards created by South Suburban
Family Shelter offer a suggestion for each day
in October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month,
and were handed out during the Be the Change
(Carole Sharwarko/H-F Chronicle)

With community sing-alongs and a swishing rainbow dress, the South Suburban Family Shelter kickoff event for Domestic Violence Awareness Month looked a bit different this year than its previous incarnation.

For years, Homewood-based SSFS has hosted a candlelight vigil near the beginning of DV awareness month, a solemn event with emotional speakers and recitations of serious statistics.
The revamped 2019 program, called Be the Change Celebration, still included the ever-present moment of silence to honor those who lost their lives due to domestic violence. However, the tone of the brief event at Marie Irwin Park in Homewood was upbeat and focused on positive action.
Throughout the event, Ahren Hawkin from Melody Mart led a community ukulele band, and motivational speaker Gina Bell cast a spell of positivity over the crowd.
“I’m excited about the new format this year,” said Kerry Hill, SSFS’s manager for community education and outreach. “I really like the shift to empowerment.”
The program opened with a sing-along of “Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson, led by Hawkin and the ukulele band.
Then the crowd heard from a woman named Angela, a mother of five who benefitted from SSFS’s Sanctuary program. Sanctuary services assist people who want to leave situations of domestic violence.
“I don’t know where I would be if it wasn’t for this organization. It got bad; I had no peace,” said Angela, holding her youngest daughter on her hip. “Do whatever you can to support this organization. We need this, our families need this, our girls need this.”
After Angela received a rousing round of applause, SSFS Executive Director Jennifer Gabrenya welcomed Bell to the stage. Bell is a motivational speaker and women’s empowerment coach from Dyer, Ind.
Motivational speaker Gina Bell inspires the crowd in her rainbow skirt, as South Suburban Family Shelter Executive Director Jennifer Gabrenya looks on. (Carole Sharwarko/H-F Chronicle)
Motivational speaker Gina Bell inspires the crowd
in her rainbow skirt, as South Suburban Family
Shelter Executive Director Jennifer Gabrenya
looks on.
 (Carole Sharwarko/H-F Chronicle)

When she took the stage, Bell told the crowd that night was the first time she ever spoke publicly about her own experience with domestic violence. She did so briefly, and then transitioned into her program where she encouraged members of the audience to spread positivity.

Everyone has an inner light, Bell said, though most people don’t want to show it. To represent this, Bell, who was dressed all in black, put on a big fluffy skirt made from a rainbow of tulle layers.
“Think about the light inside all of us,” she said. “You have the ability to shine your light out into the community.”
Bell led the audience through a participatory cheer of sorts, where they recited the words, “Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight.”
The quick presentation brought smiles to faces in the crowd. Then Gabrenya invited attendees to visit the resource table to get information, along with a Be the Change suggestions card and a purple light bulb to “Shine a light on domestic violence.”
The ukulele band closed the program with a sing-along performance of “Perfect” by Pink.

Free Eye Exams



HOMEWOOD, IL, June 13, 2018 – South Suburban Family Shelter in partnership with Prevent Blindness Illinois and Rosin Eye Care Centers will offer free eye exams on June 26 by appointment. Anyone age 5 and older who does not have vision insurance and has not had an eye exam in the past year is eligible.

Eye exams will take place at South Suburban Family Shelter’s administrative offices located at 18137 Harwood Avenue in Homewood. Those patients who need glasses or referrals for further optometric testing will receive vouchers to use at Rosin Eye Centers.

Appointments take approximately 20 minutes. To schedule an appointment, please call Dawn at 708-794-2140, extension 308. There are a limited number of appointments available.

South Suburban Family Shelter provides services in English and Spanish for families impacted by domestic violence including counseling, emergency shelter, transitional housing, legal advocacy, court advocacy, and violence prevention programs.


Contact: Dawn Peloso
708-794-2140, ext. 308

University of Chicago Medicine Ends Partnership with Domestic Violence Workers Medical Advocates dismissed from UC Medicine Ingalls ERs and Urgent Cares

University of Chicago Medicine Ends Partnership with Domestic Violence Workers Medical Advocates dismissed from UC Medicine Ingalls ERs and Urgent Cares


HARVEY, IL, November 20, 2018 – After nearly 20 years of serving the community, University of Chicago Medicine/Ingalls Hospital has ended their contract with South Suburban Family Shelter to provide advocacy to victims of domestic violence in their emergency rooms and urgent care centers. The news came in a letter from University of Chicago Medicine’s legal counsel announcing that the long partnership will terminate in 30 days.

South Suburban Family Shelter Executive Director Jennifer Gabrenya commented “This is a disappointing statement on University of Chicago Medicine’s commitment to the well-being of families in the south suburbs.”

The dissolution of a long-standing partnership means that thousands of people per year will no longer have access to medical advocacy services at Ingalls. Last year, South Suburban Family Shelter served 11,699 people in Ingalls ERs and Urgent Care centers by providing domestic violence screenings, assessments and intake to those in need.

South Suburban Family Shelter has already begun looking for new ways to reach out to people in need of their services in the community. They are also working to fill the budgetary gap that the dissolution of their partnership with Ingalls leaves.

South Suburban Family Shelter provides comprehensive, coordinated services to families in which domestic violence exists, without imposing any one solution. South Suburban Family Shelter accepts clients regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, immigration status, marital status or age. Services are provided at no charge to victims and include a 24-hour hotline, emergency shelter, counseling, medical advocacy, legal advocacy, community education, partner abuse intervention and transitional housing.


Contact: Dawn Peloso
708-794-2140, ext. 308

Candlelight Vigil



HOMEWOOD, IL, September 17, 2018 – October is Domestic Violence Awareness month and South Suburban Family Shelter begins a month of community awareness activities with their annual Candlelight Vigil on Monday, October 1, 2018.

The event will be held at 6:00 PM at the Irwin Community Center Band Shell at 18120 Highland, in Homewood, IL.

The event will include music, survivor testimonies, and an exhibit of t-shirts with art created by survivors of domestic violence.

The event is intended to bring awareness to the community as well as empower survivors.

Community groups and individuals are invited to attend the Vigil to learn more about what they can do to prevent domestic violence and the services available in our community.

For more information, contact Dawn Peloso at 708-794-2140, ext. 308.


Contact: Dawn Peloso
708-794-2140, ext. 308