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Small Business, Big Hearts

McHenry County nonprofits count on the ongoing generous support of small, family-run businesses to help them help others.

Some local charitable organizations are known simply by their acronyms like CASA, NISRA and PADS. Others have whole names that are familiar – Faith in Action, Home of the Sparrow and Turning Point. Some serve seniors or the homeless. Some help those with special physical needs. Others enrich everyone’s lives through the arts.

They have many missions but a common need: ongoing financial support to continue serving the community. Fortunately, not only a number of local high-profile corporations regularly fundraise and support these organizations, but a growing number of small businesses and entrepreneurs are making a huge difference as well.

From writing generous checks to donating goods and services, these small businesses are helping lead the way to a better quality of life for everyone in McHenry County.

Touch of ‘Gray’

“We believe it’s very important to give back to the community – to be part of the community in which we’re involved,” explained Bob Gray, a partner in Dorion-Gray Retirement Planning Inc. in Crystal Lake. “The people in this area have been very good to us and it’s important to help the community when we can.”

His company supports a number of nonprofits on a regular basis through financial contributions, as well as through contributions made in the name of its clients. Gray also volunteers as a court-appointed special advocate through CASA of McHenry and has served on several boards, as has his wife, Paula Dorion-Gray.

She was on the board of the Raue Center for a number of years and served as president for three years. Their son Mark, who is active at Dorion-Gray, is currently president of CASA, which works with at-risk children to find safe, permanent homes where they can thrive.

A ‘Pioneering’ Jeweler

Suzanne Cannon, owner of Steffan’s Jewelers in McHenry, echoes Gray’s approach to local giving.

“There are always people in need, but as the economic climate in our community has deteriorated, the need has increased,” she said. “Many of our local agencies are funded by the State of Illinois, and the state is grossly in arrears with the funding owed to these organizations. I believe it is a responsibility for business owners, who are fortunate enough to operate a business in a community such as ours, to support agencies that are helping to address the needs of our community. Over the years, I’ve gotten quite involved with Pioneer Center because it regularly helps more than 10,000 people in the community. Many of these are people with disabilities, and the help they receive helps them live independent lives. We’ve recently formed an auxiliary, and I am proud to serve as its very first president.”

Steffans’ customers share this spirit of generosity. Just this November during its annual Ladies Day event, women were lined up to scope out Christmas gift ideas while helping raise $2,500 to sponsor a bed for Pioneer Center’s PADS program. It was a record-breaking year.

“We donated jewelry and gift certificates along with one ladies diamond heart pendant worth $1,000,” Cannon said. “Each box was gift wrapped so buyers had no idea what was inside. We sold 300 of them for $10 each or three for $25. By the end of the day, one lucky donor unwrapped the beautiful pendant and we had reached our goal!”

Volunteering is a Cannon family value. Her oldest son, Max, is a new member of Kiwanis and volunteered recently at a Centegra fundraiser. Another son, Clark, a junior in high school, volunteers at Pioneer Center.

 Working Together for the Greater Good

Nonprofit Brown Bear Daycare and Learning Center in Harvard is an example of an organization that pays it forward. “We are often able to supply items like blankets, sheets, pillows and sometimes clothing to other nonprofit agencies,” Executive Director Sheila Henson said. “We of course provide for our clients’ families first, but sometimes have excess that we are able to pass on. Most of our clients are single parents that at times are not able to afford a blanket or new pillow or sometimes even needed clothing.”

There are also businesses such as Think! Printer Supplies of Crystal Lake that go out of their way to help nonprofits succeed. “I find a lot of people working for nonprofits might not be as well versed as they could be on some technical subjects,” owner Tom McGrath said. “If I can help fill that void, I’m glad to do it. When I visit a customer, I generally examine what kind of equipment they currently have and look to see if there’s a way to reduce the cost of operating that equipment. For example, when I called on Options & Advocacy [for McHenry County] they thought they were having a problem with their fax machine. After looking at their system I found that the problem was really with their telephone system.”

This generosity doesn’t go unnoticed. “After meeting with Tom and having him really analyze our current setup, I was amazed at how detailed his report was about our system and how much we could save each month,” according to Jill Gurgos, Options & Advocacy’s office manager.

From tying together the décor at local fundraisers to brightening a senior’s day, Countryside Flower Shop, Nursery and Garden Center is the go-to flower shop for the area’s nonprofits. Because Countryside gets fresh flowers delivered almost every day, it often has an excess, some of which is donated to Faith in Action – a donation that brings joy to many of the county’s seniors.

“Countryside donates flowers to us twice a month,” said Susan McCoy, Faith in Action’s volunteer coordinator. “Volunteers come in to make up the arrangements, then distribute the flowers along with a few more birthday presents to our care receivers in the month of their birthdays. These are seniors who generally need a little bit of assistance with their day-to-day activities. Not only are they thrilled to receive the flowers, but they’re getting a visit at the same time. We hear more about this program from our people than anything else because they’re so surprised by the flowers. Wouldn’t we all be excited about turning 85 or even 90?”

Nearly half of Crystal Lake-based CL Graphics’ business stems from nonprofits. “As a business owner, I believe it is important to be involved and to be part of the pulse of the community,” said Rick Schildgen, the commercial printing company’s president. “Our support of nonprofits has evolved over a period of time. Currently our company generates nearly 45 percent of its business from nonprofit organizations. I sit on the board of the McHenry County Community Foundation and often provide pro bono services to clients and others.”

The Community Foundation has been the recipient of several grants, but most of its funds come from individuals, small businesses and family donors. “We try to bring people together in McHenry County to improve the quality of life of its residents,” said John Small, the foundation’s president and CEO. “Over the last five years, we’ve given away $3.1 million for the betterment of McHenry County.”

A Sense of Involvement

Dennis Adams, owner of three auto collision repair facilities in the county, said he gets involved with nonprofits because it provides him with “a sense of being involved in the community, hopefully making it a better place. I believe a small business is an extension of the owner’s personal values and attitudes.”

Bill Sideris, owner of Kostas Restaurant in Algonquin, shares that sentiment. “When my family was growing up, the boys were all involved with sports, but there was very little support from the community,” he said. “That’s one reason I support the community now. The community has supported me, and now I have the chance to offer support back to the community. We often provide gift certificates as well as financial support directly to nonprofits, local sports teams and churches.

“I believe it’s the thing to do for the community,” Sideris added. “I also think it’s important to have a bond with my customer. When a customer comes into the restaurant, I want that person to feel like he or she is coming into family. I want to know their names. I want to know their kids’ names.”

Service organizations – whose members are mainly businesspeople – also actively support local nonprofits, and McHenry County is fortunate to have many of these groups. For 21 years, the Rotary Club of Crystal Lake Dawnbreakers  has been raising funds at its Annual Western Auction. Last year, more than  $77,000 was raised on one February night with more than 440 attendees at the Holiday Inn Crystal Lake.

Each year, the funds are donated to charities, and this year was no exception. Checks were given to Turning Point, Home of the Sparrow, Crystal Lake Food Pantry, Faith in Action, the Crystal Lake Police Department for their Early Intervention System and the Salvation Army to support local families at Christmas.

“In addition to that, we can give up to $1,500 to other charities, even more with the vote of the membership,” said Karen Hutchings, Dawnbreakers member. “Ten percent of our auction every year goes to scholarships. Currently we’re giving six, $1,000 dollar scholarships to high school seniors in the area. We also have scholarship program for vocational students. Through Rotary, I can do many things I could never do alone.”

McHenry County is quite fortunate to be home to such effective nonprofits and the support of local businesses. “There is no way that we could exist without support from the community, businesses in particular,” said Rhonda Anderson, former executive director of Faith in Action. “So our appreciation goes to the many business concerns that believe in giving back to the community.”

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