20150709_135554[1]On Saturday, June 27 the 22nd Annual Chicago Cares Serve-a-thon took place. The Hope Institute Learning Academy was one of 30 locations across Chicago that brought volunteers together to make the city a better place. Over 200 volunteers from Chicago Cares lined the hallways of the school ready to paint.

In addition to the hallways the ramps, stairwells and recess rooms of HILA were all painted a burgundy color by these wonderful community volunteers.

“We estimate that a sum of $25,000 was put forth through labor and materials to give a ‘fresh face’ to the HILA corridors for the 2015-2016 school year. This came at a perfect time, with the recent cutbacks made through CPS. This means that we will be able to allocate more funds to the social, emotional, and academic development of our students. We are truly thankful for this generous and awe inspiring outpouring of volunteer support and community engagement,” said Mike Jakubowski, HILA Principal.

Along with the painting of the school, wall murals were created near the front entrance. One mural highlights the importance of the key values of Preparation, Responsibility, Independence, Dedication and Effort (P.R.I.D.E) at HILA while the other is known as the path to college, which will start conversations for the students about their future education.

The event lasted from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. where volunteers were provided lunch, and the school was left feeling brand new.

DSC_5659Bonding with friends is an important part of life, which is why the Circle of Friendship is a great addition to the administration area at Hope.

Eagle Scout, Jivan, presented the Circle of Friendship to Hope’s Boy Scouts Wednesday, July 1.

Jivan planted flowers along a walk way of stones which leads up to a circle of benches that he hand crafted specifically for Hope.

“We showed Jivan the space and he instantly thought of creating a Circle of Friendship for our scouts and other clubs.  He really took off with this idea, and decided to add stepping stones, build benches, and create a sensory experience as well by adding flowers,” said Cory Blissett, Director of Community Outreach.

The boy scouts and Jivan sat around the circle and talked for a few minutes after pictures were taken the day the area was presented to the students. Jivan agreed to come back for a scouts meeting in the coming months and hopes to bring the rest of his troop out to Hope.

“I believe this new space will be a wonderful meeting area for our scouts, and it will also be a place our classrooms and homes can visit as well.  It is easily accessible and close to our nature trail.  Lessons can be taught in this space, music can be played, stories can be told, and meetings can be held.  We hope our new Circle of Friendship will be used a great deal, and we thank Jivan for his dedication to The Hope Institute,” said Blissett

DSC_5763It was an exciting day for Hope on Thursday, July 2. Batman and SpongeBob were sighted on the premises. Firefighters, medics and police officers were walking the streets. The superhero youth were taking campus by storm. And all of this was caused by one culprit, Hope’s Fourth of July celebration!

Spectators were able to witness a spectacle like no other in the annual Fourth of July Parade. The line-up included members of the Illinois National Guard, Lady Liberty, SpongeBob, Batman, Zahara dancers, Roy Moore on his tractor, our scout troops, and of course our youth with their decorated floats. Even some Springfield and Sangamon County police officers, firefighters and medics lent a hand with the celebration.

“Events such as our Fourth of July parade are a great way for our youth to broaden their social skills, engage in creativity, and learn about significant holidays we celebrate,” said Hope Director of Outreach Cory Blissett. “The parade is also a wonderful opportunity to reach out to organizations such as the Illinois National Guard so they can become strong partners and advocates for The Hope Institute.”

The parade was themed “American Heroes,” and kicked off mid-morning with the route starting at the Administration circle drive and ending at the Learning Center.

The celebration continued with a party held in the gym that afternoon.  Participants enjoyed some popcorn and popsicles while watching Disney’s “Big Hero 6.” Overall, both the parade and the party were great ways for the youth to enjoy the holiday.

“Our Fourth of July party was also a chance for our youth to have fun and engage in social time.  Being able to bring the theater to our youth allows for a simulated movie theater environment that ensures safety while producing fun,” said Blissett. “Seeing a gym full of students seated, engaged, and interested in a film on the big screen for a long period of time is a monumental accomplishment for many of our youth.”

Art allows a way to express ourselves and who we truly are.  That is why collaborative paint day at The Hope Institute is such a popular event. Paint days are an opportunity for Hope students to interact with volunteers and create beautiful art for Hope.

On Wednesday, June 10, summer girls camp participants from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints helped our students paint giant canvases around the gymnasium.

“This experience provides a wonderful balance between art exposure and creative freedom. Every child is an artist and gains valuable sensory exploration. It is more valuable that our students explore their creativity than create something we classify as ‘art’,” said Hope Learning Center Art Specialist, Wendy Scott.

Students were able to use items that would normally be considered “out of the box” for artists. Instead of paintbrushes, painting tools like soccer balls, fly swatters, water bottles and other unique items were used to create masterpieces on the canvas.

The smiles never wavered from the children’s faces as they were having the time of their lives expressing themselves through art.

“The final result is everlasting and beautiful. Some of these giant canvases are cut into smaller pieces and hand- stretched by our students. These pieces created are sold at Noll Café and Studio on 6th, raffled on behalf of Hope during events such as Celebrity Chef and Style of Hope, or given to benefactors and friends of Hope on various occasions,” said Scott.

Students at The Hope Institute for Children and Families enjoy a beautiful 26 acre wooded campus near the shore of Lake Springfield.  As a result, they early learn the importance of preserving our natural environment.

So, it’s only natural that the celebration of Earth Day would be big event on the Hope campus.

This year, Hope students planted flowers to celebrate Earth Day.  Yet this is just one of the many ways that students are taught the importance of preserving nature and respecting the environment.

“We are privileged to have such a beautiful setting,” said Hope President and CEO Clint Paul.  “We want to ensure our students appreciate the environment and know how to take care of it.”

Each year, the boys and girls at Hope help plant and maintain a campus vegetable garden.  The crops from the garden are then sold at the Springfield Farmer’s Market.  Participants in the Scouting program at Hope take nature walks along the many pathways near campus.  Vocational students learn how to shred paper in preparation for recycling.

Thanks to your support, students will leave Hope with an appreciation for the wonders of nature and the importance of environmental preservation.

The moment students had been working hard for finally arrived on Friday, May 1 at The Hope Institute Learning Academy annual Science Fair.

On Wednesday and Thursday, students presented their projects to their individual classrooms instead of the whole student body like previous years.

“It’s a good opportunity for students to research and investigate something they are already interested in,” said Chelsea Innocenti, a fifth grader teacher at HILA.

Each classroom teacher judged the projects based off a rubric they individually made. They awarded the first place winner with a medal and the top three of every classroom were able to participate in the Science Fair showcase on Friday, which was held in the HILA lobby.

Mr. Quanz, HILA assistant principal, said his favorite part to see is the collaboration between the teachers that help make the science fair a success. It really helps present a unique experience for the children.

“Students are able to use inquiry based learning to explore and use the skills that they have been taught throughout the year in a real world scenario,” said Mr. Quanz.

Innocenti agrees with Quanz on enhancing the students science skills.

“It’s wonderful to see the array of topics during presentations, everything from fruit charging an iPhone, to the acidity of different sodas, finding ant repellent from household items, to volcanoes, tornados, spiders, and everything in between. It’s important to foster a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) culture in education as our society continues to move in that direction,” said Innocenti.

All classrooms, Kindergarten through 5th grade participated in the fair.

Below is a list of each of the winners.


  • Wilson’s Classroom:
    • Amiyah Johnson and Maya Wojciechowski
    • Ayanna Simmons
  • Broach’s Classroom:
    • Kiera Smail and Laquan Wooten
    • Dijon Sockwell
  • Baldwin’s Classroom:
    • Avery Brandt and Jeffery Asamoa

First Grade:

  • McCaskey’s Classroom
    • Kalvin Sneed

Fourth Grade:

  • Calvin Hwang
  • Chema Alanis
  • Geovanni Juarez
  • Gabiola’s Classroom
    • David Patrick
    • Kamya Crenshaw
    • Jacqualin Coleman
  • Palmer’s Classroom
    • Jayden Montenegro
    • Myla Roy and Jasmen Walker
    • Brooklyn Presberry

Fifth Grade:

  • Innocenti’s Classroom
    • Masiah Plamer
    • Quincy Kitchern
    • Kevin Falcon

It wasn’t just the magic of Disney that made the third annual spring musical a hit; it was the smiling faces of the children from The Hope Institute portraying those characters. On April 16 and 17, students were able to unleash their inner actors and actresses in “Disney’s Aladdin Jr.”

Karen Herzel, the music director, has overseen all the musicals while at Hope, which included “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast Jr.” and “The Little Mermaid Jr.” For Herzel, she has seen a lot of improvement each year and the musicals keep getting better and better.

“The students exhibit greater levels of self-confidence and cooperation.  Their stage presence and performance skills (vocal projection, movement, understanding of playing to the audience, etc.) are better,” said Herzel.  “They are more independent, and rely less on their shadow coaches while performing.”

The spring musical takes a lot of preparation in advance so it can keep the momentum each year.

The students were cast in September of 2014 and rehearsals began in November of 2014. Cameron and Chasity were cast as Aladdin and Jasmine, the two leads.

With the help of shadow coaches students were able to have individual help learning their lines on and off stage. Shadow coaches were on stage during each performance to aid students if they needed extra help remembering their character’s part.

Herzel expressed her gratitude for the coaches and students when she spoke about the musical.

“My two favorite things about directing the musicals is being able to work with all of the students and shadow coaches in these cooperative projects, and then to see the students shine in their performances,” said Herzel.

And shine they did. The students dazzled audience members in their hour long performance as they received a standing ovation both days.

“We are extremely proud of everything our students accomplished. The talent they bring to the table always continues to impress,” said Clint Paul, Hope President and CEO.

Herzel already has the next musical picked out for 2016 but said that announcement will come at Hope’s Celebrity Chef event on September 12, 2015.

Style of HopeHope student models rocked the runway in formal wear and brought the audience to their feet during the 10th annual Style of Hope fashion show on Thursday, March 19.

Four young ladies wore beautiful gowns provided by Bella Boutique in Springfield, while another four young men wore tuxedos thanks to Jim Herron Menswear in the downtown district. The annual fundraiser benefits Hope and was held at the Prairie Capital Convention Center in Springfield.

The show featured more than 35 community models wearing the latest fashions from seven area stores. The Springfield Ballet Company entertained the crowd with amazing dance routines and acoustic band The Deep Hollow helped jumpstart the evening. Emcee Mylas Copeland, general manager of Green Toyota in Springfield, commanded the stage with a shining personality to drive donation efforts. Guests were able to bid on any of 126 silent auction packages, as well as a live auction special. The event also included an exclusive raffle of four separate prizes.

“Thank you to everyone who supported the show, which allowed our students to experience a moment their families will cherish for a lifetime,” said Clint Paul, Hope President and CEO. “The 700 people who attended the event had the opportunity to witness what each of us sees every day:  the amazing things Hope students can do.”

Students practiced for a month leading up to the show. Once the first student model graced the stage, the audience immediately stood up and cheered. The students received a standing ovation and brought many in the crowd to tears.

April is National Autism Awareness Month, a time for people to mobilize and advocate on behalf of those diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder to ensure they have the opportunity to achieve the highest possible quality of life. To learn more about how you can get involved, please contact www.theautismprogram.org.

HILA concertStudents at The Hope Institute Learning Academy (HILA) in Chicago showcased their remarkable talents during the school’s Spring Concert held Friday, April 3.

From kindergarten through fifth grade, students sang and others even performed choreographed dances to an assortment of hip songs, including Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” and Janelle Monae’s “Tightrope.” Near the conclusion of the show, a group of fifth graders performed a moving rendition of John Mayer’s Grammy Award-winning smash “Waiting on the World to Change.”

The inspirational song highlights the need for continued advocacy to increase inclusion opportunities for students with special needs, said HILA principal Mike Jakubowski.

“Students at HILA have incredible gifts that extend beyond the classroom,” Mr. Jakubowski said. “With support and confidence, they are able to accomplish any goal set before them to reach their fullest potential.”

Hope EasterHope students participated in a range of egg-citing activities in celebration of the Easter holiday.

First up for a group of young learners was an Easter egg hunt, which was held at The Hope School Learning Center in Springfield on Friday, March 27. Equipped with festive baskets, the students searched through the school hallways for colorful plastic eggs filled with candy and other treats.

“This activity allows our students to have fun and increase their motor skills in a social environment,” said teacher Libby Rambach.

After finding several eggs, the students returned to their classroom where they had the opportunity to dye eggs in an assortment of pastel colors.

Two days later, all students received Easter baskets thanks to A.B.A.T.E. of Illinois (A Brotherhood Aimed Toward Education). For more than a quarter century, the motorcyclists’ rights group has visited the Hope campus to brighten the lives of Hope students with the special baskets. After the generous donation, a few baskets were left over. That’s when Hope staff members decided to give back to others. Hope donated 14 Easter baskets to children served by Sojourn Shelter and Services, and 23 baskets were given to youth through the local Contact Ministries.

A special thank you to all whose kindness made Easter a very special holiday for Hope students!

Kindness PicWhat do a chocolate Kiss, Goldfish and a tasty dish all have in common?

They were all gifts from a thoughtful group of middle school students to Hope students and staff members during International Random Acts of Kindness Week on February 9-13.

The middle school students who packaged the gifts were from the Lakeshore Program, a partnership with District 186 that allows students struggling at their local schools to attend classes via Hope so they can receive specialized services.

“The project gave students the opportunity to show kindness towards others,” said Ashley Sibert, Lakeshore Classroom Therapist. “We hope the students learned that being kind does not have to be expensive and that sometimes kindness is the best gift of all.”

Each day of that week, the students took part in a special kindness project that included delivering Hershey’s Kisses to Hope classrooms and choosing five Hope staff members to receive free lunches.

The project is part of a yearlong initiative to teach students about the benefits of being kind to one another, Sibert said. Each month, students are given the choice to participate in a special task.

“If, even for a split second, a student shows kindness or entertains the idea of being kind, then our goal has been met,” Sibert said.

HILA PicStudents at The Hope Institute Learning Academy (HILA) in Chicago have received a generous donation to prepare them for success in the classroom.

FirstMerit Bank—in partnership with CBS EcoMedia’s EducationAd program and Kids in Need Foundation’s School Ready Supplies Program—have given HILA students about 425 backpacks filled with school supplies. Located on Chicago’s near west side, HILA also received extra supplies for teachers and students.

“The supplies we received from FirstMerit Bank will ensure that students are focused on their academic content, and not worrying about having the necessary supplies,” said HILA Principal Mike Jakubowski.  “HILA students now have notebooks, pencils, and scissors that will last the year, and ensure that they learn to their fullest potential each day.”

The backpacks were delivered to each of the 16 classrooms at HILA.  A special assembly to recognize the donating partners was held on Friday, Feb. 13. HILA’s diverse learners also received supplies for tactile sensory stimulation, communication and academic skill development.

The backpack giveaway is the start of an exciting partnership between FirstMerit Bank and HILA. The bank will provide financial literacy classes for students in kindergarten through second grades. Students’ parents and families are also welcome to attend. The bank will also host a breakfast for HILA staff members during Teacher’s Appreciation Week in May and provide an open forum for a range of banking topics, including buying a first home, saving for a child’s future, and valuing general financial literacy.

“FirstMerit Bank is equipping our students with the tools they need to succeed in the classroom and beyond as they grow into financially-responsible adults,” said Hope President and CEO Clint Paul.

Heimer PicStudents participating in Hope’s Vocational Program are grinning and grilling after a special gift to increase their job skills.

It’s all thanks to The Heimer Club—a group of friends who gather each week for breakfast and coffee—which donated a Panini grill to Noll Café. The specialty sandwiches can now be purchased in the small restaurant located on the lower-level of Noll Medical Pavilion in Springfield. The grill has led to four delicious new café sandwiches, including “The Heimer Club” Panini. Students, who are supervised by adult staff members, can use the grill to learn new job skills that can make them more marketable as they look for employment, said Greg Gardner, Hope’s Vocational Manager.

“Students in our vocational program receive extensive job training, which allows them to develop valuable skills they can apply at various job settings,” he said.

Those skills include sticking to a routine, following directions and completing tasks in a timely fashion, he said.

Currently, students who participate in Hope’s Vocational Program work at 18 job locations throughout the community.

The Heimer Club was formed as a support system for Gardner, who was paralyzed after he was hit by a car while jogging in 2005. The group meets at Noll Café each Friday and members also teach students teamwork, cooperation and work-related terms to increase their chances of job success.

“These guys are patient, kind and are excellent role models for our youth. This group inspires our students and we are thankful to have their support,” said Skylar Tierney, Hope Director of Vocational and Educational Professional Development.

“When I saw how much the community helped me out, I just wanted to help other people,” said Gardner, who also employs students at his business Individual Differences Inc. The company offers physical therapy for people who have suffered spinal cord injuries.

Hope’s Vocational Program has formed partnerships with businesses to allow students valuable work experience, including stocking and sorting Formica chip boards that are featured in hardware stores.

To learn more about how you can get involved, contact Skylar Tierney, Hope Director of Vocational and Educational Professional Development. He can be reached at 217-585-5129 or email him at stierney@thehopeinstitute.us.

Valentine editIt was a place for giant hearts and plenty of smiles.

That was the scene in the Springfield gym on January 29 as students created special Valentine’s Day decorations that will be displayed during the holiday dance on February 12.

Students used red stickers, markers and other signs to adorn large heart-shaped sheets of paper. The activity allowed students to use their creativity, as well as develop social skills among peers.

The Valentine’s Day Party was held Thursday, February 12 in the Springfield gym and the dance took place later that evening. The party featured music, refreshments, a ball toss, bowling and sensory activities that included bins filled with dried rice, beans, sand and cornmeal. Students earned tickets for participating in games and later redeemed them for prizes.



Updated 100 days photo

Students celebrated the 100th day of this school year with a range of fun activities at The Hope School Learning Center in Springfield.

Activity stands were set up in classrooms and in the hallways as students walked throughout the building to take part in educational exercises that promoted counting, reading and writing.

“Each year, this milestone serves as an entertaining way for us to keep students engaged in learning,” said Hope President and CEO Clint Paul.

Students made and decorated hats with construction paper, read books, counted objects and filled out activity sheets focused on the number 100.

spelling bee editClassrooms were buzzing last month at The Hope Institute Learning Academy (HILA) on Chicago’s near west side as students competed in an annual tradition: the spelling bee.

The competition was held Tuesday, Jan. 12 and students were grouped into three levels:  kindergarten/first grade, second/third grade, and fourth/fifth grade. Nearly 50 classroom winners participated in the event. The school-wide winners were Kalvin Sneed (K/1), Mia Moore (2/3) and Chema Alanis (4/5).

“On bee day, the students dress in black and yellow and the school is abuzz,” said HILA teacher Melissa Flores. “The spelling bee allows students to be in front of an audience and gives us a chance to celebrate their hard work.”

Student Chema Alanis will move on to compete in the CPS citywide spelling bee.  Winners at that level move on to state and national competition.

CUPS5thGrade_Fotor_Collage (2)It’s no secret that Chicago can be blistering cold during the winter season.

However, students at the Hope Institute Learning Academy (HILA) in Chicago found a way to warm the hearts of their teachers and parents during the All-School Winter Concert held Friday, Dec. 19 in the school auditorium. The hour-long event featured students performing a mix of holiday songs and popular hits like Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” and Katy Perry’s “Roar.” Some of the performances even included choreographed movements, which were directed by staff member Justin Evans.

The concert not only provided amazing entertainment for parents and teachers, but also helped students build their confidence and expand their interest in the arts.

HILA serves about 400 students from kindergarten to fifth grade in a unique learning environment that includes children with special needs in general education classrooms.

DSC_8598This holiday season, Hope students met Santa, his reindeer and got the chance to sing about it.

In preparation for the arrival of St. Nick, the gym was transformed into a winter wonderland Tuesday, Dec. 9 as Santa and Mrs. Claus met with students to find out what they want for Christmas. Students sat on Santa’s lap and told him their wish list while their photos were taken.

The event also featured refreshments and games, including a bean bag toss. The party gave students the chance to have fun and practice social skills.

The day before, students and staff members got the chance to meet and take pictures with Prancer the Reindeer in the gym. The reindeer came from Nolan’s Petting Zoo and Live Reindeer in Eldred, IL. The visit from Prancer helped students gain confidence and added a new sensory experience.

The Rochester Lions Club held its annual Christmas party Tuesday, Dec. 16 in the Hope gym. Twenty-five students attended the event and each received a gift from the club. One of the club members also played the piano and sang Christmas carols at the event, which has occurred for more than 30 years!

The campus gym was full of smiles and the sounds of Christmas carols for the annual Hope Christmas Sing & Play Along on Friday, Dec. 19. Led by music therapist Karen Herzel on the keyboard, staff members played instruments and sang songs about the spirit of Christmas. Students were encouraged to sing along and were given bells and other instruments to participate in the show.

Christmas for students at Hope would not be nearly as merry without the support of many generous donors and community organizations. Thank you for your support of the children of Hope!

DSC_8498Hope student carolers put their talent on center stage at a nursing home during the holiday season.

Backed by music therapist Karen Herzel on the guitar, the students sang a medley of songs—including Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, Holly Jolly Christmas and Jingle Bells—on Tuesday, Dec. 9 at Heritage Health Therapy and Senior Care in Springfield.

“It makes the seniors feel like somebody cares and it shows how our students look out for the community,” said teacher Laura Sandrolini. “It’s important for people to see what our students can do.”

Students play bingo with the residents each month and it culminates in the annual Christmas party. In addition to the singing, students also presented the residents with gift bags that included perfume, scarves, money, jewelry, cards and beauty shop certificates. Hope students not only shopped for the items, but they also packed the gift bags to display the true meaning of Christmas.

The project allows students to give back and shop for others, which can assist in developing critical social skills.

GS-Logo[1]A group of student Girl Scouts has found a fun way to express the spirit of Christmas.The 10 members are taking part in a Secret Santa anonymous gift exchange in hopes they will learn a deeper understanding of unity, humility and kindness, said lead teacher aide Yolanda Woods, who works with the troop.

“We’re teaching them Christmas isn’t about receiving; it’s about giving,” she said.

The Hope Institute Girl Scouts Troop 6658 meets twice a month and members have earned badges associated with recreation, animals and art. In January, the students are expected to undergo first aid training. Currently, students are learning how to communicate the Girl Scouts promise via sign language.

“Each year, there are a set of badges and patches that these girls can earn that are going to teach them valuable skills throughout life,” said Amy Teubner, membership and program specialist for Girl Scouts of Central Illinois.

In addition to learning about healthy eating and leadership, Girl Scouts also works on building self-esteem and preventing bullying.

The first Girl Scout troop at Hope was founded in 1975.

At Hope, some Girl Scout activities are adjusted to accommodate students’ abilities. In February, members are scheduled to learn about money management, which will be a necessary skill as the young ladies seek employment opportunities.

“Girl Scouts is really about developing important skills for our students and teaching them how to get along with others and how to take turns,” Ms. Woods added. “Our girls have a lot of fun.”

The Hope Institute for Children and Families
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