In a small ceremony on April 26, five Housing Options clients received a Vision to Action Scholarship, each presented by one of the founders of Housing Options: Claire McCarthy Peterson, Larry Gavin, Angela Schwartz, Dorothy Lloyd-Still,
and Margaret Sondler.

Housing Options offers a range of supportive housing to persons with a mental illness, helping them get structure in their lives, further their education when appropriate and expand their lives.

The recipients already had plans. In presenting her award, Ms. Peterson said, “Lisa is going to use her scholarship to attend the Aerial Art Class through the Actor’s Gymnasium.” Ms. Peterson added, “This is something that terrifies me.”

“Donna is a passionate volunteer and peer leader with others who are working on their recovery,” said Ms. Schwartz. “Donna will use her scholarship to pursue becoming a certified recovery support specialist. Becoming certified will allow her to be hired by organizations as a peer counselor,” she added.

“This means a lot to me,” said Donna. “The CRSS certification will allow me to be more wanted in the job market.”

“George recently finished his last class and will now be awarded his MBA,” said Ms. Sondler. His scholarship money will pay for the final book he had to purchase for his class. “George is dedicated not only to his recovery, but to also further himself through his education,” she said.

“Stephanie is creative in so many regards it’s hard to keep up with all she is doing,” Mr. Gavin said. “One of her creative passions is drawing. She attends our ‘Art with Friends’ group on a regular basis, and it is clear her talent continues to grow,” he added. Stephanie will use the scholarship to purchase art supplies, water colors, and pastels.

“I come from a family of artists,” Stephanie said, adding that she will enjoy the supplies “and try to do good work.”

“Sherman has been learning the bass guitar, but it recently broke, so he was no longer able to pursue his passion. He will use his scholarship to get his guitar repaired and continue taking more bass guitar lessons,” said Ms. Lloyd-Still.

“I wanted to learn bass guitar so I can balance out everything,” Sherman said.

Debbie Bretag, executive director of Housing Options, gave a brief update on the previous year’s scholarship recipients. “One awardee was able to purchase art supplies that she used to expand her portfolio of drawings and paintings, while another took his long-sought-after computer class to hone his skills at countering cyber hacking, and another was finally able to purchase a computer when she supplemented her savings and the award. “Most importantly, dreams were furthered and passions supported,” she said.

Catharine Hamrick, vice president of the organization’s board, who emceed the ceremony, said, “Recognizing and supporting the goals of our participants is inspirational and fuels our goal to be able to help as many individuals as possible to realize their dreams of getting their lives back and moving forward to meet their goals.”

Introducing the founders she said Ms. Bretag had met recently with executives from another organization. “They asked about the founding of Housing Options, and so she shared the story with them of how these five individuals came together to garner the support of many others and fight for the right of individuals with severe mental health challenges to be able to live in their community near family and friends and to have the kind of support they need to live vibrant and full lives. The executives were so moved that one
of them said, ‘Every organization should be started that way – through collective citizen effort to right a wrong,’” Ms.
Hamrick said.

After the Vision to Action scholarship presentations, Ms. Hamrick introduced Luis. “Each year we recognize an individual from our I-WORK supported employment program who has excelled beyond expectations in their work performance, while overcoming great challenges,”
she said.

Luis said he was nervous before the job interview, but his job coach prepared him. “I succeeded. … I’ve got a job now. It’s two or three days a week, but it’s enough for a start,” he said.

With 57% of the participants in the program employed, “I-WORK continues to have one of the highest job placement rates in the state,” said Ms. Bretag.

In a separate interview, Ms. Bretag told the RoundTable, “What’s great about the Vision to Action Founders Scholarship Program is the very small amount of dollars that the awardees take in moving toward their passion and getting back to their lives.”

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...