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With our national holiday of gratitude, Thanksgiving, just weeks away, Dayenu Ministries hosted an appreciation luncheon Saturday, November 6 at the Evanston Ecology Center, 2024 N. McCormick Blvd., for firefighters, police officers, nurses and other health care workers.

Evanston Police Deputy Chief Melissa Sacluti and Sergeant Jeff Faison were among the first responders who attended the event.

Deputy Police Chief Melissa Sacluti (right) and Sgt. Jeff Faison are welcomed by Darryl and Rebecca Cheeks. (Photo by Heidi Randhava)

“We feel great anytime the community comes out to support us and does something very specific just for us,” Deputy Chief Sacluti told a reporter from the RoundTable. “To have any type of community support now means the world to us.”

Evanston Fire Captain Deron Daugherty said he was among those “who were lucky enough to come to the Ecology Center and get treated to lunch.”

Making an impact in the lives of others is central to the mission of Dayenu Ministries, the nonprofit organization co-founded by Darryl Cheeks and his wife, Rebecca Cheeks. In addition to first responders, the organization serves hospitalized children, abused women and their children, the homeless, veterans, older adults and the incarcerated.

Service is a way of life for third-generation Evanstonians Darryl and Rebecca Cheeks. The founding of Dayenu (dai-YAY-nu) Ministries is a continuation of their lifelong commitment to volunteerism and fellowship.

Evanston firefighters carved out time to enjoy an appreciation lunch for first responders on Saturday, November 6, at the Evanston Ecology Center. (Photo by Heidi Randhava)

“To our firefighters, our EMTs. To our police, we cannot make it without you. We need to tell you ‘Thank you’ for what you do,” Darryl Cheeks said in his remarks at the appreciation luncheon.

He also shared his experiences in recent years as a patient who relies on the courage and strength of dedicated nurses “who deal with us in our deepest periods of life – finding ways to encourage us at 4 a.m.”

“You are the ones that save lives,” he said, speaking directly to the nurses who provide his medical care at Rush University Medical Center, many of whom attended the luncheon.

Darryl Cheeks did not sugarcoat the challenges of living with the severe medical condition scleromyxedema since 2014, but he remains focused on what he and his wife can achieve. In his remarks, he outlined how his professional and spiritual lives have provided him with a strong foundation as he navigates any “twists and turns” that arise.

“It’s been a tough and a long road. But I’m still here, and that is a tremendous blessing. I can’t say thank you enough for what you’ve given us,” Darryl Cheeks told his nurses, adding, “I like seeing you, and I do not like seeing you,” drawing laughter from the group.

Darryl and Rebecca Cheeks (center) are surrounded by nurses who care for Darryl at Rush Univ. Medical Center. (Photo by Heidi Randhava)

He presented plaques to the 10th floor and 14th floor nursing staffs that care for him at Rush.

“We all experience fatigue and emotional drain, but when you see a patient coming in with a smile on their face, it gives us support,” Rush nurse Eunice Reed said.

Darryl Cheeks’ career began after receiving his bachelor’s degree in Accountancy from the University of Illinois. He received his Certified Public Accountancy license and worked for Fortune 500 companies including Arthur Andersen, Abbott Labs and Oracle.

After serving as Chief Financial Officer at Hoyt/Pentacom, he established Chicagoland Barbecue and Chicagoland Foods Military Consortium (The Chicagoland Companies) – named one of the top 21 minority-owned businesses in the U.S. He went on to open a chain of fast-casual barbecue restaurants called Barbecue Blues. In 2001, he formed the global financial firm Black Rhino Financial Group, providing financial services to small businesses.

Darryl’s service work includes many years of service on boards of directors, most recently for the ETHS Foundation and the University of Illinois Deans’ Business Council.

Nearly 50 first responders, firefighters, nurses and frontline workers enjoy a lunch buffet Saturday, November 6, in appreciation of their service. (Photo by Heidi Randhava)

His spiritual life encompasses more than 30 years of ministering at Monroe Street Church of Christ on the West Side of Chicago, Waukegan Church of Christ and Soul Food Prison Ministry, which he founded to serve incarcerated men and women.

He presently serves as Board Chair for Dayenu Ministries, where Rebecca Cheeks serves as executive director.

Rebecca Cheeks has worked side by side with her husband in every aspect of his ministry. She also worked as assistant director of the Monroe Church of Christ nursery department, as a coordinator for the congregation’s Vacation Bible School, and as an after-school tutor to inner-city youth through a partnership between Chicago Public Schools and the church.

Darryl and Rebecca’s four children, Gabe, Logan, Sebastian and Olivia Cheeks, are fourth-generation Evanstonians. The couple’s story provides a glimpse into the indomitable spirit of one American family.

Says the homepage of their Dayenu Ministries website: “We are small, but we are motivated. We make it because of the strength of our volunteers and our enduring faith.”

Heidi Randhava

Heidi Randhava is an award winning reporter who has a deep commitment to community engagement and service. She has written for the Evanston RoundTable since 2016.

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  1. Thanks for this inspiring story! Darryl and I went to middle school, high school and U of I together, studying business and receiving many of the same awards our senior year in high school. Unfortunately when I moved to California we lost touch, but I was happy to see him occasionally when I returned to Evanston several years ago. I had no idea that he faced these medical challenges, but I am so thankful to read about his life of service and giving!

  2. This event, this ministry, and the Cheeks family are phenomenal. I was so privileged to be one of the nurses part of this day, and will forever hold it close to my heart. The love Darryl and Rebecca give to this world can’t be put into words. In the face of hardships, they always come out stronger and give back even more. I admire them, and hope the rest of society can continue to learn from them.

  3. I grew up in Evanston and have known Darryl and Becky since high school. I’m truly inspired by their very generous, kind, and caring spirit. I’m so happy to see them giving back to the wonderful community of Evanston.

  4. I’m fortunate to say, I’ve known Darryl and Rebecca Cheeks since grade school. They are both strong loving and giving people and together they are unstoppable. I’m so very proud and honored to call them friends. This event is just one of many ways they continue to support and give back to the community. What a wonderful article.

    Thank you for all you do Darryl and Rebecca through your ministry.

  5. Hi, this is Marie Peavy. I read this story, and it is so full of joy and hope. The joy of seeing God in you whilst on your path not asked for. The Hope and Trust in when God says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
    The joy of watching you celebrate life despite obstacles, Brother Darryl and Sister Rebecca Cheeks, you display Love for God, Love for one another, and deep appreciations for those who helps
    you while on this path of not asked for,
    This is such an inspiration of God, Joy and Hope. This is an example of what God wants from all.
    Your giving, generosity, and kindness displayed in your story deserves a great big Thank you. Thank you Brother Darryl and Sister Rebecca Cheeks.

  6. This very special couple created an amazing foundation and prepared an awesome display of appreciation and gratitude toward others who serve their community. The Cheeks’ are inspirational as they work and show by example how a life of service and an attitude of gratitude, which they have in abundance despite their own extreme challenges, are keys to happiness and contentment. Thank you Darryl and Rebecca!

  7. Darryl and Rebecca are servant leaders like no other. Their hearts are always filled to the brim with love and caring for others, even when they carry their own heavy burden of health issues. God has placed an angel among us to teach us important lessons regarding the giving spirit. Impressive to watch this genius at work!