Rebecca Darr vividly remembers the first day she walked into the Northwest suburban office of the WINGS Program. In a LinkedIn post this week she described WINGS as “a tiny organization with a huge task in front of us, to end domestic violence one family at a time.”
Fast forward 25 years and the organization has grown into the largest domestic violence service provider in the state, and all under her leadership. Consider these numbers: Last year alone, the agency served 984 individuals — including men — in their 162 apartments and houses throughout the Chicago area, and their two emergency shelters, one in the Northwest suburbs and another on the Southwest side of Chicago.
Darr now serves as CEO of the organization and yet when asked what keeps her at WINGS, her answer was simple. She pointed to a message she received on LinkedIn after posting her anniversary notice. It was from one of the first families she helped when coming on board. The writer had been 2-years old at the time, when she and her twin sister and two older brothers, and mother, moved into one of WINGS’ first houses, in Park Ridge.
“You’ve helped so many families, including mine,” the young woman wrote. “If it wasn’t for you and WINGS, I don’t know what would have happened to us.”
Darr was so moved to read the message, saying simply: “That’s what keeps me in it, hearing success stories like that one.”
Yet, she proudly adds that the agency has 100 % success rate for families that work toward self-sufficiency, with the help of services from WINGS, from assistance with housing costs, counseling and employment services, to safety planning, legal advocacy and assistance securing orders of protection.
Darr points to the counseling services as being pivotal in that success. Last year, more than 1,000 adults, teens and children received counseling and mentoring to thrive above and beyond the abuse. Interest in the counseling services has grown so much, that in November the agency opened the Foglia Family Resource Center.
Funded with a major donation from the Foglia Family Foundation, the resource center offers free domestic violence services and has expanded community counseling services to adults, teens and child survivors. The 5,218-square foot facility includes a meditation space, separate meeting rooms for adult, teen and child survivors, and comfortable counseling spaces.
In fact it was the the counseling services that first drew men to the organization. Some 12 years ago, Darr and her board members dropped WINGS’ familiar tag line, Women In Need Growing Stronger. Once they did, men began seeking help.
Major support for WINGS and its mission, continues to grow. At its signature Purple Tie Ball in October, the organization made $1 million for it general operating budget. The recent Sweet Home Chicago event, held at the Four Seasons in Chicago, made nearly $750,000.
Yet, the drive to help one family at a time continues to drive Darr, no matter how big the agency has grown.
“I am repeatedly astounded at their courage and drive,” Darr wrote in a WINGS’ newsletter, 25 years ago. “The circumstances that they have endured and overcome are sometimes harrowing. And yet they do not give up.”
Darr insists that she and her “excellent staff” do not concentrate on the harrowing stories, but instead they accentuate the positive.
“We focus on the future and resilience,” Darr says, “giving them the air underneath them to continue to move forward.”