|Mercy Home Touched With Green
By George Houde
Irish American Post Chicago Bureau
Dennis Farina, former Chicago cop of Italian heritage, seemed perfectly
at ease at the Irish celebration taking place in the Windy City's Hilton
The famed actor was among friends in his hometown, which was celebrating
St. Patrick's Day as only Chicagoans can celebrate it. Wandering among
the crowd, Farina posed for pictures with fans while he signed autographs
and sported the small green shamrock symbolizing his support of Mercy Home
for Boys and Girls and its campaign to raise money and support for troubled
"I've been lucky in my life," said Farina, reflecting on the reason
he devoted a week to spreading the word about Mercy Home and its mission.
"I wanted to give something back."
The party was the annual bash thrown by Mercy Home following the city's
St. Patrick's Day parade, an event specially aimed at families. Now in
its ninth year, the "Touch of Green" party has become a tradition as well
as a fundraiser for Mercy Home, and attracts several thousand people. The
day included performances by the Shannon Rovers, the Elders, step-dancing
and heaps of corned beef and cabbage along with beer donated to the cause
by Goose Island brewery.
After being asked by the Chicago police department chaplain to help
out Mercy Home, Farina agreed and became the point man for the agency's
"Shamrocks for Kids" campaign. The campaign is a special effort to attract
funds and support for the home.
"It's a good cause," said Farina. "The kids need a break and there are
a lot of success stories there."
Farina got a break when he was a police officer and was tapped for a
part in the film Thief with James Caan. After that, he landed the
lead in television's Crime Story and parts in major films, including
an upcoming one with John Travolta. He was a familiar face in the overflow
crowd in the Hilton's two large ballrooms. He joked and posed for a photo
with "The Quiet Man Society," a group of loosely organized guys who get
together and buy a reserved table at Touch O' Green.
"It's so cool that he is here," said Maureen Kelly, a member of the
Touch O' Green committee.
"We needed a great person to help out and we got one," said Kimberly
R. Majewski, director of communications for Mercy Home. That is important
when you think that there are an estimated 30,000 kids in Illinois who
are abused and neglected."
Mercy Home provides help and hope for at-risk children who have been
victims of abuse, neglect, poverty and abandonment, said Majewski. Since
its founding in 1887 by a group of clergy, the home has helped some 20,000
kids. Its success stories include Chicago police officers, corporate executives
and many others who have overcome a troubled childhood and gone on to become
leaders in society, she said.
The home operates two campuses, one for boys and another for girls.
It receives virtually no funding from government or church sources and
is 99 percent supported by private donations, according to Majewski.
At its founding, the home was intended to be a shelter for homeless
immigrant boys who rode the railroads to Chicago but found no place to
Today's Mercy Home youth come from dysfunctional and often chaotic domestic
situations. Accepting youth from age 11 to 19, the home provides housing,
food, clothing, medical care and educational opportunities, such as the
press shop operated by Mercy. Its youth attend public schools.
Mercy has an ambitious program for expansion over the next few years,
allowing it to care for 75% more children by 2007. In 2003, the home cared
for 146 children in its residential programs. It also refers youth to programs
which may be more appropriate for the individual's needs.
Rev. James J. Close has been president of the home for 30 years. He
and Rev. L. Scott Donahue, the home's chief operating officer, were both
on hand to greet families and partake in the Touch O' Green festivities.
"We give children a chance," Donahue told the gathering. "The boys and
girls who live at Mercy Home leave ready to live independently, attend
college, find employment and, eventually, raise families of their own."
For more information on Mercy Home and its activities, call 888-571-3700
or go to mercyhome.org.