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 Hotel.

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 youth.

"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 live. 

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.




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