Cheryl M. Heyden, Maryville Academy, Prospect Heights

Cheryl Heyden’s first real job became her only job and her lifelong mission.

Cheryl had just graduated from Elmhurst College with a degree in psychology when she was hired as a live-in house parent by Maryville Academy. That was 35 years ago and she’s still at Maryville today—still working to better the lives of children who have nowhere else to turn.

“They’re my family,” says Cheryl, as she talks about the thousands of children she’s met over the years. It’s her love for them that has kept her at Maryville. “These kids—for all they’ve been through—are amazing, their resilience and how endearing they are. It just makes you want to do everything you can for them.”

Maryville Academy is one of the oldest child care agencies in Illinois. They started as an orphanage and in the 60s moved to a family teaching model, where children live in a group home with adults in a surrogate family. Now, Maryville operates a crisis nursery, a children’s health care center for acutely ill children, as well as providing services for children with mental, developmental and substance issues.

Each year, Maryville has an awards ceremony to celebrate the progress their children have made. “On a daily basis, these kids have so many problems, but when they get their act together and win an award, it just means so much,” says Cheryl. And their success is what makes her lifelong devotion to Maryville and its children worth her sacrifice. “You know you made a difference in that child’s life.”

To learn more about Maryville and how you can support their mission to assist underprivileged children, go to

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