“My children are the loves of my life!” Highland Park’s beautiful, blue-eyed Eileen Bennin beams as she shows me photos of her sons, Stephen and Howard, as blond, bright-eyed toddlers.
They are now at age 35 and 37. Bennin also is referring to the hundreds of other developmentally disabled residents of the Glenkirk community, where Stephen and Howard live, as her children, too.
Eileen and her dermatologist husband, Bruce, raised their autistic and verbally challenged sons in Highland Park and are grateful that Glenkirk eventually welcomed them.
“Other agencies said that our sons would fail, they would be too much of a challenge,” she says, “but Glenkirk created a program that met their needs.”
Best of all, she says, “Stephen and Howard are able to live, work and recreate in the community in which they were raised, only five minutes from us.
” Unfortunately, though, 60% of Glenkirk’s residents have no family support. So Eileen’s life mission has become helping them all, through fundraising, advocacy and education.
She started with a small breakfast at Northbrook Court’s Neiman Marcus in the late ‘90s. Others were inspired to help, so Bennin formed the Glenkirk Benefit Brunch Committee, whose membership includes parents, grandparents, friends and others with big hearts across the northern suburbs. The event has grown to a 320-person brunch at Ravinia Green Country Club, which raised over $250,000 last year and has featured guest speakers including Hillary Clinton, Scott Turow and Tipper Gore.
Eileen sees greater need to help than ever, because of the economy and Illinois’ poor financial position. “Glenkirk receives the majority of its funds from the state,” she says. But, those funds have been cut, buildings have been closed and programs have been consolidated.
“The parents have to advocate to the legislature and fundraise to help make up the deficits, to sustain Glenkirk,” she says.
Eileen’s drive includes personally writing solicitation letters, working to bring in speakers and auction item donations at no cost, and thanking the local businesses that have supported her family for decades—like Michael’s Hot Dogs and Sunset Foods. Her love and her energy have made an enormous difference for Glenkirk, and for others fortunate enough to work with and learn from her.
Eileen Bennin is a powerhouse parent to Stephen and Howard and so many more children. This year’s Benefit Brunch is again at Ravinia Green Country Club, on Sunday, October 3.
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