Janet Derrick: Caring for Naperville Residents in Need

Janet Derrick was a long-time volunteer at Naperville Cares before she was hired on full-time as the nonprofit's executive director.

Giving back to the community was something Janet Derrick saw her grandfather do when he volunteered with the Society of St. Vincent DePaul.

When a group began to form through her Naperville church, she knew she wanted to give her time to help others.

But, then she heard about another local nonprofit, Naperville Cares, “and I said, I need to volunteer,” Derrick said. 

Naperville Cares is a nonprofit with the goal of providing short-term support and resources for people in need, whether that means paying rent, utilities, car payments or other bills. The funds are provided in short-term emergencies to keep people from falling behind on payments and possibly ending up homeless. 

When Derrick began volunteering in 2001 she had young children and left her corporate career with Newscorp.  

“My husband and I, our family, have been very blessed,” Derrick said. “I think it’s really important to give back, whether in time, talent or treasure.”

Naperville Cares partners with a variety of organizations and social service agencies, trying to address and solve problems, she said. The nonprofit is also very connected to Naperville’s congregations, who often send those in need to Cares for assistance.

“We make sure we are getting to the heart of the problem,” she said. The various nonprofit organizations are able to collaborate and coordinate to provide needed services.

Derrick was a volunteer with the organization for about seven years when Naperville Cares decided to search for a full-time director. She put her name in the hat and for the last three years she has worked as the executive director.

Derrick is the only full-time employee. The only other employee is a part-time office manager, she said. The organization relies heavily on volunteers to provide assistance to clients. Some of the volunteers have been involved in the organization for many, many years, she said.

“Some of the greatest things a volunteer does with the client is give them an ear; give them some kindness; give them some sympathy,” Derrick said. “They are in a stressful situation.” 

Whenever someone seeks help from the nonprofit, an intake form is completed, which helps the organization determine whether it can help the individual. 

Many people have emergency situations, maybe they were sick and couldn’t work and didn’t get paid so they cannot afford a bill, rent or a car payment.

Through the use of the funds Naperville Cares has, it tries to make the biggest impact in the short term for clients, Derrick said.

The majority of money goes toward rent payments, according to Naperville Cares. 

“We had a huge spike last year [in requests] and it is down a bit this year,” Derrick said. “But, the amounts [requested] are much higher.”

Derrick’s job is one where she wears many hats, from one moment to another she may be talking with a landlord, making sure they know that the rent will be paid for a renter who is behind, planning a fundraiser or applying for grant funding.

The nonprofit receives assistance from local church congregations, but also receives funding through the state, county and city. Some federal funding that Naperville Cares received as part of the stimulus package has now been used and is not being re-allocated. 

“That money is gone—either is was allocated or has been used,” she said. “That money kept things steady and the state has not been able to restore that funding. … We are concerned about the calls we will get now and the funding we have.”

The DuPage County Board recently allocated $1 million from the Human Services grant fund to a number of nonprofits, including Naperville Cares , Derrick said. The money Naperville Cares received was earmarked for a special car program, which helps those in need obtain a refurbished vehicle. The program is a significant deterrent to poverty and a long-term solution for many families in need, she said.

Right before Christmas the nonprofit received eight cars from Continental Motors, which it was able to distribute to clients in need, Derrick said.

“What was wonderful was we had an event with the eight cars with bows on them. The staff treated the clients just like paying customers,” Derrick said. “I’ve done this a long time and it was really heart warming. I am hoping that kind of partnership continues.” 

To raise other funds the nonprofit holds two major events every year: Cuisine for a Cause and Toasting for a Cause. Last year the two events combined raised roughly $160,000.

Cuisine for a Cause will be held on April 21 and will include samples of Naperville’s finest restaurants, with 25 local restaurants participating and donating their time and food for the event, she said.

is a very generous community and its residents are generous with time and money, Derrick said.

“What keeps me going is that I love the people I work with, the volunteers become very good friends and the board is very supportive,” Derrick said. “You are doing what you can in your part of the world and keeping people housed is important. You are making a difference in your own little way.”

Learn more about Naperville Cares and Cuisine for a Cause, and how you can help.


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