Rainbows moves headquarters to new Evanston home

CEO of Rainbows, Bob Thomas said his decision to move the non-profit was based on the right cultural fit and convenient transportation and the volunteer support. | Jackie Pilossoph/For Sun-Times Media
CEO of Rainbows, Bob Thomas said his decision to move the non-profit was based on the right cultural fit and convenient transportation and the volunteer support. | Jackie Pilossoph/For Sun-Times Media

Ever heard someone say, “Children are resilient?” It’s a common phrase people use when talking about children of divorce or kids who have a parent who recently died.

It’s a phrase that those who work for Rainbows don’t buy.

“Our society needs to focus more on the emotional support, feelings and feedback of these children,” said Bob Thomas, executive director and CEO of the non-profit organization he moved from Itasca to Evanston last month. “Children are not resilient when they suffer the pain of a loss. They need help just like adults do to turn their lives around and learn how to adjust to the grief.”

Thomas, who joined the organization a year ago, said his decision to move Rainbows was based on Evanston having the right cultural fit, as well as convenient transportation and the volunteer support of the surrounding universities.

“Evanston has a sense of community that supports our mission with the many other charities based here,” said Thomas, who spent more than 30 years in management and executive leadership for many Fortune 50 companies, including Mobil and PepsiCo.

Started in 1983 in three Chicago-area schools by Suzy Yehl Marta, a stay-at-home mom and divorced mother of three young boys, Rainbows has since helped three million children in 16 different countries.

According to Thomas, Marta wrote all the materials for the program at her kitchen table and grew the organization to where it is today. Marta died last year.

Through partnering with facilitators that include schools, faith-based organizations, psychologists and community centers, Rainbows offers grief counseling programs for kids in kindergarten and up.

“It’s typically a 12-16 week program that helps kids talk about their experiences and grief so they don’t feel alone and they don’t feel they did anything to contribute to the death or divorce of their parents,” Thomas said.

Thomas also explained that Rainbows aims to build up confidence and self-esteem.

“By going through our process, it’s been proven that self-confidence leads to behavior modification, which helps kids avoid poor behavior such as bad study habits or drug and alcohol abuse,” he said.

Lisa Gordon, is a licensed clinical psychologist and a staff psychologist for the Northbrook-based Family Institute at Northwestern University, as well as a Rainbows facilitator.

“Children see that their parents are in pain and may not feel comfortable or allowed to burden their parents with their own suffering,” said Gordon, who has been practicing for 11 years. “Rainbows invites children to share their suffering. Nothing is too big or ugly to say. Both the activities and group interaction verify for children that despite the changes occurring outside them, their internal self is still solid and valuable.”

At the Family Institute at Northwestern, groups meet once per week for 50 minutes and sessions are usually 16 weeks. Gordon said she tries to form groups with 4-7 kids in a similar age range.

Beth Engelman, of Glenview, is divorced, and the mother of her now 8- year-old son, who attended Rainbows a few years ago.

“Kids with divorced parents go through a lot,” said Engelman. “I love the idea that there was a safe place for him to express himself without worrying that he was hurting his mom or dad’s feelings.”

Rainbows relies on private donations and grants to fund its programs.

“Working with adult individuals I see the long term hazards of divorce and divorce aftermath on children,” Gordon said. “To provide an experience with children where they hear their reality is normal, valid and oh so difficult is meaningful for me.”

Rainbows 1007 Church Street (847) 952-1770 rainbows.org

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