Three Decades of Giving: How ‘Dreams for Kids’ Makes a Difference in Chicago

Three Decades of Giving: How ‘Dreams for Kids’ Makes a Difference in Chicago
Three Decades of Giving: How ‘Dreams for Kids’ Makes a Difference in Chicago

For three decades, Dreams for Kids has provided mentorship, education and opportunities for underprivileged and underserved children across Illinois. Chicago trial attorney Mark McNabola has been involved since the start and serves on its executive board.

“Everything Dreams for Kids does has a direct impact,” said McNabola, founding partner of McNabola Law Group. “You can see the smiles on kids’ faces when they have a disability and have the opportunity to get on skis for the first time. You can see and feel the joy parents experience when children from underprivileged areas receive a gift for Christmas.”

Dreams for Kids was founded in 1989 by McNabola’s longtime friend and colleague Tom Tuohy. The first event was a holiday party at an Englewood shelter.

“I was one of these kids growing up,” said Tuohy, a Chicago attorney who specializes in estate planning and trusts. “My mother was a single parent who raised four kids alone. So, when I graduated from law school, I wanted to do something to help kids.”

Tuohy and McNabola first met in the late 1970s at DePaul University, where they were both mentored by the late Walter Brennan, a beloved Catholic priest and theologian.

“Father Wally was young and inspiring,” McNabola said. “He had great ideas and ambitions about how we can generate a force of people to do a greater good. He was very down to earth. He knew he was doing God’s work without looking to receive any trophies.”

McNabola and Tuohy both graduated from DePaul University College of Law and made philanthropy a priority in their personal and professional lives. McNabola is a current member of half a dozen different charitable boards. He and several DePaul classmates began fundraising activities when they founded Children’s Charities of Chicago, which raised money for Maryville Academy for many years. Tuohy, meanwhile, launched Dreams for Kids.

McNabola said supporting Dream for Kids is something he thoroughly enjoys.

“Tom and I have a mutual respect for each other,” McNabola said. “He knows there’s a huge void in social services, and he doesn’t lose sight of how important these programs are for children and their families. Tom is crunched for time just like everybody else, but he makes time to dedicate himself to this goal.”

McNabola has volunteered and raised funds for Dreams for Kids for over three decades. In 2019, he was appointed to the executive board.

“Mark is a generous soul,” Tuohy said. “He’s a very genuine person, and that can get lost in the practice of law. Mark has never acted as if he’s more important than anybody else. Whether he’s talking to a judge or someone who works a trade, he considers everyone to be his equal. I admire that about him.”

This month marks Dreams for Kids’ 31st annual Holiday for Hope event. More than 1,200 children and their families will gather at the Broadway Armory, 5917 N. Broadway, on Dec. 14 to receive gifts and build memories that last a lifetime.

“A lot of the children are homeless. All of them are severely underserved,” Tuohy said. “We bring together families who are going through hard times so that everyone can have a day where they set aside those worries and just enjoy what the holiday spirit should be all about.”

In addition to the popular winter event, Dreams for Kids offers yearlong extracurricular and educational programming designed to empower children.

The Extreme Recess series creates adaptive events that allow kids with mental and physical disabilities to partake in outdoor and athletic events like horseback riding and baseball. This summer, 140 kids experienced water sports in Twin Lakes, Wisc.

“Kids were able to be on paddle boards for the first time in their lives, and some were able to fish,” McNabola said. “There is a sense of freedom and joy in that day. The excitement on these kids’ faces is amazing. When they get on a pair of skis for the first time after having been told most of their lives , ‘You can’t,’ it is remarkable. We said, ‘You can. You just haven’t had the opportunity.’”

When Extreme Recess launched 20 years ago, it was the first sports program in Illinois for kids with disabilities.

In recent years, Dreams for Kids has made a push toward social entrepreneurship.

“Social entrepreneurship will be the answer to some of the intractable social issues that we have,” Tuohy said. “Instead of giving a handout, you’re creating a business that generates income for the person who created it and also creates jobs and revenue. You have the ability to actually solve something rather than just throw money at it.”

Dreams for Kids offers a 10-lesson curriculum in which students hone basic entrepreneurship skills while learning about social issues. Each student then develops a social enterprise that can impact his or her community and generate income. One student, for example, recently developed a pack of playing cards with diverse zombie characters. Another designed t-shirts celebrating her Moroccan heritage.

“We want kids to know that no matter where you are, no matter who you are, no matter whether you have a disability, no matter whether you live in a city or the suburbs or any state in the U.S. — you can make a difference,” Tuohy said. “You don’t have to wait. We can help you do that.”

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