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Big plan for old Silver Cross

Midge Pittman CEO The Shepard's Place  stands front former Silver Cross Hospital Joliet IL Tuesday November 27 2012. Pittman's

Midge Pittman, CEO of The Shepard's Place, stands in front of the former Silver Cross Hospital in Joliet, IL on Tuesday November 27, 2012. Pittman's group wants to create a full-service, live-in social service center at the old Silver Cross Hospital for battered women, pregnant teens, substance abusers and more. They've been handed the task of raising $6 million by the end of the year before Silver Cross will consider the idea. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 30, 2012 3:30PM



JOLIET — Midge Pittman has an idea that she says would turn around lives while putting the Silver Cross Hospital campus in Joliet back to full use.

What she needs is $6 million.

By Dec. 31.

That’s the deadline Silver Cross Hospital has given Pittman to show that her newly formed organization, The Shepherd’s Place, has the financial wherewithal to accomplish its plan to provide long-term counseling, education and even living quarters in a self-contained setting for battered women, homeless people, drug abusers and others who otherwise might be caught in an endless cycle of troubles.

“That campus would allow for it all in one place,” Pittman said. “People could come in, get help and have hope.”

The $6 million represents an estimated one year of operating expenses for The Shepherd’s Place.

Daunting, not impossible

“I don’t believe what we want to do is an impossible task,” said Pittman, a retired Christian missionary who quotes scripture when asked how she thinks she’s going to get that kind of money. “But I have to get it out there and give people who want to support it the opportunity.”

In other words, Pittman has some fundraising to do and not much time to do it in.

Not only that, Pittman and others with The Shepherd’s Place are working under the impression that Silver Cross may plan to demolish buildings on the campus as early as next year. What they consider an ideal site for their plan may not be around much longer, Pittman said.

“I was left with the impression that they would tear some of the buildings down if they can’t move forward in a way that they would be pleased,” said Pittman. She said her group is getting word of possible demolition indirectly but has not been told that directly by Silver Cross officials.

Silver Cross did not provide an official to be interviewed for this story. Instead, the hospital issued a statement but did not respond directly to the question of whether it intends to demolish buildings.

The statement says that Silver Cross “continues to review all options for redevelopment of our Joliet campus,” including the Shepherd’s Place plan. “As always, we remain committed to improving the quality of life for our eastside Joliet neighbors as well as the entire Will County community.”

Helping the East Side

Pittman and others associated with Shepherd’s Place think their plan would improve the quality of life on the East Side.

“I think it’s a wonderful plan,” said Herbert Brooks, a Will County Board member who serves on the board for The Shepherd’s Place.

Brooks also is on the board of the Silver Cross Hospital Healthy Community Commission, a citizens’ panel formed by the hospital to help decide what would be done with the Joliet campus that was vacated when Silver Cross moved to New Lenox in February.

Brooks said the neighborhoods that surround the campus need the kind of services that The Shepherd’s Place would provide.

“The greatest of the need is on the northeast side of Joliet,” said Brooks. “When Silver Cross Hospital moved out that left such a void.”

Silver Cross faced some criticism after it announced its decision to leave the low-income area of Joliet to build a hospital on prime real estate along the newly built Interstate 355 corridor. Hospital officials said they would remain committed to the East Side neighborhood.

Two projects

Two major projects are under way on the hospital campus.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is renovating a portion of the hospital for an outpatient veterans clinic. The project was pursued passionately by local veterans groups looking for a place closer to home for medical services. The clinic is on schedule to open in March.

Meanwhile, Aunt Martha’s is building a 20,000-square-foot health clinic that would provide medical care, dental care and behavioral health services to people with little or no health insurance. The clinic is scheduled to open about April 1.

The Shepherd’s Place plan, which could involve using all the remaining property, may be bigger than the veterans clinic or Aunt Martha project. But Shepherd’s Place has virtually no money. Asked how much she has raised to date, Pittman said “a couple of thousand.”

But, she said, the group is just starting to pursue funding.

“Everyone on the board felt we would go forward when we have some definite word from Silver Cross,” she said.

Now is the time

Nothing’s definite yet. But Pittman is convinced it’s now or never if she is going to have any chance of putting The Shepherd’s Place on the Silver Cross campus.

In a letter to Pittman, hospital officials expressed “concerns about the significant operating expenses required to operate the buildings and the mix of populations you have proposed.”

Pittman does not have money herself. But she does have experience raising money, she said, having run a church conference center in South Africa that expanded under her leadership. And, she does believe she can raise money for The Shepherd’s Place.

Her board includes Virginia Ferry, a retired Joliet real estate broker who has had leadership roles in multimillion-dollar fundraising campaigns for MorningStar Mission.

Ferry said the organization has been contacting potential donors and will be able to raise money whether Shepherd’s Place is located at Silver Cross Hospital or elsewhere. The group has a lot of faith, in the possibility of raising $6 million in the next four and a half weeks.

“Because this is a faith-based organization and we’re all born-again believers in the Christian religion,” Ferry said, “we believe that God is in the miracle business.”



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