Abby Foundation honors Lockport woman who brings joy to children
BY MIKE NOLAN firstname.lastname@example.org August 19, 2013 7:46PM
Diane Carroll, founder of My Joyful Heart, is the Abby Foundation's 2013 "Woman of the Year." Her nonprofit provides school supplies, gifts and basics such as shoes and clothing to 618 students at 20 schools. The Lockport resident established My Joyful Heart as a nonprofit in 2004, then quit her job in 2006 to devote herself full time to it. | Mike Nolan~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 21, 2013 6:07AM
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, Diane Carroll would almost cringe as co-workers agonized over what to get their children, who lacked none of the trappings of a comfortable suburban existence.
Hearing and reading stories about children who, at the opposite end of the spectrum, often go without the basics — clean clothes, a regular meal or paper to do their schoolwork on — moved her to action.
It started with just two students at a Chicago Public School in a poor West Side neighborhood, but the Lockport resident’s faith-based organization, My Joyful Heart, now supplies more than 600 children at 20 schools with not only basic items, but also gifts on their birthday and at Christmas.
Her work garnered her the Abby Foundation’s “Woman of the Year” award.
Established in 1985, the foundation is named for Abigail Adams, wife of the nation’s second president, John Adams, as well as the mother of its sixth chief executive, John Quincy Adams. She was an advocate for women’s rights, particularly in the field of education, Susan Gowen, the foundation’s president, said.
Speaking at the group’s annual awards luncheon Friday in Tinley Park, Gowen said the foundation’s goal is to “enhance opportunities for women” and empower them to “advance their individual goals, no matter what they are.”
The foundation provides academic and athletic scholarships to young women, and some scholarships have been given to women returning to school after raising their children, Gowen said.
It also provides grants to Southland organizations, with a focus on helping nonprofits that assist women and children. Among the groups receiving grants this year was The Bridge Teen Center in Orland Park, which is creating a “Just for Girls” program that will be tailored to the interests of girls in seventh through 12th grades.
Before establishing the nonprofit My Joyful Heart in 2004, Carroll was working as a vice president for an extended warranty company. She said she was a single mother of three children “for most of my adult years,” and understood the struggle of making ends meet.
She realized that too many children were lacking basic needs such as food and clothing.
“We’re meeting a need that is often not recognized,” Carroll said.
The 618 students helped by My Joyful Heart attend schools in Chicago, Chicago Heights, Crestwood, Harvey and Riverdale, and the group works with teachers and social workers to assess students’ needs, she said.
Far from extravagant, the requests are for the most basic items, Carroll said.
“Teachers call and ask if we have shoes available because a student is coming in wearing his grandmother’s slippers because he doesn’t have any shoes,” Carroll said. “Food is getting to be one of the most frequently asked-for things.”
Along with Christmas, kids on Joyful’s list receive something on Valentine’s Day, Easter, as summer is getting under way, as they’re preparing to go back to school, in the fall and a gift on their birthday.
The summer package includes a sports ball, pair of flip-flops, an arts and crafts kit, books and sunglasses. In the fall, each student receives a winter coat, gloves, a hat, socks and underwear. Back-to-school backpacks for all the students recently were delivered.
“We know it is changing lives,” she told the luncheon crowd after receiving the award.
Before establishing My Joyful Heart as a recognized nonprofit, Carroll provided gifts at Christmas in 2002 to two students at a school in the North Lawndale community on Chicago’s West Side.
“For these two kids, it may have been the only things they got all year,” she said. “It weighed heavily on my heart.”
Her co-workers wanted to help out, and “from there it just kept growing.”
In 2006, Carroll “quit my career and never looked back,” she said. The company she worked for later filed for bankruptcy.
Starting out, Joyful Heart had little to be joyful about, with no established network of volunteers or donations.
“You do a lot of begging and go to family and friends,” she said.
My Joyful Heart had operated from Carroll’s home. Then, in 2009, M. Cooper Supply donated 4,000 square feet in its Mokena building for Joyful Heart’s use as a warehouse, she said. The group has a base of 25 regular volunteers, she said.
For more information, call (815) 806-1700 or visit www.myjoyfulheart.org.