By Bob Musinski
This article appears in the November 2014 issue of Naperville Magazine. Your City. Your Magazine.
When Michael Cobb started as executive director at Hesed House last fall, he invited staff and guests to visit his office. Many guests took him up on it, including a woman who was considered “chronically homeless”—she hadn’t had a home of her own for many years.
About four months later, Cobb shared with her a moment of triumph. Thanks to assistance from Hesed House case managers, she was holding a key for her new apartment and was extremely excited and appreciative.
She was given another chance, and took it. It’s a story Cobb has seen time and again at Hesed House, which is much more than the PADS shelter services people most associate with the Aurora nonprofit.
“We consider ourselves a comprehensive provider of support services for the homeless,” Cobb said. “It’s more than just ‘eats and sheets.’”
Hesed House is the largest shelter in Illinois outside of Chicago, serving about 1,000 individuals each year. About 90 churches provide volunteer help, including 20 from Naperville.
“We couldn’t do what we do without the faith communities providing those services on a regular basis,” Cobb said.
AT-RISK KIDS AND FAMILIES
Cobb has devoted much of his career to helping at-risk children and families. He started by volunteering at a home for at-risk youth in Wheaton in the mid-1980s. He soon started working for the agency and later served as an executive at the Glenwood School for Boys and Girls’ St. Charles campus for 14 years.
He was drawn to work with at-risk youth because their situations were similar to ones he faced while growing up in El Paso, Texas.
“I had the greatest mother ever, but she was a single mom. She raised me—youngest of five kids, four girls—in an area that had its share of challenges,” he said. “I began to realize that there was much more to life than hanging out on the streets.”
Cobb left Glenwood to serve as interim executive director/chief operating officer for South Suburban PADS, an interfaith agency serving the homeless population in more than 52 suburban Cook County communities. The job gave him a new perspective and helped prepare him for his position at Hesed House.
“I was able to see, unfortunately, an entire family come into a difficult situation, not just the kids,” he said. “The thing that was exciting to me was the amount of support in the faith community and among the businesses in the area, to provide wraparound-type services and support for those families.”
Cobb has seen that same level of commitment at Hesed House and in the Aurora area. Hesed House offers a variety of services – much of it at its Comprehensive Resource Center – in partnership with organizations and schools such as Breaking Free, Aunt Martha’s and Northern Illinois University. Services include:
- Employment readiness classes
- Mental health counseling
- Substance abuse assistance
- Housing case management
- Medical assistance at an on-site clinic
- Legal guidance
Cobb, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from National Louis University, is a registered minister as is his wife, Evelyn. The North Aurora residents are involved in various ministries in the area.
His primary mission, however, is at Hesed House. The triumphs of the guests motivate him.