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gacs history

History of Guardian Angel Community Services

Formerly Guardian Angel Home of Joliet

1897 - Present Day

image of individuals grouped infront of cottage - guardian angel home motherhouse grounds
image of guardian angel community services on plainfield road
image of fox estate guardian angel home on buell street
image of guardian angel community services present day on ottawa street

The care of orphaned, dependent and needy children as a mission of the Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate began rather dramatically on July 31, 1864. On that Sunday morning, as High Mass was being celebrated in the old St. John the Baptist Church in Joliet, a terrible thunderstorm raged outside. Shortly after the pastor finished his sermon a thunderbolt struck the steeple of the church and traveled through the choir loft to the ground, splitting the loft in two. The flash of the thunderbolt, the sulphurous odor, and the smoke, which then filled the church, caused a panic; the parishioners rushed for doors and windows, believing the church was on fire. The pastor, Father Kuemin, finally managed to calm the congregation. When order was restored, it was discovered that five persons had died, one from the lightning bolt itself and four in the crush of the panic; twenty persons had been injured. Among the deceased was Mrs. Philippina Hartmann, mother of three children. Her distraught husband turned to the founding group of the Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate for help; he asked them to take in and care for the two youngest, Mary and Anna. And so, one year before the Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate received approval as a congregation, their mission of childcare began.


The Sisters had begun their work in Joliet in 1863, under the leadership of their foundress, Mother Alfred Moes. Their first mission was to teach, and so the request that they take in, care for and educate these girls was consistent with their general purpose. Over the next thirty-two years the Sisters took in orphaned, dependent and needy children as boarders in the newly founded St. Francis Academy, in the homes of friendly families in the community or in one of the Sister’s branch houses. This arrangement, however, was not satisfactory because the Sisters could not provide a total, nurturing environment.

In the spring of 1896, the Sisters began to discuss the establishment of an institution for the care of these children, where complete care could be provided, especially for the youngest children. The sisters had purchased a small cottage behind the Motherhouse in 1896. On May 20, 1896, Archbishop Freehan gave his approval. It was that small house which became the first Guardian Angel Home when, on October 19, 1897, the first orphans moved into the small cottage under the supervision of Mother Mary Lucia Raub, the first administrator of the Guardian Angel Home. She was assisted by Sisters Armella Billian and Ermelinda Miller.

The number of children grew quickly in that first year to nineteen. Seeing this rapidly developing problem, the Sisters purchased the Fox estate at 117 Buell Avenue in January 1898, for $7600. During that spring and summer, work on the former mansion proceeded quickly. A two-story addition was built, a steam heating system was installed, and various other improvements were made on the buildings and the premises.

Finally, on October 12, 1898, the children and the Sisters moved into the renovated buildings. Only two weeks later, on October 28, 1898, Archbishop Patrick A. Feehan of Chicago dedicated the new facility and officially gave it the name “Guardian Angel Home”. The Sisters had been quite explicit that the word “Home” was to appear in the title, to emphasize their intention to form a “home-like atmosphere” for these needy children. The name, “Guardian Angel “, was selected to remind the Sisters that this was to be the abode of a model Christian family. From the very beginning the Home struggled for its existence and had to seek support from friends in the community. In addition to the donation of money and goods from these friends, the Sisters organized and held the first Pound Party in November 1898. For many years afterward the Pound Party would be one of the principal annual fundraising events for the Home, an occasion for contribution of a “pound” of food and for a day or evening of fun.

The new buildings served the Home well, and the number of children coming to the door of the Home steadily increased. On October 10, 1905, the new chapel was dedicated. Still the children came, until there were ninety in all, and the building seemed to be bursting at the seams.

Mother M. Lucia Raub left the Guardian Angel Home on August 17, 1911, and Sister M. Clementine Koch became the new administrator. She was to remain only three years, until August 17, 1914, when Sister M. Anselma Kreucher took on the awesome task of feeding, housing, clothing and educating ninety children. For the two years preceding 1920, there had been some discussion of a much larger orphanage, to be built as an archdiocesan institution to serve the orphans of Will and Grundy Counties.  On April 7, 1920, an article in the Joliet Evening Herald-News described the plans for the celebration of the Diamond Jubilee of the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Silver Jubilee of the ordination of Cardinal Mundelein. Included was the announcement of a drive to raise funds for an archdiocesan orphanage to serve three hundred children in the two counties.

The fund drive was planned for May 17, 18 and 19, 1920, and would cover all the communities of both counties. The funds were quickly pledged, and more than $110,000 was promised for the project. The original plan was to build a large institution on the cottage model. The name “Mundelein Institute” was discussed, in honor of the Cardinal.

A potential site had been selected. Mr. Michael Fitzpatrick, a wealthy farmer from Lockport, not only gave a $6000 donation but also, on May 30, 1920, pledged a two-hundred-acre site. The farm was given in the name of Mr. Fitzpatrick and his two sisters, Fannie and Catherine. It was located in Lockport Township, on Bluff Road, one half mile from the Chicago and Joliet traction line, a site purchased by his father, Patrick Fitzpatrick, in 1836, where Lewis University stands today.

A number of problems developed, however. Many did not consider the site suitable because of its proximity to the penitentiary. Also, the half million-dollar fund drive was far from completion; about $130,000 had been raised. The original financial plan, which included support from the parishes of the two counties, was not favored by the clergy of the area. On February 2, 1924, a new plan was announced as a result of a meeting between Auxiliary Bishop Edward F. Hoban and the clergy of the area at the rectory of St. Raymond’s Church. In the new plan, the pledged money was to be handed over to the Sisters of St. Francis for the building and support of a new orphanage building. The financial support of the new institution would be the responsibility of the Sisters who would receive an annual subsidy from the Archdiocese. The Sisters, in turn, agreed to ensure that the new building would remain a childcare institution and that all needy children would be served.

A new site for the scaled-down institution was selected; a 115-acre farm at the intersection of what is today Plainfield Road and Theodore Street. The land was purchased from Miss Sarah Loughran, and an architect and construction company were engaged.

The first shovelful of dirt was turned on Wednesday, April 29, 1925, by Reverend F.E. Scanlan, pastor of St. Raymond’s Church. The cornerstone was laid on October 11, 1925, by Auxiliary Bishop Edward F. Hoban of Chicago, in an impressive ceremony attended by the Holy Name Societies from parishes in Will and Grundy Counties and Chicago. Music was provided by the DeLaSalle Band and the Arion Glee Club.

The work proceeded rapidly. The building was modern in every respect, with wide hallways, oak woodwork, spacious rooms, and a poured concrete, reinforced inner structure. Cardinal Mundelein dedicated the new building on Sunday, May 16, 1926. The children moved into the completed building on October 10, 1926. The event was marred by the death of Ralph Buzzalli, age 6, who fell under the wheels of one of the trucks and was fatally injured.

The following year, 1927, Sister M. Anselma left Guardian Angel; her place was taken by Sister M. Julia Lagger who would serve as administrator for twenty-four years, until 1951. Only two weeks later, on August 31, 1927, the Guardian Angel Club was formed as a group of friends who paid $1.00 in monthly dues, and pledged themselves to help with the purchase of food and clothing and to attend Mass each month and say a rosary daily for the intention of the members. The Club would continue as an active group for more than twenty years. In the fall, on October 22, 1927, Mr. Charles Johannsen donated twenty-five apple trees for an orchard at the home, known afterward as Johannsen’s Orchard. The Home had operated a farm on the property since the new building was erected.

The year 1928 was a busy one at the Home. In January, a printing press was brought to the Home from the Motherhouse. Sister Liberata and her boys would use the machine to produce many finished products for local parishes and, beginning in late 1931, The Guardian Angel Messenger. On March 6, the first meeting regarding incorporation of the Home took place at the Home. On Sunday, May 20, the new flagpole, donated by Senator Richard Barr, and new flag, donated by Cantigny VFW Post No. 30, were dedicated. Finally, on August 15, Father Flanagan visited the Home with his Boy’s Band from Boystown in Omaha, Nebraska.

Among the various fundraising efforts of the Home, such as the Pound Party and the Tag Day, various groups in the community would put on benefits for the Home, including card parties. On January 15, 1932, a group of husbands and wives met to form a card club.

Sister Julia Lagger, who had a deep devotion to Mary, resolved late in 1933, to build a Grotto of Lourdes in front of the main building. It took two years to bring the project to completion. The Grotto has been restored by the Guardian Angel Home Alumni Association to its original condition.

The Home had, by this time, cared for hundreds of children and had reached an important milestone, the Fortieth Anniversary of the Home. The anniversary was celebrated on September 26, 1937. More than one hundred and sixty alumni visited the Home to relive old times.

In 1937, as needed addition to the available play space, the Summer House was built by volunteers.

The building was designed by Nicholas Scholtes, Sr., a volunteer and stonemason who supervised the construction. The Summer House had a concrete floor, which could be used for roller-skating and was later used for storage.

By 1940, the local community had consolidated all the fundraising efforts of community organizations into the Community Chest. When the Guardian Angel Home joined the Community Chest in 1940, it agreed to stop the annual Tag Day, which had been one of the principal supports of the Home. The Home is today an active member agency of United Way, the successor of the Community Chest.

Through the 1940’s and the 1950’s, the Guardian Angel Home cared for approximately one hundred and thirty children at a time. And there was no lack of children who needed that care. They came from families, court, police, parishes, and the Catholic Home Bureau. Here they found not only bed and board but also care, education and direction. If a child graduated from the Home, he or she might go to another similar institution, such as Boystown or the Mission of Our Lady of Mercy. Some returned to their own families, some went to foster homes, and some were adopted. Slowly, however, significant changes were occurring in child welfare.

By the time that Sister M. Lucretia became administrator of the Home in 1951, the effects of those changes were being felt at the Home. The number of children referred to institutional care began to drop. More foster homes were being licensed. Community mental health centers, funded by federal money, began to develop more specialized services for troubled children.

When Sister M. Paul Korman became administrator of the Home in 1963, the number of children in residence at the Home had dropped from a peak of one hundred and thirty to about ninety children. Childcare standards had become more extensive and demanding. Costs were rising rapidly, straining the ability of the Home to cover expenses from contributions and donations. Although the number of children had decreased, their needs had not. For many years the children had needed a play area for use during bad weather and during the winter. Sister Lucretia started the project of building a recreational center and raised the funds for the building. The groundbreaking for the Recreation Center was on April 7, 1963. In the midst of this project, on August 17 1963, Sister Lucretia’s place was taken by Sister M. Paul Korman. The Lindblad Construction Company completed the building in the fall and it was dedicated on October 6, 1963.

The new building contained a large gymnasium, kitchen, washrooms, shower rooms, classroom, music rooms, and an art room. For some years the Sisters had encouraged the children’s interests in music and in learning to play musical instruments. Now with a spacious music room, the goal of having a band became more possible.

In April 1964, a unique fundraising project began. The Knights of Columbus Joliet Council No. 382 and the Joliet Shrine Club joined together in a drive to raise $10,000 for instruments and uniforms for a Guardian Angel Home Band. By September of the same year the fundraising committee was incorporated as the Guardian Angel Home Band Association, Inc. The Guardian Angel Home Band made its first public appearance at the Halloween parade in downtown Joliet that year. This whole story was recounted in an article in The Catholic Digest in the December 1966 issue. The Guardian Angel Home Band remained an important part of the activities of the Home until the number of residents dropped below the number required to maintain a band.

For some of their activities the children still went off the grounds of the Home. In order to go swimming, the children traveled to the Chaney Pool or to the pool at the Howard Johnson’s Inn, which was located across Theodore Street at that time. Once again volunteers from the community responded and, in 1969, built an in-ground pool next to the old Summer House. The labor and materials were provided by local unions and contractors; the policemen and firemen of Joliet helped with the financing and labor. The pool was dedicated to the Guardian Angel Home in July 1969, and was in use until 2003. It continued to be a valuable asset until it could no longer be repaired in 2004 and was closed and removed in 2005. Thereafter staff transported children offsite to swim at the YMCA and Chaney pool.

By the late 1960’s, the number of children declined markedly, and the children who came into care were those with more problematic behavior. Many children who, in the past, might have been placed at the Home were being maintained in their own homes, with assistance of services in the community and the schools. Many others were placed in foster homes. The number of children in residence had decreased from ninety to about thirty, and the Sisters on staff began to feel the strain of caring for the “more troubled” children.

The Governing Board of the Congregation undertook a study in 1970, to assess community needs and to make recommendations regarding Guardian Angel Home. The project and the resulting report were done by Sisters Lucille Krippel and Vivian Whitehead. The greatest community needs in the area of childcare were for services for emotionally disturbed children and for children in crisis. The most important recommendation was that the Guardian Angel Home focus on these special needs, beginning with residential treatment and shelter care and expanding later into community-based services for children. The Governing Board accepted the recommendations. Sister Lucille Krippel was appointed the first administrator of the new program in 1971, and began the process of implementing those programs.

With the new, more intense focus on disturbed children and children in crisis there was a need for more staff with specific training in these areas. Because few Sisters within the Congregation had such training, professional laypersons, who could bring their special skills, were engaged. The Home served forty-five youngsters in residence, providing a healing and healthful environment and special therapeutic and educational services. The emergency shelter took in children of all ages, including infants, who were abandoned, abused and neglected.

The modern era of Guardian Angel Home began in 1971 when services, staff, and administration were revised to address the increasingly complex problems of children and families.  In 1973, the Guardian Angel Home became a separate non-profit corporation with its own Board of Directors, most of whom were laypersons from the community. These changes enabled the Home to carry out the original mission of the Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate more effectively. The Home was able to respond quickly to community needs and to involve all of the community as an extension of the work of the Sisters.

In 1973 the organization became a licensed child welfare agency, recognized for its purpose and its capacity to provide a full range of services to benefit children and families.  Seeing the need for on-going support for residents leaving for foster care, the Home became a licensed child welfare agency and began to license foster homes for children, providing a full scope of FOSTER CARE services. Children were placed in loving foster homes, while they engaged in services to help them adjust to their current life situation. Their biological parents also worked actively on service plan goals to increase the likelihood of reunification. Supervised visits between biological parents and their children took place and case workers reported progress the family made to the courts. If sufficient progress was not evident for a period of one year the courts pursued termination of parental rights so that the children could become eligible for adoption. The foster care program facilitated this process as well.

Around the same time Foster Care services expanded, an inquiry from the Department of Mental Health led to the establishment of the Day Treatment program in 1976. There were many children who, because of their emotional and behavioral problems, could not be served by their local schools. Many were at the point of being institutionalized or had just come out of institutional care. The Day Treatment Program offered not only educational instruction but also individual and family therapy within the context of a total caring environment. Many students graduated successfully from the on-site school, or returned to their community school to graduate.

While the Day Treatment Program was being established there was intense activity in the Residential Treatment Program to follow up the residential care with counseling services to youth in their own home. Over the next few years, from 1976 to 1979, the Home designed a group of services, which eventually became known as the Child and Family Guidance Center. Included in the Center’s services were individual and family therapy, youth advocacy services for children in crisis who were referred by schools, court or police, emergency foster care and shelter care, crisis intervention services, and coordination of the services of youth agencies in Will County. The Guidance Center was the fulfillment of the vision of Sister Lucille Krippel.

Sister Lucille, however, left the home in 1976, to serve on the Governing Board of the Congregation and on the Board of Directors of the Guardian Angel Home. In her place, Sister Roberta Reynolds became Executive Director of the Home. Sister Roberta had been a childcare worker and a therapist at the Home. During her administration the plan to open a Group Home was proposed. This house in the community was to be home for six older boys preparing to go out on their own. The Sterling Group Home opened in July of 1979, the month before Sister Roberta left the Home to become a pastoral minister at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. The first residents of the Group Home arrived in the fall of 1979, shortly after Mr. Carl Mueller became Executive Director. Mr. Mueller had been Program Director at the Home for two years.

Under Mr. Mueller’s administration the Home consolidated its services and recovered from the rapid expansion during the previous ten years. In May 1981, when Mr. Mueller left to assume a position in another childcare agency, the Board of Directors appointed Mr. Nicholas Smiar as Executive Director of the Home.  He remained in this position until 1986 when he left to pursue an academic career, and teach in higher education. The Board of Directors of Guardian Angel Home hired Dr. Clyde Gehrig in May of 1986. Dr. Gehrig served in the capacity of Executive Director of the Home until his untimely death in October of 1988.

Mr. Fred Toole, ACSW, came to Guardian Angel Home as the Assistant Executive Director to Dr. Gehrig. He served as Acting Executive Director from October 1988 through February 1989, when the Board of Directors of Guardian Angel Home appointed Mr. Toole, Executive Director of the Home. Mr. Toole served as Executive Director until August of 1996.  Mr. Dillard Harris served as Interim Executive Director from August 1996 until November 1996.  Sheila A. Schmitz, Ph.D., became Chief Executive Officer of Guardian Angel Home in November of 1996 and was in this position until she retired in December of 2011. Chief Operating Officer, Ines Kutlesa, who had been with the Agency for nearly 13 years, became Chief Executive Officer on January 1, 2012, after a three-month nationwide search by the Board of Directors.

Under these Directors the Agency experienced an era of rapid growth; existing programs evolved and new programs were established to meet the changing and expanding needs of the community.  In addition to the Day Treatment School Program, the Comprehensive Youth Services, and the Residential Treatment Program, which were established in the 1970’s, two new programs were introduced through the Guardian Angel Home in the 1980’s, GROUNDWORK, a full services domestic violence program, and the EXCHANGE CLUB CENTER for the PREVENTION of CHILD ABUSE and NEGLECT, serving at risk families.

In 1983 the Guardian Angel Home created Groundwork to serve domestic violence victims and their significant others. When the program opened, Groundwork had a small emergency shelter in the building.  It had 2 1/2 paid staff assisted by volunteers who supervised the shelter and offered one weekly support group.  A 24-hour emergency hotline service was also established.  At that time the Illinois Coalition against Domestic Violence (ICADV) designated Will County as a priority area for the development of a domestic violence program.  Groundwork attained membership in ICADV by 1984, which established it as part of a network of highly qualified family violence service providers.

Due to growing need, in 1984 Groundwork moved to a small building on the Guardian Angel Home campus directly across from the main building, expanding to a fourteen-bed facility.  As staff expanded, a new facility was needed for staff offices. The need for children’s services was recognized soon after the program began.  A grant was applied for and obtained in 1985 and Groundwork established counseling services for children residing in the shelter.  As the number of walk-in clients expanded, children’s counseling also grew to encompass the children of clients who did not reside in the shelter.  From 1983 through 1985 volunteers provided clients with advocacy services, assisting them to exercise their rights under the Illinois Domestic Violence Act.

In 1985 the Guardian Angel Home established the Exchange Club Center, which was a service project of the National Exchange Club Foundation for the Prevention of Child Abuse. The Foundation chartered and monitored over fifty centers in the United States and Puerto Rico. The Exchange Club Center offered parent aide and parenting class services designed to maintain or re-unify families at risk of child abuse due to parental stress or lack of information and skills about child rearing and household management.  The Parent Aide program was a home and/or community-based service designed to support individuals with a history of physical, emotional or sexual abuse or are at-risk individuals and adult heads of a single parent family with child abuse, neglect or parenting issues.  The service was designed to support parents and/or parent/child relationships.  The focus was placed on issues related to the prevention of child abuse and enhancement of parenting skills through the development of a trusting and nurturing relationship with the clients and their families. The Parent Aide/Counselor was able to teach and model appropriate interactions, parenting skills, and addressed child care issues. The Parent Aide/Counselor identified parental strengths, assisted the parent with effective discipline techniques, and helped the client maintain and build upon family connections. Goals included breaking the family’s isolation, increasing communication skills, increasing understanding of child development, and connecting the family with local resources which all helped prevent child abuse.  The parent aide/counselor assisted with general household management, provided concrete supportive services, advocated on behalf of the family and planned aftercare and follow-up services to ensure that needed supports and services were provided at the clients’ request.

The EXCHANGE CLUB CENTER also offered a Positive Parenting Program, developed as an eight-week course that was taught in 1.5-hour sessions, once a week, and was offered quarterly.  The program assisted parents, including persons who assumed the parental role, to develop specific parenting skills, and to increase knowledge regarding child development. The program curriculum included the following: Self-esteem, Communication Skills (verbal and non-verbal), Attentive Listening, Active Listening, Stress Management, Anger Management, Behavior Management and Effective Discipline.  The facilitator used a variety of educational materials and instructional styles to motivate participants.

All of the classes stressed the significance of unconditional love, health, safety and well being of the children. The need for parents to have stability in their lives was also a theme, while they explored the consequences maladaptive choices had on their children. Families were educated about child development and parenting as it related to basic care giving routines, child growth and development (emotional, cognitive, physical/health and social development and well being), environmental safety and injury prevention, appropriate parent child interactions and bonding as well as age-appropriate behavioral expectations and appropriate discipline.

In 1986 Groundwork established a Victim Advocacy component to the existing domestic violence program, allowing advocacy services to expand and to include having an advocate available at the courthouses for assistance with Orders of Protection and other related matters.  In 1987 Groundwork returned to the main building of Guardian Angel Home, where an area was renovated to include additional office space and expand the shelter to nineteen beds.

In response to the needs of the many clients from the Grundy County area, Guardian Angel Home opened an office in Morris for walk-in services in the mid 1990s.  Through this office advocacy became available on a daily basis at the Grundy County Courthouse and counseling was offered.

The SEXUAL ASSAULT SERVICE CENTER came into existence in a manner that paralleled the origin of Guardian Angel Home; both owe their inception to a response to helping the survivors of deadly storms.  In 1990 a severe tornado devastated many communities in Will County, leaving hundreds homeless and with few resources; it also destroyed the Plainfield High School.  Guardian Angel followed its mission of service to the community and joined the Multi-Agency Survivor Services Committee of the Will County Community Services Council, which was formed to serve the storm victims.  After the work of serving the tornado victims was complete, as a final act, the committee expanded its task to look at unmet needs within Will County.  The committee identified an unmet need: crisis intervention services for victims of rape/sexual assault.

The Sexual Assault Consortium continued the work of the Multi-Agency Survivor Services Committee.  This group identified Groundwork as the program to develop and implement crisis intervention sexual assault services.  In 1992, Mutual Ground, a domestic violence and rape crisis service organization located in Aurora, provided Groundwork staff with the 40-hours of training on sexual violence and serving victims that was required by the Illinois statute for rape crisis workers.  This prepared staff to provide services.

From 1993 through 1994 Groundwork provided sexual assault crisis intervention services with its existing staff.   In 1994, Provena Saint Joseph Medical Center, through its Social Accountability and Community Collaboration Grant Program, awarded Groundwork the “seed money” to hire separate part-time staff.  In 1994 Groundwork officially expanded its mission to include sexual assault victims.  During this time period the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault, ICASA, prioritized establishing a rape crisis center to serve the Will County area. ICASA held a community meeting at the Joliet Public Library where area service providers agreed that the Guardian Angel Home was the logical provider to continue developing sexual violence services.   Groundwork continued serving victims of sexual violence through crisis counseling and established medical advocacy services at Silver Cross Hospital.

The Foster Care Program grew in the 1990’s to serve children 0-18, at it’s largest in 1996, when the program served over 50 children in 25 homes. The ongoing dedication to serving children and families of yesteryear led to an increase in the number of full-time staff thereafter.

In order to promote growth of the services and to be eligible for additional funding, in 1997 the Board of Directors established the Sexual Assault Service Center as an agency program.  This decision separated the delivery of domestic violence services and sexual assault services.  The program began in 1998 with one full time paid staff member.  After an extensive review by ICASA the Guardian Angel Home achieved full membership in the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault.  This brought funding and enabled program growth.

Initial services included crisis counseling, a 24-hour hotline, prevention education, and legal and medical advocacy.  Relationships were nurtured to expand medical advocacy to other area hospitals and staff worked collaboratively with local law enforcement. 1998 was SASC’s first full year as a program, during which time the program served more than 100 sexual violence victims.

In 1998 Groundwork began a Hispanic Outreach Program to provide accessible services to the Latina community.  The program flourished, and grew to provide on and off-site services.

In 1999 the Board voted to rename the Day Treatment Program to the DILLARD HARRIS EDUCATIONAL CENTER in honor of Mr. Dillard Harris, a Board Member who had served on the Board for over 15 years and also served as Interim Executive Director for three months. Also, in 1999 the Board voted to separate counseling services by beginning a stand-alone program “The Family Center”. The late 90’s brought many changes in child welfare that were expected to impact Guardian Angel Home in the next millennium. The State of Illinois began a permanency initiative with an aggressive goal to reduce the use of out of home placement for children. There were also more beds available than there were children in need of residential care, so the Agency closed the Residential Program. The Dillard Harris Educational Center continued to provide educational services to youth. The school provided alternative education for students in grades 5 to 12 who were not successful in their school district due to emotional disorders and behavioral problems.

Overall, many of the clients served each year were children, so in the year 2000, the Board of Directors voted to add two programs including the Before-and-After-School Enrichment Program (BASE) and Camp Explore program. Before and after school hours were considered dangerous times for children to be unsupervised. BASE was developed for children in grades K through 6, and offered a safe, nurturing environment and provided tutoring, and prevention classes to help the children increase their safety and build healthy, positive relationships. Camp Explore, a summer day camp for children ages, 6-12 was created to provide leadership training, computer skills training, sports activities, and educational and recreational field trips. The essential values of honesty, respect, responsibility, and teamwork were emphasized in both of these programs.

Additionally, in the year 2000 a new grant from ICASA allowed the program to expand its counseling services to include youth aged three and up. Children’s counseling experienced high demand as soon as it became available; on average approximately 50% of the clients served each year were minors.  To further serve children, in 2001 SASC developed a once weekly mentoring program as part of its prevention services.  Children from ages three through twelve were matched with high school volunteers who served as mentors.  During each meeting a SASC prevention educator provided ongoing lessons to increase the children’s personal safety. The mentors interacted with the children to reinforce the prevention lesson during planned activities.

Guardian Angel Community Services was accredited by the Council on Accreditation in 2001.

The Family Center closed in 2003 due to difficulty in obtaining timely payment from insurance companies. Individuals seeking general counseling services, who did not meet eligibility criteria for existing programs, and would otherwise have been served through the Family Center, were then provided with a minimum of two referrals for counseling services at other community agencies.

In 2003, Guardian Angel Community Services received the “Outstanding Small Businesses Award” given by the Joliet Chamber of Commerce.

Guardian Angel Community Services successfully achieved re-accreditation status through the Council on Accreditation in 2004.

On March 22, 2004 the Board of Directors voted to change Guardian Angel Home’s name to “Guardian Angel Community Services,” as reflected in the Articles of Incorporation. The Board felt this name more accurately reflected the role of the organization.  The Board adopted a tag line of “Changing Lives, Saving Lives since 1897” one year later. In April of 2005 the new name and logo were first introduced publicly at the organization’s annual Angelica fundraiser.

In 2005 the Dillard Harris Educational Center received the “Keeping the Promise” award, given by the Will County Workforce Investment Board.

In 2005, through the SASC’s prevention education services, Wings, a series of full day empowerment camps for girls, was added.  This was expanded in 2006 to include the Prom ‘N Aide Project, wherein students were offered the opportunity to obtain free prom dresses in exchange for attending a 2-hour dating safety class.  In 2006 about 30 teens completed classes and received free prom dresses.

In 2006 Groundwork worked diligently to partner with the University of St. Francis’s College of Nursing and Allied Health and Kiwanis Club of Joliet to be a part of the Collaboration of Care-Health and Wellness Center. As a result of these efforts the University met a need the program identified as crucial to the health and well being of clients. The collaborative meetings and planning which took place in 2006 resulted in a partnership between Guardian Angel Community Services, Kiwanis and the University to provide health care services, such as physical and mental health screenings, treatment and follow up to those residing in the domestic violence shelter. The Health and Wellness Center opened onsite in 2007. Clients received health and wellness services onsite, and they were also able to access health care at the Health and Wellness Center at the University.

In 2007 the Exchange Club Center began a six-week parenting class program for parents of adolescents. This class presented materials and techniques that gave parents a better understanding of their adolescents and the issues they faced.  With this information parents were better equipped to provide the nurturing care needed by their adolescents. Bilingual parenting classes were also offered when funding was available. At the same time, the ECC received the AAA rating from the National Exchange Club Foundation. A comment made by the reviewer stated, “The Exchange Club Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse within Guardian Angel Community Services provides strong services to children and families in the community. I appreciate the work done by staff and board members to continuously evaluate services and plan for the future.”

The Sexual Assault Services Center was also recognized in 2007 when the program, and Agency, received the “Innovating Promises Award for Violence Prevention Education at the Illinois Youth Center” given by the Workforce Investment Board of Will County at the annual Youth Provider Summit.

By 2008 the SASC Program had expanded to include nine paid staff members and a volunteer pool of about 25 active participants who provided medical advocacy at 5 area emergency rooms and served over 375 clients annually. During this time the SASC’s Wings program grew in popularity and more than 130 teens participated.  However, the mentoring program provided through the SASC, ended in June of 2008 due to lack of funding and space issues.

In June 2008, the National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET) selected the Dillard Harris Educational Center as a 2008-2009 School of Excellence. This award was the highest honor an institution could receive from NASET, a national organization dedicated to the support and assistance of those in the field of special education. The school also expanded to five classrooms, fifty students, ten in each class, who received individual attention to achieve academic and behavior change goals.

In 2008, additional progress was made, with the continued expansion of services and facilities by leveraging partnerships within the communities served. The University of St. Francis Health and Wellness Center services increased from one time per week to 2-3 times per week on site. As a result, adults and children residing in the emergency domestic violence program had access to medical and mental health services, counseling, and school physicals and vaccinations more frequently onsite. Also, in 2008, a former kitchen area was remodeled to provide three counseling rooms, an office for several staff members, and a reception area, and small kitchen, for use by Groundwork and Foster Care. The replacement of an entry ramp provided better handicap access. One of the counseling rooms became a large comfortable room with toys used for counseling children in need and supervising visitation between biological parents and foster children.

Guardian Angel Community Services successfully achieved re-accreditation status through the Council on Accreditation in 2008.

In 2009 the National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET) again selected the Dillard Harris Educational Center as a School of Excellence. This award was the highest honor an institution could receive from NASET, a national organization dedicated to the support and assistance of those in the field of special education. The school also expanded to six classrooms.

In 2009 Guardian Angel Community Services established the Sue Turk Transitional Living Program – Suzy’s Caring Place to provide housing to domestic violence survivors and their children.  The program assists victims of domestic violence, adults and children, to break the cycle of violence.  In addition to housing, the program provides crisis intervention, 24-hour access to the Groundwork emergency hotline, individual and group counseling and legal advocacy services.  Central to the mission is aiding victims to realize their human dignity, to exercise their legal rights, and to develop renewed ways of living that promote harmony and well-being within themselves and within their families.  Groundwork and Suzy’s Caring Place work harmoniously and believe that the crime of domestic violence is a community problem and both programs strive for coordinated efforts among the professional services, as well, as broad-based support for programs.

In 2010 the Partner Abuse Intervention Program (PAIP) opened. Guardian Angel Community Services attained Department of Human Services approval for its program plan, structure, and materials. After gaining approval the program began accepting clients for assessment and educational group services.  PAIP is designed to help individuals in their efforts to develop healthy, mutually supportive relationships and eliminate domestic violence from their lives.  Through education and support individuals who have committed acts of domestic violence can learn alternative methods of communicating with their partners and begin to build relationships that allow for open respectful communication and trust.  PAIP utilizes a 26-week curriculum that is recognized nationally and internationally as the leading tool to assist individuals to eliminate domestic violence from their lives.  This curriculum has proven effective in helping class participants recognize domestic violence, understand how it can impact the entire family, and find ways to establish new behavior patterns that can enrich future relationships.

In 2010 the National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET) again selected the Dillard Harris Educational Center as a School of Excellence. This award was the highest honor an institution could receive from NASET, a national organization dedicated to the support and assistance of those in the field of special education.

Guardian Angel Community Services received the “2011 Agency of the Year: Outstanding Agency in Human Services Award” from the Community Service Council of Will County.

In 2011 the National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET) again selected the Dillard Harris Educational Center as a School of Excellence. This award was the highest honor an institution could receive from NASET, a national organization dedicated to the support and assistance of those in the field of special education.

A board meeting was held on September 26, 2011, during which the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act, which came into effect June 1, 2011, was discussed in terms of possible implications for our Foster Care program at Guardian Angel Community Services. Our Catholic sponsors, the Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate, made a decision to withdraw sponsorship when Board members present during the meeting agreed that Guardian Angel Community Services would continue to comply with all state and federal laws of non discrimination.

Guardian Angel Community Services successfully achieved re-accreditation status through the Council on Accreditation in January of 2012 through 2016. The congratulatory letter from the Council noted, “COA’s program of quality improvement is designed to identify providers that have set high performance standards for themselves and have made a commitment to their constituents to deliver the very best quality services. COA is proud to recognize you as one of these outstanding providers, and I wish you the very best in your continuing service to the individuals in your community.”

In the summer of 2013, after operating at 1550 Plainfield Road for 87 years, Guardian Angel was notified by the Sisters of Saint Francis Mary Immaculate that they made the decision to divest themselves of the building out of which Guardian Angel operates. Our charge and focus remained unaltered and determined to continue services. The relocation plan was created and led by CEO Ines Kutlesa with the support of the Board of Directors.

Ines Kutlesa, CEO conducted a comprehensive research campaign that included identifying viable properties, analyzing current GACS occupancy and space needs and what would work best for the organization financially and operationally. Properties were toured in Will County for comparative purposes and marketing materials were prepared for prospects regarding the organization. Many meetings were held with property owners to present extensive information regarding agency needs, programs, financial considerations due to the non-profit factor, and the uniqueness of operating an emergency shelter and alternative school, along with the opportunity for our new landlords to help the oldest social service agency in Joliet, remain in Joliet where we are so needed. Kutlesa studied and extrapolated applicable zoning ordinances, requirements, and the process of obtaining special use permits. Kutlesa identified a location in downtown Joliet. She collaborated, met with, prepared marketing materials and provided formal presentations for support for the relocation to the City Center Partnership Board of Directors of Joliet, and individually with Will County Executive, Larry Walsh, City Manager, Tom Thanas, Will County State’s Attorney, James Glasgow, and Chief Legal Counsel, Jeffrey Plyman, which resulted in an extensive and complimentary letter of support from Mr. Glasgow, the offer of a proclamation for support by Will County Executive Larry Walsh demonstrating county support, and a legal determination that a public hearing and separate approval from the City Council would not be necessary. In addition, supporters were recruited from the City of Joliet’s Community and Economic Development Board and Joliet City Council. Hundreds of hours were dedicated to working on floor planning and design along with mapping out the entire data/phone/network system infrastructure for new space, and securing contractors for the work. The telecommunications and emergency hotline planning/installation, shelter-office-conference room-board room-break room-recreation room and school furnishings, equipment and appliances, privacy/window coverings, interior-exterior signage, flooring, paint-color schemes, security-surveillance system, locking mechanisms on all doors, door knobs-handles all were researched and selected by Kutlesa in collaboration with new landlords. CEO Ines Kutlesa’s husband, Architect, Owner and President of Kutlesa Hernandez Architects, Inc., Ivan Kutlesa, donated over $30,000 of architectural services resulting in the conceptualization, design, floor planning and hundreds of hours of work in the field, including on call services for an entire year whenever issues arose, in support of Guardian Angel’s relocation. This historic move and thoughtful design led to emergency shelter expansion by 50%. A phenomenal 15-year lease agreement was negotiated by CEO Ines Kutlesa with Bays Professional Services, Guardian Angel’s new landlords, who were extremely generous by investing time, resources and significant funding to build out a brand new, modern, beautiful and welcoming space. Guardian Angel’s relocation also contributed to the revitalization of our historic city. Collectively Guardian Angel achieved nothing short of a miracle, as a building was secured within 2 months of being notified of the need to relocate and only 9 months later a massive buildout of over 23,000 sq. feet of space was achieved. In July of 2014 Guardian Angel Community Services relocated from 1550 Plainfield Road, Joliet to downtown Joliet, 168 North Ottawa, with a secured lease agreement from July 21, 2014-July 31, 2029. An open house was held and community members were thrilled with the result.

Our Will County State’s Attorney, Mr. James Glasgow, wrote of his excitement about the relocation in a letter of support where he stated: “I am writing today to express my enthusiastic support for the relocation of Guardian Angel Community Services into downtown Joliet. As the State’s Attorney of Will County, it is my duty to protect women and children who are victimized by domestic violence, not only by prosecuting their abusers to the full extent of the law, but also by guaranteeing they have access to the entire spectrum of community-based services necessary for their protection and to end the cycle of abuse. For many years, Guardian Angel, most notably through its Groundwork program, has assisted me greatly in fulfilling this vital responsibility. The agency has worked hand-in-hand with the domestic violence prosecutors and the victim advocates in my downtown offices to provide thousands of struggling women and their children with assistance and support…The relocation of Guardian Angel to downtown Joliet will allow their skilled advocates to respond to the needs of my office and the courthouse in real time….In the aftermath of the Drew Peterson prosecution, I have begun work on developing a coalition of community activists to expand services to domestic violence victims. Guardian Angel’s team of experienced and caring professionals will be a valuable partner in this endeavor. Having Guardian Angel located in downtown Joliet, just a few short blocks from my office, will enable our staffs to synchronize these efforts in person as well.” -James W. Glasgow, Will County State’s Attorney–Guardian Angel’s new location is ideal in terms of accessibility and continuity of services for the thousands of people served annually.

Guardian Angel opened a new program on October 1, 2015 known as Adult Protective Services. A new major contract was secured with the Illinois Department on Aging designating GACS as the serving agency for all of Will County for the protection of our most vulnerable adults. Guardian Angel investigates allegations of abuse, neglect, and exploitation (ANE) for adults with disabilities, ages 18-59, and elderly adults, 60 years of age and older for residents in the Will County area.  Another component of the program is assessing for reported self-neglect.   In addition, the program provides casework services consisting of service referrals and assistance with guardianship proceedings.  The APS program is designed to build upon the existing legal, medical, and social service system to assure that it is more responsive to the needs of ANE victims and their families.   The mission of the APS program is to facilitate the goal of service excellence, grounded in our commitment to balance the need to protect elderly vulnerable adults, and adults with disabilities per their basic human rights and with their right to self-determination.  The program seeks to help empower clients to improve the quality of their lives, in line with Guardian Angel’s mission, and to get protection/services for those who are unable to live safely on their own.

Guardian Angel Community Services was notified on May 9, 2016 that the organization successfully achieved expedited re-accreditation by the Council on Accreditation through July 31, 2020. COA issued the following acknowledgement: “I am delighted to inform you that Guardian Angel Community Services has been reaccredited.  In addition, Guardian Angel Community Services was expedited through the Pre-Commission Review Report (PCR) process as a result of not receiving any out of compliance ratings in any of the fundamental practice standards.  Congratulations on this amazing achievement. COA’s program of quality improvement is designed to identify providers that have met high performance standards and have made a commitment to their stakeholders to deliver the very best quality services.  COA is proud to recognize Guardian Angel Community Services as one of these outstanding providers, and we wish you the very best in your continuing work with the individuals you serve.”

Guardian Angel closed the Dillard Harris Educational Center on June 10, 2016. A comprehensive review of the program and consideration of closing the school took place in recent years through 2016. Many efforts were made to address and offset the financial losses occurring in the DHEC on and off over the last 8 years as a result of low enrollment. Guardian Angel was very successful in increasing the per diem rate significantly over the last 3 years by presenting a compelling case for the increase to the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). Guardian Angel also made efforts to expand the center by applying and obtaining approval from ISBE to provide alternative elementary education and autistic services. Despite these efforts enrollment and referrals did not increase. This was mainly due to the fact that schools created their own alternative programming/education, and teachers became better trained to work through behavioral issues with students rather than referring them to an alternative school. Guardian Angel’s CEO Ines Kutlesa talked with the Principal Consultant at ISBE who confirmed this was a trend they were also seeing with other alternative schools in the state that have made the decision to close.  The program exhausted all possibilities to increase enrollment since the demand for these services remained low. The DHEC did a phenomenal job working with youth and achieved fantastic successes and graduation rates, while there was a need for the services. When it became clear that there was no longer a need for services and that operating the school became too high of a financial risk for the agency, the decision was made to close the program. The Executive Committee of the Board made a recommendation to close the school, and the last day with students was June 7, 2016. The center closed officially on June 10, 2016.


From 2016 to 2020 Guardian Angel achieved operational and strategic plan goals related to enhancing programs and services in accordance with community needs, with extraordinary program expansion, from serving 1,904 clients in 2009, to 12,380 in 2019, along with over 88,000 people reached through prevention education and community outreach. While tracking mechanisms have been enhanced over the years, Guardian Angel’s financial statements also reflect tremendous increases in revenue that made additional services possible. The exponential program growth increased Guardian Angel’s capacity to meet staggering increases in the need for services. Guardian Angel also opened additional satellite offices in Plainfield, Create and Joliet, Illinois.

Guardian Angel Community Services was notified on November 23, 2020 that, for a second time, consecutively, the organization successfully achieved expedited re-accreditation by the Council on Accreditation. The Council issued the following acknowledgement: “I am delighted to inform you that Guardian Angel Community Services has been reaccredited.  In addition, Guardian Angel Community Services was expedited through the Pre-Commission Review Report (PCR) process as a result of not receiving any out of compliance ratings in any of the fundamental practice standards.  Congratulations on this amazing achievement. COA’s program of quality improvement is designed to identify providers that have met high performance standards and have made a commitment to their stakeholders to deliver the very best quality services.  COA is proud to recognize Guardian Angel Community Services as one of these outstanding providers, and we wish you the very best in your continuing work with the individuals you serve.” This was an especially exceptional accomplishment, given that it was achieved, while the organization was navigating through the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Communication and planning in response to COVID-19 began on February 27, 2020, well before the gravity of the pandemic was even known. Guardian Angel’s Executive Team, Management Team and Board of Directors acted swiftly and proactively, a week prior to Governor J.B. Pritzker’s Stay at Home order. Even though Guardian Angel provides essential services that were to continue to be provided, every service area was analyzed in detail and reconfigured so that services could continue, while minimizing risk. Over 85% of employees began working remotely on March 16, 2020, and continued to do so until the end of the fiscal year. A Telecommuting Policy was also developed and approved by the Board of Directors, in support of the action taken, directing the majority of employees to work remotely.

The only program, for which it was not possible to work entirely remotely, was in Guardian Angel’s Groundwork program that provides 24-hour emergency shelter and support services to victims of domestic violence. These services are provided in a communal setting, which under normal circumstances, offer refuge to up to 30 victims of domestic violence at a time. Guardian Angel Community Services was commended for the extraordinary efforts made to work with community organizations, city officials and others to quickly secure additional funding to be able to continue these essential services, while adhering to CDC guidelines, and keeping employees and clients safe. Guardian Angel successfully obtained funding to secure multiple shelter locations in non-communal settings.

In March, Guardian Angel reduced communal shelter census by more than half, from 33 to 14, ensuring unrelated victims were not cohabitating in the same rooms, and were not utilizing communal areas at the same time. One room remained empty at all times in the event a client was to contract COVID-19, so that they could self-quarantine. From March of 2020, until the end of the fiscal year, June 30, 2020, funds continued to be secured, and communal shelter census reduced considerably, as sheltering separately at non-communal locations, was the priority. Guardian Angel continued to secure funds, making it possible for victims to shelter separately. Employees provided counseling, advocacy and support services remotely. Supervisory approval had to be obtained for staff to work onsite, and staggered schedules were implemented in Groundwork and agency wide. Employees did check in on clients in-person, while social distancing and wearing personal protective equipment was required.

Child and family in-person visits in Foster Care were suspended out of an abundance of caution, on March 16, 2020, over a week prior to the directive to do so that was issued by the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services. Remote services continued through the end of the fiscal year. This was also the practice in Adult Protective Services.

Guardian Angel secured ample personal protective equipment that was required to be utilized agency wide.  The wearing of masks, and continued adherence to the Illinois Department of Public Health and CDC guidelines, with respect to implementing staggered schedules, social distancing, hand washing, the use of hand sanitizers, and not convening in large groups, was followed. Guardian Angel also secured additional cleaning and sanitizing services of high touch areas occupied by employees, and obtained permission from city officials for employees to park in metered spots, adjacent to the building located at 168 N. Ottawa St, without financial penalties. As a result, employees were able enter the building more quickly, while decreasing exposure to others, as exposure to others would be more likely in the parking lot across the street, where staff typically park. Employees were also directed to stay home if they are feeling ill.

In the event that an employee was to have contact with someone who was either suspected to have COVID-19 or tested positive for COVID-19, employees were told that under those circumstances, they would need to stay at home, until they could get tested. At the start of the pandemic, staff was also instructed to take temperatures before reporting to work. When the CDC began reporting about asymptomatic carriers and the transmission of COVID-19 absent of symptoms, discussion took place with staff as to following OSHA Guidelines regarding communicable diseases, and to operate as though everyone could be a potential carrier of the virus. If employees were to test positive for COVID-19, they were informed that they would need to follow CDC guidelines regarding quarantining, and would only be authorized to return to work if the CDC standards for doing so were met.

Even though the State of Illinois entered Phase 4 of the Governor’s plan, Guardian Angel continued to operate even more cautiously, as though the State of Illinois was still in Phase 3 through the remainder of the fiscal year. Across all programs, including our Sexual Assault Services Center, Exchange Club Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, Partner Abuse Intervention Program, Foster Care, Suzy’s Caring Place, Adult Protective Services, and Groundwork, all large in-person meetings, in-person individual counseling, group counseling, medical advocacy, group education programming, in-home visits and all fundraising events were cancelled and moved to a remote platform on March 16, 2020, until the end of the fiscal year.

During this time, Guardian Angel’s Chief Executive Officer, Ines Kutlesa also served on Governor J.B Pritzker’s Illinois Council on Women and Girls, and was elected Chairperson to the State Council’s Gender Based Violence Committee. In March of 2020, this State Council created a platform by which those serving could meet with staff from the Office of Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton, on a weekly basis, regarding COVID-19, to provide updates, ask questions, obtain support and guidance, and convey challenges non-profit social service organizations are experiencing as a result of COVID-19.  Ines Kutlesa, CEO attended the weekly meetings, and made employees and the Board of Directors aware of the outcomes of those meetings, and how additional assistance, could be obtained.

In response to COVID-19, Guardian Angel Community Services implemented COVID-19 Workplace Preparedness Measures in March of 2020. Ines Kutlesa, CEO communicated developments with the Board of Directors, Program Committee of the Board, Personnel Committee of the Board, and Building and Grounds Risk Management Committee of the Board. From March of 2020 through June 30, 2020, zero staff members reported contracting COVID-19. Thereafter cases surged again in the state, and over the next 6 months, 6 staff members reported testing positive for the virus. Due to the very low number of staff working onsite, and the organization’s strict social distancing policies, the cases appeared to be isolated, did not occur during the same timeframes, and did not appear to be contracted in the workplace. In December of 2020, the FDA approved vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna, and vaccinations were quickly underway, beginning with healthcare providers. As essential service providers, Guardian Angel staff were amongst the earliest of providers to be able to get vaccinated onsite in February of 2021. Guardian Angel Community Services coordinated several dates for voluntary onsite vaccinations of staff and clients by the Will County Health Department. On June 11, 2021 the State of Illinois entered Phase 5 of the Restore Illinois Plan, and all in person services resumed. Throughout 2022 funds continued to be secured for multi-area sheltering of survivors of domestic violence, in the event of COVID-19 variant surges, and the need for additional space.





Mother M. Lucy Raub, OSF


Sister M. Clementine Koch, OSF

(1914 – 1927)

Sister M. Anselma Kreucher, OSF

(1927 – 1951)

Sister M. Julia Lagger, OSF

(1951 – 1963)

Sister M. Lucretia Gaul, OSF

(1963 – 1967)

Sister Mary Paul Korman, OSF

(1967 – 1971)

Sister M. Paulette Hauber, OSF

(1971 – 1976)

Sister Lucille Krippel, OSF

(1976 – 1979)

Sister Roberta Reynolds, OSF

(1979 – 1981)

Mr. Carl Mueller, MS

(1981 – 1986)

Mr. Nicholas Smiar, CCCW, ACSW

(1986 – 1988)

Dr. Clyde Gehrig

(1989 – 1996)

Mr. Fred Toole, ACSW

(1996 – 2011)

Sheila A. Schmitz, MSW, Ph. D.


Ines Kutlesa, MA, LCPC. LPHA. CCTP

This history was compiled at the 85th Anniversary of Guardian Angel Home covering the years 1897 to 1982. From that point onward, the history was compiled by the Administration of Guardian Angel Community Services.

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