By Tom Siebert
Assistant Director for Community Relations
Public Action to Deliver Shelter (PADS) of Kendall County
Kenny Wyzykowski grew up near Wrigley Field in the “city of big shoulders,” as the famed poet Carl Sandburg called it. As a young man, Kenny landed a job delivering bundles of the Chicago Daily News on the North Side.
“I got to keep most of the money in the vending machines,” he recalled. “So I did pretty good.”
After a decade of delivering newspapers, Kenny went onto a 35-year carnival career, working for Windy City Amusements throughout Chicagoland and most of Illinois.
But the rough-and-tumble “carny” lifestyle took a toll on his body and he suffered a stroke in 2016. His finances were depleted and he could not afford a place to live.
That’s when Kenny found out that Kendall County PADS also had big shoulders––and helping hands. For nearly three years, he was warmly welcomed into the seven shelters that the homeless support group operates each night of the week from mid-October through mid-April.
“They were wonderful to me,” he said. “I got banned for four days, but I apologized, and they let me come back.”
Kenny was one of the more-fortunate PADS guests because he has an automobile, which allowed him to drive every evening to one of the shelter sites, rather than use the public transit vehicle that the nonprofit organization contracts.
However, during the warmer six months of the calendar, when the temporary housing is not available, he was forced to live in motels. “All my money went for that.”
Meanwhile, his name was placed on a two-year waiting list for subsidized housing through the Kendall County Health Department. And finally, late last year, the health department was able to secure him a one-bedroom apartment in Amboy, about 40 miles westward in Lee County.
Kendall County PADS’ mission for Kenny was accomplished. But when executive director Anne Engelhardt learned that he had no furnishings for his new apartment, she decided to go the extra mile with him.
“I told him that I’d reach out to volunteers and other friends of the homeless,” Ms. Engelhardt said.
Kendall County PADS volunteer Gregg Wehrs puts his arm around guest Kenny Wyzykowski, whom the homeless support group helped find an apartment and furnish it. (Photo by Anne Engelhardt)
One of those friends is Carmen Solis, a volunteer at the PADS shelter at Church of the Good Shepherd in Oswego. She told Kenny: “Whatever you need, you’ve got it!”
Ms. Solis, a Plainfield resident and client acquisition consultant for MetLife, thus became the manager of the project. She created a spreadsheet of needs and recruited seven team members to help out.
Also assisting were the Caring Hands Thrift Shop in Yorkville and the Kendall County Community Food Bank.
The volunteers launched a donation drive, which yielded a bed frame, mattress, box spring, couch, recliner, television, microwave, two dressers, a lamp, hand towels, dish cloths, and blanket for the sofa.
Then they prepared a meal, rented a U-Haul truck, and set out on an hour-long caravan of care to Amboy. When they arrived, Kenny was overwhelmed by the outpouring of generosity from the PADS volunteers.
“I want to thank them for all that they did for me,” he said, in an emotional voice. “I was blessed.”
The volunteers were blessed, too. Said Ms. Solis: “It was very rewarding for me. I don’t like the way things are, so this was one of the ways that I try to bring about change.”
For the past nine years, overnight guests of Kendall County PADS have been receiving a hot meal, a safe place to sleep, breakfast, and a packed lunch to go. They also receive assistance with employment, social services, and housing referrals.
The shelters are open from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m. through April 20 on:
• Sundays at Cross Lutheran Church, 8609 Route 47, Yorkville
• Mondays, Yorkville Congregational United Church of Christ, 409 Center Parkway, Yorkville
• Tuesdays, Harvest New Beginnings church, 5315 Douglas Road, Oswego
• Wednesdays, Parkview Christian Academy, upper campus, 202 East Countryside Parkway, Yorkville
• Thursdays, Trinity United Methodist Church, 2505 Boomer Lane, Yorkville
• Fridays, Church of the Good Shepherd, 5 West Washington Street, Oswego
• Saturdays, St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, 53 Fernwood Road, Montgomery
PADS of Kendall County is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) group funded by donations received from grants, gifts, individuals, organizations, and businesses. Those who wish to donate or volunteer may call (630) 553-5073 or visit the website at kendallcountypads.org.
“My hope is that every one of our guests would be able to find housing and support, such as we have seen with this guest,” Ms. Engelhardt said.