Monday, October 17, 2016

Homeless Little Boy With Cat Takes On Powerful Political Figures

[Naperville, IL, 10/17/16] The bedraggled little boy clutching a cat that almost matches him in size faces strong competition, but it’s

© Pat Van Doren

really no contest. In the end, Charlie will win, inspiring compassionate deeds on behalf of millions of America’s children and youth in homeless situations.
HEAR US, a Naperville-based national nonprofit organization giving voice and visibility to homeless children and youth, is launching The Charlie Book: 60 Ways to Help Homeless Kids, a 24-page guide to anyone wanting to make life a little better for the millions of mostly-invisible homeless kids in every community. 
The cover of this little book bears Charle’s iconic picture, taken by Naperville photojournalist Pat Van Doren back in the days of the Aurora-Naperville struggle to get homeless kids into school. This little boy, whose image she captured outside the shelter at Hesed House in Aurora, became the poster child for the successful 1994 “Charlie’s Bill” campaign, making Illinois the first state to guarantee the rights to education for homeless students. (Ret.) Congresswoman Judy Biggert led the successful effort to enact this law on the national level in 2002. More than 1.3 million students without homes benefitted from this law last year.
The Charlie Book, written by national homeless education expert Diana Bowman for HEAR US, reflects tried-and-true practices from across the nation. HEAR US founder and president Diane Nilan edited the book and provided photos from her vast collection of images she’s amassed in her past 11 years of cross-country travel to chronicle children and youth homelessness. Beth Adams, a local graphic artist, volunteered her layout and design services. 
Charlie, aka Charles, is real. He and his wife and 3 children now live in West Virginia, where he works. He and Nilan connect occasionally. She’s sending his family several copies of this book. 
The book is suitable for schools, shelters, scout troops, faith communities, service groups, and well-intentioned individuals wanting to make a difference for children in their communities. It sells for $10 (+s/h).
Information and ordering instructions are on the HEAR US website, Proceeds from the book support the continuing work of this well-regarded organization. 
Nilan is loading up hundreds of copies of The Charlie Book in her van/home/office. She heads to Orlando on Thursday for a national conference of homeless student educators, many of whom have expressed great interest in this unique book. 
Who is the competition Charlie (and his book) face? None other than the national presidential candidates who occupy the media with their campaign fodder. When the dust settles, the goodness Charlie and his followers accomplish will touch lives of millions of kids without homes, a story worthy of widespread media coverage. 

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Monday, October 3, 2016

George and Charlie to Help Homeless Kids in Naperville and Beyond

Press Release
For Immediate Release
October 3, 2016

[Naperville, IL] Launching The Charlie Book: 60 Ways to Help Homeless Kids at the October 13  George Winston HEAR US Benefit concert will bring together the perennially popular musician George Winston with the iconic Charlie, the homeless boy who opened school doors for millions of homeless kids nationwide. Mr. Winston will play at St. Timothy Lutheran Church in Naperville.

HEAR US Inc., the Naperville-based national nonprofit giving voice and visibility to homeless children and youth, uses the image of Charlie in its logo. Naperville photojournalist Pat Van Doren photographed the little boy holding a cat, an image that became the poster child for the campaign to pass the first statewide law guaranteeing homeless kids access to school, legislation now in effect across the entire nation.

The Charlie Book: 60 Ways to Help Homeless Kids, written by Diana Bowman, a nationally prominent expert on homeless children, contains photos by Diane Nilan, former shelter director at Hesed House in Aurora, one of the people responsible for the homeless education laws. Nilan founded HEAR US 12 years ago and has been on the road since then, living in a small camper, chronicling homeless children and youth.

HEAR US will sell the books for $10, with proceeds supporting this unique nonprofit’s efforts to expand the common perception of homelessness to include children and youth. The 24-page Charlie Book gives practical suggestions to help kids and families. Nilan said, “This is a perfect tool for shelters, faith communities, scout troops, community organizations and individuals who want to make an impact in their community. When I ran the PADS shelter I would have loved to be able to hand the book to people who expressed sincere desire to help families and youth.”

This is the 3rd concert George Winston has done to benefit HEAR US. Nilan met up with George in Seattle recently at one of his performances. “I’m awed a musician of his prominence gives so generously to causes of homelessness and hunger,” she said. Winston has asked those attending the concert to bring donations of food for Loaves & Fishes Community Services, a Naperville-based agency providing food and services to those in need.

Nilan will be in the Naperville area for a short time before taking off for Florida to present at the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth’s annual conference on the new HEAR US effort, Yay Babies! According to Nilan, most people have no idea that over 1 million homeless babies and toddlers, mostly with their families, struggle to survive without enough formula or diapers. Her 2-minute Yay Babies! public service video calls attention to this little population.

Naperville was “ground zero” for the birth of this important civil rights legislation that guarantees access to school for over 1.3 million children and youth without homes. Naperville area legislators, educators, and activists were involved in this campaign in 1993-94, including Nilan. “We’ve got ‘skin in the game’ on making sure this law works and that policymakers pay attention to the needs of families and youth in homeless situations,” stated Nilan. She’s coming back to make good on that promise. 

Information about ticket and book sales:  

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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

By George! George Winston To Return for HEAR US Benefit

August 30, 2016
For information: 
Diane Nilan, 630/267-5424

[Naperville, IL] Homeless babies, toddlers, kids of all ages are counting on fans of George Winston, the popular musician whose piano and guitar music has delighted fans for decades. His benefit concert for the Naperville-based national nonprofit HEAR US Inc. on Oct. 13 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church in Naperville will support the organization’s newest project, Yay Babies! Yay Kids!

“George is incredibly supportive of programs serving homeless and hungry people,” states Diane Nilan, president and founder of HEAR US, a unique effort giving voice and visibility to millions of homeless children and youth in the U.S. 

Winston has performed 2 other benefit concerts for HEAR US since it started in 2005. Nilan, former shelter director at Hesed House in Aurora, has been living in a small van, traveling the country raising awareness of and inspiring compassion for invisible homeless families and youth.

The Oct. 13 concert will feature a variety of George Winston’s styles including melodic folk piano, New Orleans R&B piano, and stride piano.  He performs songs from his seasonal favorites “Autumn,” “December,” “Winter Into Spring,” and “Summer,” as well as Peanuts pieces from his Vince Guaraldi tribute albums “Linus & Lucy –The Music of Vince Guaraldi,” and Love Will Come-The Music of Vince Guaraldi, Vol. 2,” and more.

HEAR US relies on generous donations and events like this concert to fund efforts to improve lives of over 3 million homeless children and youth. Their latest project, Yay Babies! Yay Kids!, creates ways to help babies, toddlers and kids in local communities. Nilan’s latest video production is a 2-minute public service announcement film, Yay Babies! It’s designed to be shared on social media and focuses on the segment of the homeless population seldom considered—babies. The video can be found at

© Pat Van Doren
Another exciting HEAR US effort is underway—the publishing of “The Charlie Book” outlining 60 ways to help homeless kids—which will have its national release at the concert. This 20-page guide gives practical information and offers ways individuals and groups can help families and youth in homeless situations. With the extensive HEAR US network, this book promises a national impact, both in practical ways and in focusing attention on an often-neglected population. 

The book is named after Charlie, the iconic photograph of Charlie, a small homeless boy holding a cat, an image captured by photojournalist Pat Van Doren, a HEAR US board member. This image, now central to the HEAR US logo,helped Illinois pass the nation's first state law to remove barriers common to homeless students attempting to get their education. Van Doren, Nilan and many other HEAR US board members were part of that campaign that led to passage the federal law, The Education of Homeless Children and Youth Act which protects the educational rights of over 1.3 million students without homes. 

Information about the concert and ticket sales can be found at  

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Saturday, November 7, 2015

HEAR US Wins National Award For Kansas Doubled-Up Film Project

[Naperville, IL 11-7-15
Kansas tornadoes, wind, rain, heat and cold. Heartbreaking stories of domestic violence, house fires, abject poverty and abuse. Diane Nilan blended these adversities into “Worn Out Welcome Mat - Kansas,” her latest documentary about the invisible crisis of doubled-up homelessness. Her efforts earned the Best Targeted Campaign Award from the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY), to be presented at the organization’s national conference Nov. 15-17 in Phoenix. 

Nilan, president and founder of HEAR US Inc., the Naperville-based national nonprofit giving voice and visibility to homeless children and youth, has been on the road for the past 10 years chronicling the plight and promise of homeless children and youth. Her experience as shelter director and advocate for homeless students shaped her creation of HEAR US, a unique approach to raising awareness about an epidemic issue. She lives in a van and has traveled over 240,000 miles of mostly backroads, filming and presenting to audiences from Congress to California to “give voice and visibility to homeless children and youth,” a subpopulation of homeless persons she believes is in excess of 3 million babies, toddlers, children and youth. 

The Kansas State Department of Education homeless education state coordinator Tate Toedman invited Nilan to film doubled up families and youth to focus on the majority of Kansas homeless students. Of more than 10,000 homeless students identified by Kansas schools, over 80% experience doubled up, a much-misunderstood and under-identified situation. “Hardships experienced by doubled-up homeless students and families often escape the attention of school officials,” points out Toedman. “Families may just think they’re experiencing ‘hard times’ and don’t self-identify as homeless.” 

Worn Out Welcome Mat - KS will be screened at the NAEHCY conference, and also in Manhattan, KS for National Homelessness and Hunger week. Nilan screened her documentary in Georgia and Mississippi on her “10th Anniversary-10,000 Mile” trek. 

“The heartbreaking stories, told by the parents and students experiencing homelessness,” Nilan states, “will enlighten those who never thought doubled up was ‘so bad.’ It is worse than bad. And we urgently need to comprehensively acknowledge and address this issue.”

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Thursday, September 3, 2015

Homelessness Activist Selected For Top Joliet Franciscan Honors

Press Release......................................................................................................For Immediate Release

[Naperville, IL] Despite all the trouble Diane Nilan caused the Joliet Franciscan Sisters, they will present her with the Mother Alfred Moes Award, their highest honor, for her decades of work with homeless children and adults. The presentation will be made during the Franciscan Autumn Fest, Oct. 25, at the Patrick C. Haley Mansion in Joliet. 

Nilan, with her long, speckled history with the Joliet Franciscans, credits them with her moral fortitude that galvanized her spirit to work on behalf of homeless children and adults. The Sisters taught her from 3rd grade through college, and for a time Nilan considered joining their ranks.  She is now founder and president of HEAR US Inc., a national nonprofit giving voice and visibility to homeless children and youth.

In the mid-80s, Nilan spearheaded the Joliet’s first homeless shelter, Will County PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter), now Daybreak. After leaving Joliet, Nilan ran the PADS shelter at Hesed House in Aurora for many years, leading efforts to start the Rainbow Clinic and spurring legislative advocacy campaigns that gave Illinois homeless persons the right to vote, established the IL Housing Trust Fund, and guaranteed access to education for homeless students, in Illinois then nationwide.
According to Nilan, the only thing she and Mother Alfred Moes, a woman who didn’t hesitate to respond to desperate needs around her, have in common is that both taught at St. John’s School in Joliet. 

Not surprisingly, the Sisters disagree. The Mother Alfred Moes Award “honors the pioneering spirit that exists in an individual…one who is a visionary just as Mother Alfred was.” Along with Nilan, the Will-Grundy Medical Clinic will be honored for their work with the medically underserved.

According to the Sisters, “The foundress of the Joliet Franciscans, Mother Alfred Moes, was a woman ahead of her time. She was a pioneer, a visionary, who used her own dowry to transform her vision into service.  Mother Alfred responded not only to the needs of the people of Joliet, but wherever the need of communities across the country called her.”

For the past 10 years, Nilan has been living in a small motorhome, traveling over 225,000 miles in 48 states, chronicling the plight and promise of homeless families and youth under the banner of her unconventional one-woman nonprofit organization, HEAR US ( She’s made several documentaries and short videos of those experiencing homelessness sharing their stories. Her latest was just released, Worn out Welcome Mat - Kansas

Nilan learned  RVing and videography on the road. She relentlessly pursues audiences from Congress to California, exposing them to little-known realities experienced by millions of invisible homeless families and youth. 

“When all is said and done,” said Nilan, “the Joliet Franciscans have shaped me more than I’ll ever realize. Franciscan values have affected my life choices. For that I’ll be eternally grateful.” 

For reservations or more information about the event, 815-725-8735, x116.

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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Invisible Homeless Families and Youth in Kansas: New Documentary Tells Their Stories

Press Release
For Immediate Release
Contact: Diane Nilan,, 630-267-5424

Worn Out Welcome Mat — Kansas,” a documentary providing the first in-depth look at invisible homeless families and youth in Kansas, will be released Friday, Sept. 4 on the HEAR US Inc. website.

PREVIEW FILM Worn Out Welcome Mat

Commissioned by the Kansas State Department of Education’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Education program, this 21-minute film takes viewers across Kansas to hear from parents and youth who lost housing and had nowhere to go. Diane Nilan, HEAR US president and founder, began filming this documentary in February 2015. 
One woman, a Marine, with her 4-year-old daughter, talks about going from “having everything to having nothing…” Another woman with a social work degree and a 13-year-old daughter, contemplated moving into their storage unit because they couldn’t get into overcrowded shelters. Domestic violence forced one mother and her 11-year-old son to bounce from family to acquaintances because they had nowhere to go, her son getting in trouble for “issues” like running too much bath water. A school social worker shared her story of being kicked out as a youth, and homeless again when her house trailer was repossessed, leaving her and her young son on the streets.
Nilan, who ran shelters in Illinois for many years, has been on the road for the past 10 years, living in a small motorhome, traveling backroads to chronicle family and youth homelessness. Her award-winning documentaries give those experiencing homelessness the opportunity to be seen and heard—dispelling myths and empowering those too often homeless and invisible in communities across the nation.

This film project is the second in the Worn Out Welcome Mat series; the first was in Texas (2013). Because homeless families and youth have nowhere to go—no shelters available in most areas and no other resources—they often double up with family, friends or acquaintances, bouncing around as they are faced with the “worn out welcome mat” syndrome. Too often they are not identified as homeless, nor do they realize that’s what their plight is called.
Schools in Kansas have identified over 10,000 homeless students last year. Over 80% were doubled up. Tate Toedman, KS State Department of Education’s state coordinator overseeing homeless education, points out that this film will be invaluable when training school personnel, “These are our families and young people. We need to make sure they at least have access to education. This film will open eyes and minds!”
“These are our families and young people. We need to make sure they at least have access to education. This film will open eyes and minds!”
Nilan will screen Worn Out Welcome Mat - KS at the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth  annual conference in Phoenix this November.

The documentary will be available for individual viewing on the HEAR US website ( and on DVDs for larger audiences. DVDs will be available for $15 (includes shipping/handling). Contact

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Saturday, November 15, 2014

NIU Students To Rally for Homeless Children and Youth; Launching HEAR US 10th Year

HEAR US founder Diane Nilan stands alongside
her new motorhome, which serves as her home,
office and vehicle.
[Naperville and DeKalb, IL, Nov. 15, 2014]  Nomadic activist Diane Nilan will enlist students at Northern Illinois University in a grass-roots campaign to increase awareness of homeless families and youth as she screens her latest documentary, Worn Out Welcome Mat, on Nov. 18 for National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness week. 

Nilan launches her 10th year on the road with this NIU event. On Nov. 18, 2005, this former shelter director set out on a quest to chronicle the invisible issue of family and youth homelessness nationwide. She sold her townhouse and purchased a small motorhome which she's lived in since then. Nilan started her nonprofit HEAR US Inc. to give voice and visibility to millions of babies, toddlers, children and youth. NIU professor Laura Vazquez has partnered with Nilan to create several award-winning documentaries. 

Worn Out Welcome Mat features families and youth living in doubled up situations, the most common and most misunderstood manifestation of homelessness. This 20-min film exposes the myths commonly attributed to those with nowhere to go who bounce around in tentative arrangements to avoid sleeping on the streets. Several homeless teens shared their stories.

HEAR US Inc. has actively solicited support for the Homeless Children and Youth Act, a measure being considered in Congress to force HUD to expand their narrow definition of “homeless” to include those doubled up and in non-sheltered situations like motels and campgrounds. Participants at the film screening will be asked to petition their member of Congress to cosponsor this bipartisan legislation.

“Tragically, millions of invisible youth and families pay the price for HUD’s unwillingness to address the true scope of homelessness in America,” Nilan points out. Students can make a difference by their simple act of contacting their Representative, a task made easy on the Take Action page of the website

The National Coalition for the Homeless created National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness week to encourage non-homeless persons to reflect on the inequities of food and shelter in the United States. Last year over 700 groups participated. NIU has several activities planned for the week. Nilan serves on the board of NCH.

The film and short discussion will take place from 3-4 pm in the Holmes Student Center, Room 305. This event is cosponsored by Poverty & Inequality Research-to-Action Collaborative, Center for NGO Leadership and Development, Department of Psychology, and Department of Public Administration. Admission is free. For information, call the NGOLD Center at 815-753-4410.

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