Wednesday, September 29, 2010

HEAR US Issues Invitation to Students and the Public: Hear Homeless Women

HEAR US, a national nonprofit organization based in Naperville, is issuing an invitation: Explore the reality of homelessness as experienced by millions of invisible women and children who comprise the bulk of this nation’s homeless population. HEAR US Inc. will screen a new in-depth, powerful documentary film, “on the edge,” on October 29 at North Central College. 

Knowing that college and high school students struggle to find comprehensive information about homelessness, HEAR US president and founder Diane Nilan (pdf) decided to invite Fox Valley area students to this special premiere screening of this new film. Nilan, former director of the shelter at Hesed House, has spent the past 5 years traveling backroads of America chronicling the plight and promise of homeless families and youth. She created HEAR US, her nonprofit organization, and sold her home, car and most possessions to buy a small RV which has served as her home/office, and started her unlikely mission to give voice and visibility to homeless kids. 

Nilan teamed up with a documentary professor at Northern Illinois University, Laura Vazquez, who provided technical expertise to produce Nilan’s first film, “My Own Four Walls,” a 20-minute documentary of kids talking about their experiences of homelessness. The duo then set out for a more ambitious film, the story of family and youth homelessness told by women. For the past 4 years, they have pursued this goal, and proudly announce the release of “on the edge,” a 60-min. film, scheduled to be screened at the Oct. 29th Tribute to Mary Lou Cowlishaw at North Central.

The film will be shown at NCC’s Madden Theater. HEAR US asks for free will donations. Nilan and Vazquez will answer questions at the end of the 7:15 and 9:00 screenings. Because of limited seating, HEAR US asks that a representative of the school email or call with an approximate number of students planning to attend and the screening time desired. 

Nilan’s book, “Crossing the Line: Taking Steps to End Homelessness,” and the film “My Own Four Walls” will be available for purchase at this event. More information may be found at, or by emailing Diane at

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2nd Emmy Nomination for HEAR US Story

Mark Saxenmeyer of Chicago Fox TV should just hang out with Diane Nilan of HEAR US. His reporting on Diane's maiden voyage earned an Emmy back in 2006. His story about HEAR US that ran in Nov. 2009 has just been nominated for an Emmy. That story was picked up by Huffington Post, generating a range of comments. It also ran in several cities on Fox affiliates.

"Mark can do a story about HEAR US and the problem of homeless kids anytime," responded Diane Nilan. "He gets it." Nilan has spent over 5 years on  mostly backroads across all 48 states in the continental US chronicling homelessness and poverty.

Nilan has spent the past 5 year lives in her modest RV, "Tillie," focusing on homeless families and youth. "My Own Four Walls," her first documentary, won national recognition. She and video partner Dr. Laura Vazquez, professor at Northern Illinois University, collaborated on My Own Four Walls, and will soon be releasing a feature length documentary, "on the edge," seven women's stories about their homelessness.

HEAR US and North Central College have scheduled a tribute for recently deceased Mary Lou Cowlishaw, longtime legislator from Naperville and the "mother of homeless kids" for her role in improving homeless kids' access to education in Illinois and nationwide. The event, Oct. 29, will be held at North Central's Wentz Concert Hall, Madden Theater, beginning at 6:00 pm. A special preview screening of "on the edge" will be offered two times that evening. The 9:00 screening will hopefully be attended by high school and college students.

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Award Winning Film Maker to Show As yet Unreleased Film at Dickinson College

Press Release
For Immediate Release
Contact: Pat LaMarche
717.249.2200 Cell 207.671.0190

Award Winning Film Maker to Show As yet Unreleased Film at Dickinson College

Documentary Highlighting the Lives of Homeless Families to Debut in Carlisle, PA

Award winning filmmaker, author and homeless advocate, Diane Nilan will be visiting Cumberland County Pennsylvania this week as part of her nationwide tour promoting the needs of homeless children and their families. Nilan is also the founder and director of HEAR US, a national advocacy group for homeless kids. Learn more at

Five years ago Nilan ventured out of suburban Chicago on what she thought would be a six month cross country trip to gather film footage of our nation’s homeless youth in order to produce her now critically acclaimed documentary, My Own Four Walls. Five years later she is still traveling the 48 contiguous United States, testifying before Congress, and working to end homelessness among the nation’s most precious and vulnerable population, homeless kids. Her film is a tool used by schools and agencies across the U.S. to acquaint communities and educators with what life is like for so many who live below the poverty line and below the radar.

The DVD film jacket reminds us that “More than 1.5 million children, families and youth are homeless in America today. Not since the great depression have we seen so many homeless families on the streets of communities of all sizes and compositions.”

And for kids with parents in jail, the film also includes a training video for incarcerated parents, their children’s caregivers, law enforcement personnel, human service providers and educators to help navigate the sketchy world in which these children live.

Nilan’s book, Crossing the Line: Taking Steps to End Homelessness, is an autobiographical expose giving vividly detailed accounts of the lives of the homeless folks that Nilan encountered in her nearly 20 years as a homeless shelter director and homeless advocate.

Wendell Hollinger, President of Safe Harbour, Cumberland County’s largest homeless shelter and host to Nilan’s visit commented after reading Nilan’s book, “If concerned folks don’t read another word of another book, they must read pages 32 and 33 of Diane’s book. She has detailed the most concise and accurate listing I’ve ever seen of the causes of homelessness in our country. We are very excited that Diane has come to Carlisle to give us a sneak preview of her newest documentary.”

Susannah Bartlow, Director of Women’s Studies at Dickinson College said, “We are honored but not surprised that Nilan has chosen Cumberland County as a place to stop along her journey to eradicate homelessness and lead a community wide discussion. The communities of Cumberland County have long supported the needs of the disadvantaged here among us.” Bartlow continued, “Dickinson is proud to provide the necessary space for this discussion. Dickinson hosts the ‘Night Without a Home’ every November during national hunger and homelessness week: a sleep out featuring area grade school children which raises money to benefit Safe Harbour. We are excited to be a part of bringing this courageous woman to our community.”

Nilan’s new documentary, On The Edge, will be shown Monday April 12th at 6:30 pm in Dickinson’s Denny Hall. Denny Hall is located at the corner of High and West streets. The community is invited to attend and invited to stay after the 68 minute documentary to join in a discussion of the film as well as a discussion of the issues of homelessness and poverty.
Diane Nilan will be joined by area homelessness advocates as well as Carlisle High School Senior, TJ Rivera, a homeless youth who has lived many years homeless and spent nearly a year living in a store room using boxes for furniture and trying to finish school.

TJ will discuss the difficult road he traveled getting him where he is today, enrolled as he is now at Carlisle High School within months of graduating. TJ hopes his next step is College. A current resident of Safe Harbour, TJ is thriving. “I doubted I’d be this close many times over the last few years, but I never stopped hoping I’d make it. It says on one of my blogs ‘you are the architect of your destiny’ and I kept that in mind and just didn’t give up.”

It will be an emotional moment when he meets Nilan this week. Among the many accomplishments Nilan has to her credit, co-writing the landmark legislation that mandated schools accept homeless children is one of her greatest. And TJ’s excited to meet the woman who put his educational needs ahead of her own comfort.

Diane Nilan is available for interviews prior to the event on Monday the 12th. Members of the press who would like to meet with her and see or travel with her in the RV she has called home during her five year struggle to help the nation’s poorest children is asked to contact Safe Harbour’s Pat LaMarche who will be handling her schedule while she’s in town.


Contact: Pat LaMarche 207.671.0190 717.249.2200 work

Friday, March 12, 2010

Events to Support HEAR US Giving Voice-Visibility to Homeless Families

Homeless parents and children belong on the big screen, believes Diane Nilan, president of Naperville-based HEAR US Inc., and she aims to make it happen much like she did with “My Own Four Walls,” an award-winning documentary featuring homeless children and youth—with support from people of the Fox Valley. Two upcoming events will raise awareness and funds to support HEAR US 'efforts to help homeless families and youth:

•    Sunday, March 28th, 7:30 p.m. at St. Timothy Lutheran Church in Naperville, acclaimed musician George Winston will perform a solo guitar concert, with all proceeds benefiting HEAR US. Suggested donation is $20. Tickets and information are available through the HEAR US website, Nonperishable food will be collected for People’s Resource Center.
•    Wednesday, April 21st, 7:00 p.m. at Annunciation Church gymnasium in Aurora, HEAR US joins with Mutual Ground, the Fox Valley agency for women experiencing domestic violence, for a screening of the powerful documentary, “on the edge,” a compelling look at seven women’s experiences of homelessness, violence, renewal and vulnerability (68-min).

“on the edge,” reflects a 4-year effort by Nilan and Dr. Laura Vazquez, documentary professor at Northern Illinois University.  Vazquez produced the poignant documentary filmed by Nilan on her first cross-country tour, “My Own Four Walls.” “These projects are literally life-changing,” emphasizes Nilan, “because they shine a light on a tremendously ignored reality across this country, including DuPage County.”

Greater awareness within the nation’s public schools remove barriers for over1 million homeless students. DuPage legislators (ret.) State Rep. Mary Lou Cowlishaw and Congresswoman Judy Biggert championed these legislative efforts.

On Nilan’s 5th nationwide trek in her modest RV which serves as her home and office, with over 90,000 miles of mostly backroads solo travel, and dozens of years working on behalf of homeless families and adults, she continues to challenge communities and policymakers to create a compassion epidemic to develop community solutions to this soaring problem.

HEAR US, the nonprofit, gets few grants, relying instead on donations, special events, and sales of HEAR US books and videos. “That’s why these Fox Valley events are so critical,” stresses Nilan. “We have vital tools that can really make a difference in the lives of millions of desperate families and teens.” Completing the production of “on the edge” and funding a new film on homeless toddlers are the two funding goals for these HEAR US events, needing an estimated $25,000.

Before Nilan arrives in the Fox Valley, she’ll stop in D.C. to visit Congresswoman Judy Biggert, who has introduced comprehensive legislation to improve homeless students’ educational opportunities. Nilan and Biggert, an uncharacteristic duo, can point to a string of impressive legislative successes. Greatly reducing family homelessness remains as elusive as an Oscar.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

George Winston's Guitar Strums Up Support for Homeless Kids

When George Winston comes to Naperville on March 28th, his performance will give a big boost to HEAR US’ efforts to give voice and visibility to homeless families and teens across America. This nonprofit’s new documentary, “On the Edge,” offers a dramatic behind-the-scenes look at shattered relationships, natural disasters, and systemic shortcomings that disintegrate stability for millions of children, teens and families living in homelessness.
George Winston will perform a benefit solo guitar concert on Sunday, March 28, 7:30 p.m., at St. Timothy Lutheran Church, 1313 N Mill Street. Suggested donation is $20, all directed to HEAR US, a Naperville-based nonprofit organization that works to address family and teen homelessness nationwide. People’s Resource Center will also benefit by donations of nonperishable food by the audience. This is Winston’s second such appearance for these organizations.
The current work of HEAR US centers around a powerful documentary on family and teen homelessness, “On the Edge,” (working title) that lets the true experts, those experiencing loss of their homes, share their stories. HEAR US president and founder Diane Nilan, former longtime PADS shelter director at Hesed House, has teamed up with Dr. Laura Vazquez, documentary expert from Northern Illinois University, to film and produce this poignant look at how women cope with the loss of housing and stability.
Since pulling out of Naperville in November 2005, Nilan has been on the road in her RV, now her home and office. She filmed, and Vazquez produced, the nationally-acclaimed documentary series, “My Own Four Walls,” children talking about homelessness and school. “This first film paved the way for ‘On the Edge,’” Nilan states. “The compelling stories of families I met in 2006 needed to be told. Laura’s enthusiastic willingness to spearhead this ambitious project brought it to fruition.” Vazquez took a sabbatical and has spent long hours, collaborating with Nilan, editing this hour-long film.
What remains for “On the Edge” is final tweaking to gain attention for national screening, according to Nilan, who has been showing rough cuts to rave reviews as she’s traveled cross-country since early November. Technical fine-tuning costs money, which HEAR US hopes will materialize because of the concert.
The Nilan-Vazquez video team has another project in the works, a short film depicting the soaring number of homeless babies and toddlers, estimated over 40% of more than 1.5 million homeless children in America. The harm to a child’s health and development greatly impairs chances for a self-sustaining adulthood according to early childhood experts working with HEAR US on this project, including students and staff at Chicago’s Erikson Institute, the nation’s premiere child development institution.
 “Every note that George plays will mean a tremendous amount of support for our efforts and for the well-being of millions of kids,” states the somewhat road-weary Nilan, concerned about the poverty and housing needs of millions of families, including hundreds in affluent DuPage County. “This can be a great way to help others while helping this community.” # # #

Monday, February 22, 2010

George Winston to Play to Help Homeless Kids

Venue Contact: Diane Nilan, 630/267-5424
Artist Contact:  Jennifer Gallacher 831/429-5085 x 215
GEORGE WINSTON to Perform SOLO GUITAR at a Benefit Concert for HEAR US
 on March 28, 2010 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church, Naperville
Tickets Information: 630/225-5012
February 23, 2010—George Winston, best known for his solo piano performances, has announced that he will perform a SOLO GUITAR CONCERT (no piano played during this concert) to benefit the Naperville-based nonprofit organization HEAR US Inc., a national organization that helps homeless children, youth and families.
A food drive to benefit will be held in conjunction with this concert.  The audience is encouraged to bring non-perishable food donations to the show in support of People’s Resource Center in Wheaton.
For many years, George has been studying and recording the masters of the Hawaiian Slack Key guitar, the solo finger-style guitar tradition unique to Hawai’i, which dates back to the early 1800s (and predates the steel guitar by about 60 years).  “I experience such beauty and inspiration in the music of these masters,” says George, producer or co-producer of 36 slack key albums on the Dancing Cat record label.  “When I first heard some of the great Hawaiian slack key guitarists in the early 1970s, such as Keola Beamer, Led Kaapana, Ray Kane, Leonard Kwan, the late Gabby Pahinui, the late Sonny Chillingworth, the late Atta Isaacs and others, I realized right away that my priority was to help make this tradition better known, and ultimately more available to people.”
George’s performance will feature Hawaiian Slack Key as well as traditional American music, including Appalachian fiddle tunes, ragtime, popular standards and more.

So far he has two recordings with solo guitar:

  1. First, the soundtrack for the Japanese story Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. The story was originally produced as a half-hour film directed by George Levenson for his non-profit media organization, Informed Democracy.  He also recorded the solo guitar, piano, and harmonica soundtracks for the Informed Democracy children’s videos Pumpkin Circle, about the cycle of the seasons unfolding in a backyard pumpkin patch, and Bread Comes to Life.

  1. Second, REMEMBRANCE – A MEMORIAL BENEFIT, a 6-song CD of piano, guitar, and harmonica solos.  All artist proceeds from this CD are being donated to benefit those affected by 9/11.

This will be the second concert George has performed for HEAR US. His support enabled this organization to become an influential force helping homeless children and youth across the country. Materials—videos and books—developed and marketed by HEAR US, and Diane Nilan’s presentations, have given homeless children and youth voice and visibility, enabling educators, college students, and the public to hear directly from those affected by homelessness. Greater awareness means increased access to school, according to Nilan, instrumental in improving Illinois and federal legislation to remove barriers to education for the over 1.5 million homeless children in America.

The HEAR US award-winning documentary, My Own Four Walls, (on DVD) has been seen by thousands of adults and children across the country. “Audience reaction is tremendous,” states Diane Nilan, the former director of the PADS homeless shelter at Hesed House in Aurora. “My Own Four Walls and our other videos and books have created more awareness than we can ever calculate. I’m humbled by the courageous kids who agreed to participate in this project, and so deeply grateful for George Winston’s generous support.”
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Sunday, February 7, 2010

George Winston Solo Guitar Concert to Benefit HEAR US

HEAR US Inc. is delighted to announce that musician George Winston will return to Naperville to do another solo guitar concert to benefit HEAR US! His last HEAR US concert was in October 2006.

On Sunday, March 28, 7:30 p.m., at St. Timothy Lutheran Church, 1313 Mills Street in Naperville, George will play half Hawaiian Slack Key guitar music and half Appalachian guitar music.

HEAR US Inc. is a national nonprofit organization that gives voice and visibility to homeless children, youth and families. The HEAR US videos and books foster greater awareness and understanding of the over 1.5 million homeless families and teens, a mostly invisible problem nationwide.

Suggested donations for tickets is $20. They may be obtained through the HEAR US website's donation page. Or mail checks payable to HEAR US (indicate it's for the concert), 1163 E Ogden Ave. 705-329, Naperville, IL 60563. For information, contact Diane Nilan, HEAR US president,, or leave a voice mail message at 630-225-5012.

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