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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