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Giving Back Blog

  • Writer's pictureAscension Illinois Foundation

Fitzgeralds' Passion for Youth Mental Health


Karen Fitzgerald (left) shown above with her son Kurt McCullum, hosts the Fitzgerald Family Foundation annual golf outing, which raises funds for school mental health services for local students.


Every year, thanks to the community’s support and the leadership of the Fitzgerald Family Foundation, Ascension Illinois counselors help thousands of students, staff, educators and parents access mental health education, support and services in 20 local schools.

The Fitzgerald Family Foundation’s annual golf outing will be August 1 at Inverness Country Club this year — the fourth year they have hosted a golf outing for the school mental health program.

“I’m just grateful to be able to make a difference in the lives of children in our communities,” said Karen Fitzgerald, an Inverness resident and member of the northwest region foundation board for Ascension Illinois.

Support for “Kids Who Really Need Help”

The difference the Fitzgerald Family Foundation has made in the lives of thousands of children in our local communities is invaluable. In its first three years, the golf outing raised more than $425,000. Without this funding, these school counselors would not be in local schools, and the children they serve would not have access to services they need.

“The Fitzgerald Family Foundation has been a godsend to us,” said Karen Proctor, supervisor of the school mental health program. “I’m so thankful that they support us and that they see the importance of having counselors in the schools. When we come in, we’re giving additional support to kids who really need help.”

Decreased Mental Health Stigma, Increased Need

Proctor said people today are more willing than they have been in the past to talk about mental health. As the stigma has started to lift, more needs have come to the surface.

“The need for school counselors has always been there,” said Chris McCarthy, a counselor serving students in Glen Ellyn, Johnsburg, Palatine and Rolling Meadows schools. “The pandemic worsened it.”

When schools shifted to virtual learning, many kids had needs that went unidentified or unaddressed. “We’re still catching up from that,” he said.

In supporting each school, Ascension Illinois counselors help to screen and identify students who are struggling with high levels of anxiety, depression, school refusal or suicidal ideation. They direct families to resources and support them in seeking hospital-based mental health assessments when a treatment program may be needed.

Unfortunately, McCarthy said many students he sees come from households with lower socioeconomic status, where a parent may be working multiple jobs or insurance does not cover mental health treatment.

“They don’t have the money, insurance or a lot of times they don’t have the time for treatment,” he said. “Because of the lack of mental health resources outside of the school, that’s why it makes it so important to have counselors inside of school.”

An Amazing Student — and An Amazing Community

During the pandemic, McCarthy started working with a student who was having thoughts of suicide. He was able to work with their parents, who took their child in for a mental health assessment at Ascension Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital.

Even after stabilizing, the student continued to struggle with severe depression. But they kept working with McCarthy over the course of two school years, including while learning virtually. Despite struggling, the student did not miss a day of school this year. They got top grades, and they graduated.

“I’m going to miss this student a lot when they go on to the next level. They are amazing,” McCarthy said.

And it is amazing that these resources are available to that student and so many others thanks entirely to the compassion and generosity of the community and the Fitzgerald Family Foundation.

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Emily Dagostino

Director, Communications

Ascension Illinois Foundation

708-829-4167

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