Neighborhood builder. Advocate. CNN Hero. Maywood native Debra Vines wears all of the hats as CEO and founding father of The Answer, Inc., a Forest Park-based group that helps Black and brown folks with mental or developmental disabilities and their households.
The High 10 CNN Heroes nominee title is one Vines began sporting Nov. 3, a recognition for her work with the nonprofit The Reply since its inception in 2007.
Vines estimates The Reply has provided sources, coaching and programming for 1000’s of people and caregivers. A staple on the Far West Facet, The Reply hosts occasions that foster the inclusion of individuals with mental or developmental disabilities into the bigger group. From holding caregiver help teams; internet hosting fundraisers to ship people with disabilities to camp; to conducting anti-bullying workshops for faculties and autism consciousness seminars for first responders, Vines mentioned The Reply exists to be an asset to those that come via its doorways.
“All the pieces we create is a blueprint of a necessity from the group,” Vines mentioned. “When you consider Black and brown communities, disabilities are all the time on the backside of the totem pole. It’s like ‘Oh, by the best way, let’s give them just a little assist.’ That’s why I’m actually boastful and unapologetic in regards to the work that I do. My major concern is the underresourced group. We by no means flip anybody away.”
On a current Saturday, a 6-year-old lady in a pink coat bounced on her toes inside a Broadview Park District group heart as her mother and father signed her in to partake in three hours of actions inside The Reply’s Spectrum College, actions reminiscent of dance, studying and social abilities courses. Open to people from elementary faculty and past, the programming offers college students a chance to be taught and have interaction with friends whereas giving their caregivers a little bit of a respite.
“Debra is a godsend,” mentioned Willie Akins, Broadview resident and mom to Drenna Akins, a 47-year-old with Down syndrome. “Drenna noticed her brother go to school, noticed her sister go to school and she or he wished to go to school. She heard about Spectrum College, heard the phrase college and she or he’s in school. Drenna can be a performer and Music N Me, that’s her coronary heart … my daughter’s life is full.”
Lydia Riley has been a fan of Vines for years. She considers The Reply her village, one which she turned part of when her oldest son, Camron, now 35, was recognized with Down syndrome. “This village proper right here, I believe is a very powerful one as a result of it’s about them and their confidence, how they really feel and the way they relate to their friends,” she mentioned.
Vines has been all about serving households with family members who’ve mental and developmental disabilities after struggling to search out sources for her youngest son, Jason Harlan, 35, when he was recognized with autism as a toddler. Together with her late husband working nights, Vines mentioned she felt helpless, alone and depressed as her world centered on searching for companies for Harlan. What help she discovered was expensive and never centrally situated.
So she determined to fill the necessity herself by beginning The Reply, which started on the Maywood library as a support-group assembly for folks and guardians to speak about their experiences and challenges. That was in September 2007. By April 2008, Vines and her husband had their 501(c)(3) and the nonprofit has been rising ever since.
“Our principal objective is to ensure that households get what they want,” Vines mentioned. “Lots of different companies simply do one factor. Our company offers schooling, recreation, help, workforce growth and social abilities. We wish to ensure our children not solely have a superb time, however get life abilities.”
Earlier than The Reply, Riley and Akins have been doing what Vines did along with her youngster — driving wherever and in all places so their youngsters might take part in high quality, partaking programming. After leaving state-funded instructional programming, each did what they may to verify their kids weren’t simply sitting at house idle on daily basis. Camron and Drenna are in day applications through the week, however weekends and 24-hour help is one other area of interest that The Reply offers. Each mothers mentioned Vines’ presence made them higher advocates for his or her kids and different households that may relate to their circumstances.
“We’re not going to speak about it; we’re gonna be about it,” Akins mentioned. “Debra opened the door out right here to get it going.”
“The Reply was an awakening for lots of people on this group and simply to see it develop and prosper to her now being nominated a CNN Hero, speaks volumes,” Riley mentioned.
Broadview Mayor Katrina Thompson mentioned she crossed paths with Vines when Thompson was government director on the Broadview Park District and has been a supporter since as a result of Vines “is doing the work.”
“I can’t thank her sufficient for that consciousness of, ‘They’re no completely different from you and I,’ ” Thompson mentioned. “She’s doing the work not only for the folks that reside within the township or the West Facet of Chicago. She faucets into folks throughout the state, and if you grow to be an influencer on a platform reminiscent of a CNN hero, it ought to carry extra consciousness to the companies that these households want.”
Illinois state Rep. La Shawn Ford, eighth, mentioned the state wants Vines as a companion given her work with households and serving to professionals learn to acknowledge and respect people with autism. He and others say Vines’ recognition on a nationwide stage was lengthy overdue.
For the High 10 CNN Hero nominees, Subaru matched donations via a GoFundMe marketing campaign from Nov. 29, 2022, to Jan. 3, 2023, as much as $50,000 per hero. Vines raised a little over $20,000. Previous to her nomination, Vines was preserving The Reply afloat via fundraising and grants.
The CNN Hero winner was Nelly Cheboi, who creates pc labs for Kenyan schoolchildren.
Vines mentioned her CNN honor is beginning to sink in.
“I would love for the folks within the metropolis of Chicago to be enthusiastic about us,” she mentioned. “Folks have been calling me from all around the United States. I obtained a name from a corporation in Uganda that desires to fly me out for 3 weeks to show mother and father methods to advocate. We’re intentional on growing relationships and networking so if somebody wants us, they’ve us.”