Lockport-based My Joyful Heart started with a couple of anonymous Christmas presents; 20 years later, it has helped more than 1,000 children – Chicago Tribune

Imagine being a fifth grader living in a car with your mother and siblings on a cold night in Chicago, or walking to school with no socks and no holes in your shoes.

After hearing stories like these, Lockport resident Diane Carroll decided to help and started a non-profit organization called My Joyful Heart.

He started in 2002 buying Christmas gifts for two students in the Chicago area. After 20 years, she has helped more than 1,000 children.

“I was a single mom most of my life, I know the struggles,” Carroll said. “I was able to find a good job, so I wanted to help others. I started answering letters from Santa Claus and sending some presents to schools.”

Before long, a group of friends and family joined their effort, and My Joyful Heart was established as a show.

“I used to go to multiple schools and personally enroll kids,” Carroll said. “I was getting to know all these kids and seeing what their needs were. So many that she would cry for what they were asking for.

“We had an 8-year-old who asked for toilet paper. On wish lists, they don’t write toys, they want shoes. Another story is of a 10-year-old boy who had packets of salad dressing in his pockets that he took from the dining room. He told his teacher: ‘Today is Friday and there is no food in my house’”.

Lockport-based My Joyful Heart started with a couple of anonymous Christmas presents; 20 years later, it has helped more than 1,000 children - Chicago Tribune LUJPWYLJFFCMBEYKE67DQZEMZY

My Joyful Heart now serves preschool-age children up to age 22 who are referred to My Joyful Heart by social workers or teachers in 43 Chicago-area schools.

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“This is not one size fits all,” Carroll said. “Each need does not change automatically. If they need to, they can stay (in the program). Some of these kids are in such sad situations that they don’t sleep at night because of what’s going on at home.”

On the organization’s website at www.micorazonalegre.orgthere is a list of necessities that includes new bedding, clothes, shoes, toys, shampoo, soap, toothbrushes and much more.

“Each child gets a special note that we give them at every giveaway event,” Carroll said. “The volunteers write them personal cards, it is the encouragement. For them, knowing that someone is out there and accepts them for who they are and wants to help them makes all the difference in their lives.”

Among those children was Richard Carrington, now 31, who has kept in touch with Carroll since he became a part of the show when he was in seventh grade and living in a shelter with his mother and siblings.

“When he graduated from high school, he told me we kept him away from the gangs,” Caroll said. “We changed his life, just because we cared.”

Carrington now works at CityView and attributes his success to Carroll and My Joyful Heart.

“I always wondered who was giving me these bags that were full of things that I needed at the time,” he said. “It really saved my childhood.

“Diane Carroll became my guardian angel. She needed something to look forward to. When I was a child, there was a lot of violence in the neighborhood. A bag appeared when I needed it most.”

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And it wasn’t just the food that helped.

“I was very intimidated because I didn’t have good hygiene and I only had one set of clothes,” Carrington said. “When Joyful Heart arrived and started bringing me underwear, soap and other items, I knew someone cared. I didn’t know there were people out there who really cared about me.”

Her favorite item in the care package was always a card inside with a handwritten message.

“I call them thank you bags,” Carrington said. “Finding out that someone else cared besides my mother changed my life. Miss Carroll saved my life.

Carrington was the guest speaker when My Joyful Heart celebrated its 20th anniversary late last month with a banquet.

“Once you have received the impact that Joyful Heart has on your life, it stays with you for life,” he said at the event.

Lockport-based My Joyful Heart started with a couple of anonymous Christmas presents; 20 years later, it has helped more than 1,000 children - Chicago Tribune ZDQHOTN4YVC47KKR355FNWJNYA

The April 23 banquet at Silver Lake Country Club in Orland Park was also an opportunity to publicly thank Carroll, who is retiring.

Carroll has taken a step back for the past two years when Erin Burns took the helm of My Joyful Heart.

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“I’ve been in the background, but I’m never really going away,” Carroll said. “My Joyful Heart is my baby, I would be lost without this.

“We are getting more sponsors, we have become our thing now. It has been a remarkable journey. Besides my children, my greatest achievement has been My Joyful Heart.”

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Mary Compton is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.

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