ST. CHARLES TOWNSHIP – Three women received the Roscoe Ebey Citizenship Award on Thursday, one for dedicating her life to helping families cope with the effects of drug and alcohol addiction, the other two for spending countless hours organizing a neighborhood watch group.
The 11th annual award given by the Kane County Sheriff's Office, was presented to Lea Minalga of St. Charles for founding Hearts of Hope, a support and advocacy group for families impacted by addiction. Also awarded were Christine Propheter and Lorraine Stahl for organizing a neighborhood watch in the Mill Creek subdivision in Blackberry Township near Geneva.
The recipients said they were honored to be so recognized.
"I have had a longstanding relationship with Lea Minalga and the things she has done in the community," Sheriff Pat Perez said to a group packed into the training room at the sheriff's office. "Undersheriff [David] Wagner and I partnered with Lea in 2012 in a program through Partnership Drugfree called PACT 360, which stands for Police and Community Together. It was an effort to educate parents and youth in our community about the perils of drug use, specifically heroin."
Perez said heroin use is at "epidemic levels" in the Chicago area, considered No. 1 in the U.S. for heroin deaths and abuse. In Kane County, St. Charles and Geneva are No. 1 and No. 2 where law enforcement sees the most frequency of heroin use.
"[It's] not just what Lea has done in trying to educate the community – she has become an addiction counselor; [she started] the group Hearts of Hope, a support group for parents who have children that struggle with addiction," Perez said. "Not only is it a comfort to the families that have to suffer … they come in as a group and do life skills programs in our jail, trying to get people's lives on the right track."
Minalga said she started Hearts of Hope in 1998 after her son became addicted to heroin at age 16.
"It was such a devastating blow," Minalga said. "I fell to my knees and probably cried a million tears. While I was doing that, I started Hearts of Hope, because I realized if I was going through such an agony, there were others. And that old saying, 'Build it and they will come,' is what happened. We started Hearts of Hope and parents would come and come and come. And they're still coming, all these years later. I have been to 100 funerals for children. It is really hard to see young, beautiful bodies in caskets. So I keep working. I took my pain and turned it into my passion."
Minalga said Perez and the sheriff's department "do not live in denial" when it comes to heroin addiction.
"They said, 'Let's go attack it head on.' It's not about blame or who did what, but to expose it," Minalga said. "We cannot cure what we do not acknowledge. And there's many more at risk and younger kids and younger kids each and every day being exposed to this evil, vile substance called heroin and other prescriptions drugs."
Perez said neighborhood watch organizations "are our eyes and ears when we are not in the neighborhood."
"Crime does not happen when there is a marked squad rolling through the neighborhood," Perez said. "It happens after that squad leaves and the creeps come out of the shadows because they think it's OK to perpetrate crimes. There is a relationship here … and we're glad there is a partnership here; there's not a fear of the police in the sheriff's office, and we embrace each other."
Propheter said she had been with the Mill Creek Neighborhood Watch for about 14 years, back when it was first organized through a church.
"It grew from there," Propheter said. "Lt. Kevin Williams wanted to grow it … so the program has just really blossomed into actually a model for all of Kane County. So, what we have done is divide Mill Creek up by sections … . So, then we seek out block captains – communicators – and then we build communications leads. Back in the day, it was delivering a little newsletter, now it's electronic."
Propheter and Stahl said when a wanted man was on the loose in Mill Creek, being sought by police on the ground and with helicopters, the system they set up allowed them to notify the entire community to go on a virtual lockdown until he was captured.
The incident was in July 2012, when a man from Union who was pulled over by Geneva police took off on foot to the Mill Creek subdivision.
"Being one of the communicators … we get immediate information from the sheriff's department," Propheter said. "What Lorraine and I do is we dispatch that information to all of our communicators and also to the people in our little sections that we oversee. We were getting minute-by-minute blows of what was going on. There were helicopters going overhead. It was really scary. But because we were getting frequent updates from the sheriff's department, we knew they had a handle on it."
As the fugitive was seen in the area of Mill Creek Market, she informed her sector to lock their homes and not allow their children out to the market until after the man's capture.
Stahl said the afternoon was quieter because the suspect was caught.
"But for me the best part was … that night, I started to get phone calls and emails from some of my residents saying, 'Thank you. Thank you,'" Stahl said. "It is just neighbors helping neighbors."
The Roscoe Ebey award was named for an elderly Aurora Township resident who was murdered in 2007 by a home intruder at age 83. His neighbor, Leslie Fleming, was awakened by a commotion outside and when he saw a light on at his neighbor's house, Fleming walked over. He saw someone inside Ebey's house, reached in through a basement window, pulled the man outside and held him down until sheriff's deputies arrived.
Fleming received the first Ebey award. Ebey's son, Rich Ebey, presented the awards named to honor his father's memory Thursday.
Perez said he would announce next year's Ebey Award recipient next fall and hoped that whoever is elected sheriff after that will continue the tradition.
Know more about nominating someone for the Roscoe Ebey Citizenship Award:
Sheriff Pat Perez encourages citizens to nominate a member of the community who is proactive and makes a difference in their community.
Nominations may be emailed to ArdelanJanet@co.kane.il.us or sent to Kane County Sheriff’s Office, 37W755 Route 38, Suite A, St. Charles IL 60175.
A listing of past recipients and a history of the award is on the Kane County Sheriff’s website, www.kanesheriff.com.