Time's Running Out
There are only a few hours left to help out families affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Gifts made today will be matched.
#GivingTuesdayNow is almost over. Only a few hours left to help our families affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Gifts made today will be matched up to $50,000 thanks to the generosity of a dedicated group of employees at William Blair and its matching gifts program.
Steeped in Irish Tradition, Mercy Home Marches Forward
The identity of Mercy Home for Boys & Girls—much like Chicago—is anchored in a proud Irish heritage. This cultural thread, steeped in history, weaves together not only our organization’s past and present, but our city’s as well. Chicago’s exponential growth in the mid-19th Century—from a frontier town to an urban metropolis—owes a great deal to immigrants and laborers from The Emerald Isle who dug canals, built the railroads, and worked in the city’s stockyards.
As these industries boomed, droves of wayward youth—predominately young men and boys —arrived in Chicago looking for work, only to wind up homeless and destitute on the dangerous streets.
Enter Chicago Archbishop Patrick Feehan, a native of Tipperary, Ireland, who gathered a group of priests in 1887 to find a solution to the growing crisis of homeless boys.
As a result, the Rev. Dennis Mahoney, an Irish-American priest, outlined a plan for a Catholic boys home. Feehan quickly endorsed the plan and assigned Father Louis Campbell, also an Irish-American priest, to run it. Later that year, the facility was incorporated as a distinct organization within the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago and renamed the Mission of Our Lady of Mercy.
Our Irish roots run deep. From Mercy Home’s founding fathers to the succession of priests who have assumed leadership, including our current President and CEO Father Scott Donahue, each one has been of Irish or Irish-American decent.
Every March, the fabric of this Irish tradition unfolds with great pageantry, as Mercy Home and Chicago celebrate St. Patrick’s Day all month long. Among the downtown and city-wide festivities—be it the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the South Side Irish Parade, or along the banks of the Chicago River as it’s dyed green—a familiar presence has made a name for itself for well over two decades: Mercy Home’s March for Kids.
Held under various names since 1996, Mercy Home’s March for Kids has been a great way for Chicagoans to celebrate Irish heritage while shaking off their winter cobwebs and cabin fever.
Unfortunately, most public St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in our city have been put on ice once again this year out of safety concerns arising from COVID-19. But as we did when the pandemic took hold in Chicago a year ago, Mercy Home’s campaign marches on.
With the cancellation of parades and most other in-person events, Mercy Home is hosting its St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the digital realm this year. March for Kids will remain an invitation to Chicagoans to support the serious work of the Home while still offering ways to have fun.
March for Kids remains an interactive campaign that raises funds and awareness that benefit kids who have experienced abuse and neglect and now live at Mercy Home. The centerpiece of the campaign is the appeal for direct donations, which can be made on our website. Gifts made during the entire month of March will be matched by a generous donor and help kids build brighter futures. These donations are critical to providing round-the-clock care for our kids, as Mercy Home is 100 percent privately funded.
But Mercy Home’s March for Kids will still provide opportunities to socialize, if even only virtually. For example, Mercy Home’s 8th Annual Poker Night, normally held in January at Gibsons will now be a virtual event on March 19. The popular yearly event features a Texas Hold ‘em style poker tournament in which players compete for a number of prizes, including the ultimate—a one-week stay at the Hakuna Matata Luxury Villa in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands.
Thanks to DuPage Chrysler Jeep Dodge, March for Kids will include raffle to win a 2021 Jeep Cherokee Latitude 4 x 4, with proceeds benefitting Mercy Home. Entries to win are $50 and are available at mercyhome.org from now until March 31. Only 1,500 will be sold.
March for Kids even includes an event for the craft beer enthusiast. Mercy Home’s Associate Board, a volunteer group of young professionals who support Mercy Home, will hold its very first “Revolution Brews & Piano Tunes” on March 12. Participants will be led by an experienced brew master in an immersive, virtual tasting of Revolution Brewing’s core beers including their flagship Anti-Hero IPA. The event will also feature an interactive, live performance by Ben A., “the Piano Man.”
While we look forward to the resumption of more outdoor and public gatherings around St. Patrick’s Day in the years to come, this year’s mostly virtual offerings build on a long and heralded Mercy Home tradition.
For years, starting in the mid-1990’s, Mercy Home hosted “A Touch of Green,” a family-oriented party held at a downtown hotel after the St. Patrick’s Day parades around the city. Featuring music, food, and games, these lively events helped amplify our mission as ticket sales generated revenue for the care of our kids.
In 2004, the “A Touch of Green” party changed its name to “Shamrocks for Kids” to coincide with a revamped and expanded public outreach strategy. That March, Mercy Home’s presence around Chicago grew, thanks to an increase in corporate sponsorships, viral marketing, and media spots and advertising that included billboards, street banners, and TV and radio PSA’s with the campaign’s first celebrity endorsers, actors Martin Sheen and the late Dennis Farina. At the street level, volunteers in green vests engaged the public by handing out shamrock pins and collecting donations along major parade routes and around downtown before and after St. Patrick’s Day.
Farina, a former Chicago policeman who recalled bringing children to Mercy Home, took a more active roll in the 2005 Shamrocks for Kids campaign. That year, Farina, known for his roles in crime dramas, helped create a variety of radio spots and interviews while drumming up media attention with his star power.
As the profile of Shamrocks for Kids and Mercy Home continued to grow across Chicagoland, more people and community groups signed up to serve as volunteers on “tag days,” where individuals collect donations and pass out shamrocks, often in Chicago’s Loop. Many school and university groups, fraternal organizations, and corporations took advantage of these team-building opportunities to boost camaraderie and complete service projects for a good cause.
Our tag days remain popular among companies, whose employees view them as charitable outings for coworkers to bond in support of a good cause while getting out of the office. In recent years, numerous partners in the business community have exemplified the mission of Mercy Home’s March for Kids and helped foster the engaging spirit of tag days.
In the mid-2000’s, local restaurants, bars, and other institutions got more involved by allowing Mercy Home to place donation cans in their businesses, so patrons could contribute to the spirit of giving. Restaurants even started offering signature drink specials, with proceeds going to support our campaign. This tradition has been led by restaurants like RPM Italian and RPM Steak, Monteverde, Theater on the Lake, Lula Café, Piccolo Sogno, and Nonnina.
As coworkers, friends, and organizations pitched in on the periphery, Mercy Home continued its tradition of marching front and center in the annual Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Every year, Father Scott Donahue marches at the head our contingent, typically accompanied by Mercy Home board chairs, followed by coworkers and friends. In 2012, Father Scott was named Parade Honoree, as he marched alongside fellow honorees and local politicians. Girls from Mercy Home’s Walsh Campus, along with many other friends, tend to ride on our float and march in the South Side Irish Parade in the Beverly neighborhood, site of our girls home.
In 2014, Shamrocks for Kids rebranded to “March for Kids” to better reflect where Mercy Home was putting its energy. Rather than center our St. Patrick’s Day festivities around a party we refocused our attention to a more issue-based advocacy route, fortified by a robust web campaign.
This switch also marked the first year Mercy Home dedicated the entire month of March to March for Kids. The city made this a true month-long celebration when Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel declared March to be “Mercy Home for Boys & Girls March for Kids Month in Chicago.” In addition for several years, a message of support was written in window lights high above Lake Shore Drive on the façade of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Tower.
Last year, Mercy Home resurrected its popular post-parade celebration, which had been planned for the Chicago Cultural Center immediately following the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade. But events outside our doors caused us to put off the in-person gathering for at least another year. March for Kids has always been associated with festivities. Every year, Mercy Home’s Associates Board, made up of young professionals, officially kicks off Mercy Home’s March for Kids with a party and fundraiser at the beginning of the month.
Throughout its many incarnations, Mercy Home’s March for Kids’ core mission remains the same: to help raise funds and awareness for abused and neglected children, so Mercy Home can provide them the safety, healing, and opportunity they deserve.
Rallying our community together for a charitable cause while celebrating our Irish heritage is the hallmark of Mercy Home’s March for Kids. Local media, business partnerships, and volunteers in green vests collecting donations all help Mercy Home put a profound stamp on Chicago during the month of March and St. Patrick’s Day festivities. Best of all, this caliber of fundraising and awareness helps sustain our boys and girls throughout the year.