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Bears continue support of organizations helping domestic violence survivors


For nearly 30 years, the Bears have been supporting A Safe Place — an organization based in Lake County that provides services to survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking.

The club recently made their annual donation to the organization and held a volunteer event for Bears staff members to help spring clean their Zion campus, which is home to 40 apartments.

Bears chairman George H. McCaskey joined the volunteer group, which spent three hours mulching the playground area to make the space safe for kids to enjoy.

"A Safe Place has been doing great work under extraordinarily difficult circumstances," McCaskey said. "They're providing shelter — literally and figuratively — for people in abusive relationships. Whatever we can do to help our Lake County neighbors, we always want to be in a position to do that."

With A Safe Place right in the Bears' backyard, the team has always aimed to be a constant for the non-profit organization. Each year, the club's donation has helped A Safe Place accomplish major projects like remodeling the family visitation center or building a playground. This year, the funds will support the creation of their first-ever pet shelter.

"Our relationship with the Chicago Bears started almost 30 years ago, and they have supported A Safe Place in different ways throughout the years," A Safe Place's executive director Pat Davenport said. "When the Ray Rice incident happened in 2014, that's when the NFL took more of a stand of trying to support domestic violence nationwide. But the Bears had been supporting us way before that and our relationship just got stronger after that."

Davenport has grown accustomed to seeing McCaskey and the Bears family at their various facilities.

She remembers when the Bears helped remodel the Zion campus' visitation center several years ago. She still has a vivid memory of McCaskey picking up one of the jackhammers and drilling through the tile while they were demolishing the kitchen.

"I remember the power construction team that we were dealing with, some of the guys said, 'I have developed a whole different respect for the Bears and George,'" Davenport recalled. "I had never seen someone pick up and work harder than that. George and the Bears are role models to us and to our clients and to our communities.

"The support from the McCaskey family is really one of the pillars, truly, of our work. Because every step of the way, every year, they have helped us improve or bring in new services."

George McCaskey at the Bears' volunteer event at A Safe Place
George McCaskey at the Bears' volunteer event at A Safe Place

For the last 10 years, the NFL has required all team staff to complete social responsibility training focused on domestic violence and sexual assault. In the past two years, the Bears have partnered with A Safe Place to conduct the training sessions which highlight important myths and facts about the topics while bringing critical awareness and education to employees. A Safe Place provides engaging information that has inspired staff members to give back and led to this year's volunteer event.

In the last month, the Bears donated to seven total organizations across Chicagoland — including A Safe Place — that provide support or services to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse.

One of those organization is WINGS — the largest domestic violence service provider in Illinois that was established in 1985 — which the Bears have now been supporting for 10 years. Similar to their support of A Safe Place, the Bears have provided WINGS with financial assistance for major projects and completed volunteer projects in tandem with the organization. Players, coaches and alumni have also given their time in various ways throughout the years with Christmas gift giveaways, visits to their facilities and even virtual meetings with the staff during the pandemic.

"A Safe Place and WINGS have helped educate our players, coaches and staff over the years," Bears director of community & alumni relations Matt Simeone said. "We have shared meals with the families they serve and had many opportunities to volunteer at their shelters. We appreciate their partnerships and we will continue to advocate for the adults and children who are escaping domestic violence."

This year, the Bears' donation will fund WINGS' food budget at their emergency shelter in Chicago. The shelter, located on the southwest side of the city, is where the Bears first became involved with the program in 2014. During that year, WINGS was collaborating with the City of Chicago to open the city's first newly built domestic violence shelter in more than a decade.

While WINGS received funding from the city, outside fundraising grew increasingly difficult until President/CEO Rebecca Darr met with the Bears, who wanted to provide their support. Darr sent the team her proposal for financial assistance that would help fund the shelter's playground. The Bears ended up providing four times the initial proposal, funding the entire playground and later volunteering with the construction and dedication of the building.

"The Bears don't have to provide us anything and they don't do it for just us," Darr said. "They do it for a lot of groups. I know the financial commitment to us and A Safe Place has been absolutely needed.

"In the City of Chicago – we got them to increase it a couple years ago — their commitment to domestic violence is $10 million for the whole city. It costs us about a million and a half a year to run that facility. And so we get less than half of that from the city and then we have to fundraise the rest. Getting the financial support from the Bears is a significant investment."

George H. McCaskey with director of community & alumni relations Matt Simeone at the dedication for WINGS in 2015
George H. McCaskey with director of community & alumni relations Matt Simeone at the dedication for WINGS in 2015

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