Highland Park Strong

Highland Park Strong: How Residents are Taking Action After a Mass Shooting in Their Community

"If people can take action, only good things can come from it."

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Days after a devastating mass shooting at a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park shook the community to its core, memorials, candlelight vigils and seas of orange ribbons meant to represent gun reform are lining the northern Chicago suburb's streets and parks.

"It shows the strength and compassion and unity of this community," an attendee at a recent vigil said.

The shooting has so far claimed the lives of seven people and injured more than 40 others. Many of the wounded are still at hospitals across the Chicago area in critical condition, including an 8-year-old boy who is now paralyzed due a gunshot wound to the chest.

As the community continues to find ways to heal, hundreds of residents have come together in creative ways support the survivors and families of victims.

Across the North Shore of Chicago, Facebook groups have begun to pop up, including one called Stronger Highland Park -- Community Help where its nearly 7,500 members are posting offers of free services for all ages like yoga classes, counseling, movement and animal therapy, meal trains and free lunches from local food trucks, art projects and even glass repair for businesses whose windows were shattered during the shooting at the parade.

"People in my community are all trying to help others in various ways. If any parent would like to bring their child to my yard to visit chickens (feed them, pick fresh eggs), see a large tortoise, meet some small dogs, a hairless cat, a fish pond, etc.," a post in a similar group read. "I am sure parents are exhausted but still need to do things with their small kids."

For many neighbors, it's a way to no longer feel helpless.

Highland Park Strong

"I really wanted to be proactive," said 20-year-old Highland Park resident Natalie Belloff, who graduated from Highland Park High School in 2020.

After Monday's shooting, Belloff connected with another Highland Park High School alum, Ethan Absler, 22, to collect donations in an effort to create mental health packages and baskets filled with self-care items like blankets, coloring books for kids and adults, journals, stationary, and more for those who are recovering from physical injuries and psychological trauma.

"Sitting in front of the news, texting my friends to make sure everyone is OK, I felt helpless," Absler said. "This makes me feel less helpless."

Belloff said the pair reached out to therapists and social workers to gather lists of what items would be ideal for adults and children on bed rest, or recovering at home or in the hospital.

"We wanted to help as best we can," Belloff said, as she got up to answer the door for someone who was dropping off donation items.

In addition to Facebook groups, a Google Document centralizing GoFundMe links, vigils, fundraisers, various ways to donate and local businesses to support created by 24-year-old Highland Park native Isa Spoerry has been shared across Instagram and Facebook hundreds of times, as a resource for residents and neighbors to reference.

"I started it on the evening of July 5. I saw a lot of links circulating, and I wanted all the GoFundMe links in one place," Spoerry said. It went from a page with five links that I made for myself to a 22-page document from so many communities because others wanted to help."

The document contains everything from upcoming marches and rallies people can attend, to community spaces offering their services, to Highland Park Strong items local residents have designed and created, with proceeds benefitting the shooting's victims and survivors.

"It's a huge testament to the town and a huge testament to the community," Spoerry said. "Highland Park is everything to me."

One of the offers on that document is from Alexandra Kahler, a 2004 New Trier High School graduate and North Shore resident who created a directory of therapists and is offering to cover the expenses of counseling for anyone who may be burdened by the cost.

"One of my very best friends was at the parade, and people on both sides of her were shot," Kaehler said. "I wasn't even there. It completely shook me to my core."

Shortly after the shooting, Kaehler, an interior designer, posted a message to her Instagram stories asking therapists who were taking on new clients to reach out to her -- as well as those seeking counseling.

Kaehler has collected the names and information for more than 200 therapists with ready-to-offer services and has helped connect at least 10 people in the community with appointments.

"It feels so dire," Kaehler said. "If you can do anything that restores your faith. I feel lucky to be a part of this community that is wrapping their arms around the people who need it the most."

"If people can take action, only good things can come from it."

Here's where you can find some other local ways to help, or find services that you need.

Fundraisers

Highland Park Community Fund

To help those directly impacted by the mass shooting in Highland Park, the Highland Park Community Foundation has established a July 4th Highland Park Shooting Response Fund.

According to the city, "All contributions to the Response Fund will go directly to victims and survivors or the organizations that support them."

Here's how to donate.

Victims First

This fund was started by families affected by previous mass shootings have started this fund. According to VictimsFirst, 100% of what is collected goes directly towards the victims.

Here's how to donate.

Upcoming Vigils and Gatherings

Saturday

Sunday

  • Interfaith service, Glencoe Union Church, 263 Park Ave., 4 p.m.

Blood Drives

North Shore Hospital Systems

As victims were transported to several hospitals in the area, including Highland Park Hospital and Evanston Hospital, North Shore Hospitals is asking those interested in donating blood to make an appointment.

Email: donateblood@northshore.org for more information.

Vitalant

Plug in your zip code to see donor centers near you.

Flowers, Help Retrieving Items, Meals, Donations

Retrieving items

According to the FBI, "All personal effects left along the parade route are slowly being evaluated for investigative purposes. Law enforcement requests the public's patience as they evaluate what may be returned at this time. Personal effects found on Central Avenue between Green Bay Road and Second Street will be available for return at the Family Assistance Center (see below)."

According to the City of Highland Park, items can also be retrieved at City Hall.

The owners of Lolli Bus, a local food truck is offering to help people retrieve items left behind during the parade. Here's how to get in touch.

Flowers

A makeshift memorial with flowers has begun to take shape near the intersection of Central Ave. and 2nd Ave., as well as in Highwood at Everts Park. All are welcome to lay flowers.

Chicago Botanic Garden

The garden will have free admission through Sunday.

"In times of crisis, nature can be healing, a respite," a Facebook post from the garden said. "To support our community, admission and parking to the Garden will be free for all from 3 to 8 p.m., starting Wednesday, July 6, through Sunday, July 10."

Meals

Nonprofit Lasagna Love, a grassroots organization of "neighbors cooking for neighbors can "cook and deliver a free lasagna to anyone who needs one." Here's how to help.

Stuffed Animals

A nonprofit organization providing brand new stuffed animals to children in crisis. Monetary contributions may be made here.

Highwood Public Library

The library is asking for items to support community mental health services like white noise machines, journals and coloring books, gift cards to grocery stores, monetary dontations and more.

Here's where to learn more.

Mental Health Resources

Family Assistance Center, Support and Counseling

The FBI’s Victim Service Response Team is working in conjunction with local, state, and federal aide groups to staff a Family Assistance Center at Highland Park High School, 433 Vine Ave.

 Services provided at the center include: 

  • Counseling 
  • Government aide assistance 
  • Financial assistance – if necessary, needs will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis 

Center Hours: 

  • Friday July 8, 2022, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. 
  • Thereafter as needed 

The FBI stresses that victims are not just those physically injured by yesterday’s events, but also those experiencing emotional distress.

District 112 Drop-in Counseling

District 112 will be providing drop-in counseling at Oak Terrace School (240 Prairie Avenue in Highwood) and Ravinia School (763 Dean Avenue in Highland Park) through July 7, from 9 a.m. - 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. - 4 p.m.

JCFS Chicago

The JCFS Chicago Warm Line phone connection is available to provide assistance for anyone affected by the Highland Park shooting who does not have an urgent need and is looking for someone to talk to about their emotional distress. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. and Fridays from 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. 855-275-5237

JCFS is also offering free, drop-in counseling sessions at the Bernard Weinger JCC at 300 Revere Dr. in Northbrook are available Monday through Thursday from 2-8 p.m. and Fridays from 2-4 p.m.

224 Help

Highland Park residents can text 224Help to 844-823-5323 to receive immediate assistance from a licensed mental health care professional, 24/7.

Family Services of Glencoe

Family Services of Glencoe is offering free therapists for drop-ins, no appointment necessary. You do not need to work in Glencoe or be a Glencoe resident to receive support.

  • Am Shalom: 12 - 2 p.m,., 840 Vernon Ave.
  • Takiff Center: 1-3 p.m., 999 Green Bay Road

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