Aug 3, 2023
Heather Benedick named CEO
When it came time to find a new CEO for St. Coletta’s of Illinois, the social service agency didn’t need to look very far.
“We were looking for someone who mirrors the mission of our founders -- the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi,” said Andrea Ramirez-Justin, chair of the nonprofit’s Board of Directors. “We were looking for someone who could carry us to the next phase.”
They found who they were looking for in Heather Benedick, the organization’s Chief Operating Officer.
“Heather’s passion for the mission and the people we serve is incredible,” said Ramirez-Justin. “She has a strong dedication to the ministry and knows every facet of the organization already.”
Benedick replaces Annette Skafgaard, who will retire at the end of August.
“Heather has played an integral role in St. Coletta’s mission for 20 years – first as a clinical therapist, followed by Director of the Psychology Department and then Vice President of Support Services,” said Skafgaard.
“With each new role, Heather has proven herself to be a strong, decisive leader with an incredible work ethic and compassionate heart,” she added. “She meets every challenge head-on and is a tenacious champion for the disabled. On top of that, Heather has been involved in just about every aspect of St. Coletta’s operation, making her the most capable and prepared individual to carry on as St. Coletta’s CEO.”
Based in Tinley Park, St. Coletta’s of Illinois provides educational, residential and vocational training services to more than 300 children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It was founded in 1949 by the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi, which continues to guide St. Coletta’s mission by providing organizational oversight and leadership.
Benedick joined the organization in 2003 after working at similar organizations in Joliet and Chicago.
Working with the developmentally disabled wasn’t something Benedick considered doing when she was studying social work at Valparaiso University.
“I never thought about this population,” she said. “I just knew I wanted to help people.”
Not until she saw a job posting for a group home manager -- just days before graduating from Valparaiso University -- did Benedick consider working with the developmentally disabled.
“I was looking for a job related to social services,” she said, “when I spotted a job posting in the social work building in Valparaiso.”
The job was in Lockport, making it even more appealing to the Joliet native.
“It’s like a message,” she told herself.
For nearly four years, Benedick worked for the Joliet-based organization, caring for a group of developmentally disabled individuals – many of whom had mental health issues.
The work was tough but rewarding, leading Benedick to seek and earn her master’s degree in psychology.
While some – including Benedick’s parents – questioned her desire to work with physically aggressive individuals who would kick, bite and hit, the twentysomething professional never gave it a second thought.
“When you’re young, you’re not as physically defensive about your body,” she said. “You’re not as risk averse.”
In fact, the work only toughened her resolve.
“My calling in life is to use my skills to help other people,” she said. “If I didn’t, my soul would know I was not being true to myself.”
Perhaps it was her upbringing that led Benedick to her calling.
Her parents, former educators, always encouraged her and her brother to help others – cutting their neighbor’s grass, for example, without accepting pay.
“I grew up in a family that was character driven, moral driven,” said Benedick. “Everything was black and white. There was a right way and a wrong way.”
Even after her mother stepped down from her teaching position to raise a family and her dad left his teaching position to earn more money, the couple would use their teaching skills to help others.
“There was always some kid in my kitchen getting tutored,” said Benedick. “My dad was everyone’s math tutor.”
At St. Coletta’s, Benedick plans to zero in on the organization’s service-driven mission and remind students, staff, community members and participants about the ideals that St. Coletta’s of Illinois was founded upon, including service to the poor and marginalized; affirmation of the unique worth of each person; compassionate concern; and joyful service.
“I genuinely believe in the mission of this organization,” said Benedick, which is to serve children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities so they can achieve their greatest potential.
“This is not a business to me,” she added. “These are human lives…. And I want everyone to have the same sense of purpose that I do. It is a gift if you have a purpose-driven life.”