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Serving DeKalb County, IL Since 1993

Developing Independence & Opportunity – All in the Name of Grace

Meet Grace

Grace Thornton grew up in Kingston, IL with parents Marty and Deanna Thornton. She attended Genoa-Kingston High School and walked down the graduation aisle spring of 2011. During her sophomore year a question began to develop in the minds of her parents, “What happens to Grace after high school?” For some parents this question seems easy and often ends with college or a full-time job, but not for Grace. See, Grace was born with a developmental disability, a condition that will challenge her the rest of her life. That year, while eating Christmas dinner as a family, conversation centered on this question. A dream began to take shape and from this conversation, ideas began to formulate.

– The Dream –

Gracie Center logo

The dream was simple; a place that would enable young adults like Grace to thrive and continue engaging in what they loved most. In this place, a young adult would feel safe and continue developing independence, building vocational skills, and creating opportunities and friendships within the community.

Fast forward a few years and this dream has become a reality. Through the business leadership of Gracie’s older sister, Kara Atwater, The Gracie Center, centered in Kingston, IL, started in the fall of 2012. As with any newly formed nonprofit organization, a few hurdles, including project funding, stood as a barrier to progress.

– Overcoming Hurdles –

Which brings us to an exciting part of the story. With a need presented, who would step in to provide project support? Donors of the DeKalb County Community Foundation, that’s who. The Gracie Center is meeting a need and providing opportunities, in essence improving the quality of life in DeKalb County. All of which aligns perfectly with the mission of the Community Foundation. With a variety of donors contributing to funds designed to “give where it’s needed most”, the Community Foundation was able to respond to the needs and opportunities of The Gracie Center.

– Responding to Needs & Opportunities –

In 2014, The Gracie Center received a $1,824 Community Needs Grant, a grant program of the Foundation, for the creation of job boxes. Job boxes assist with skill development for participants in the areas of vocational, recreation, and life skills.

Over the next two years as the Gracie Center continued to grow, so did the desire for additional vocational training. In 2015, a $5,000 Community Needs Grant helped purchase a trailer and start-up materials for a vocational training concession stand, today known as the PopUp Shop.

The PopUp Shop made its first appearance on May 3, 2016, during the “Sycamore Depot Light Show” at the Community Foundation. Since this first event, the vocational venture has taken off. The PopUp Shop now includes five popcorn flavors and with increased offerings at the concession stand for added variety. Popcorn sales during events are at a record high, including pre-popped bags for larger events. To date there are eight Gracie Center “CREW” members who regularly engage in the vocational training concession stand.

Through The Gracie Center, Grace and young adults alike, enjoy a life full of opportunity. “We greatly appreciate the Community Foundation (donors) for all their support in helping us become who we are today. The grants awarded have helped us not only build the PopUp Shop, but also the skills the CREW members need to work in the shop,” said Gracie Center Program Director Julie Craig. “Thank you for all you are doing for the community!”

– Giving Where It’s Needed Most –

There are a variety of ways to be a philanthropist in DeKalb County. If “giving where it’s needed most” inspires you, consider making a gift to an existing undesignated fund or start one of your own. If you have questions, wish to make a donation, or want to discuss your own ideas of philanthropy, we’re here to help! Please contact Executive Director Dan Templin at 815-748-5383 or dan@dekalbccf.org.

Helping today…Shaping tomorrow.


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