Raul Garza

“Aunt Martha” considered as name for couseling center

Study Remedy for Runaways

Mrs. Janice Greenberg was chairman of the Park Forest Youth Commission’s ad hoc committee that analyzed information on a national problem – teenage runaways – that was hitting closer and closer to home in south suburban Cook County by the summer of 1972.

According to the July 9, 1972 edition of the Park Forest Star, more than 100 runaway cases had been reported to Park Forest Police in 1971. In most communities, the only agency actively involved with the runaway problem is the police force.

Seeking incorporation of facility for youths

By the evening of Wednesday, July 5, Mrs. Greenberg’s ad hoc committee had finished its study. The idea to develop a youth service facility to deal directly with the challenges of keeping young people from leaving home, which the politically-savvy committee knew had significant public support, became its official recommendation to the Village.

In fact, that evening the ad hoc committee announced it had already taken steps was in the process of incorporating a youth services facility to be located in the Village. The center would be located initially in the basement of a co-op rental office.

Robert Mondlock, Youth Commission chair, said the facility will be located in Park Forest but “there will be no geographical boundaries” to its services.

“There aren’t too many Aunt Marthas anymore”

After the Commission meeting, Mrs. Greenberg shared a discussion she had with Park Forest Police Chief William Hamby. He remarked that fewer and fewer kids had family nearby who they could talk to when they were upset with their parents.

“I made the comment that there aren’t too many Aunt Marthas anymore,” Mrs. Greenberg said. It stuck.

Jan Greenberg.
Not Aunt Martha.

Who’s Aunt Martha?

The name Aunt Martha’s came from one of the founders who really wanted this organizatio to create an environment where a young person can go, if they don’t feel comfortable going to their parents, and talk about whatever life challenges they were facing.

I picture Aunt Martha to be this caring individual that, you know, if you wanted cookies and warm milk at night, Aunt Martha would do that for you.

But I also see Aunt Martha being tough as hell. She’s not going to let anybody mess with her. No municipality, no faction of individuals that discriminate, that are not embracing equity and diversity and inclusion regardless of sexuality, gender, race, religion, color, medical condition.

Aunt Martha has the ability to cover the range of what needs to be covered, to do the right thing for people. If you had to dissect Aunt Martha, you’d find thousands of people in that makeup.

Raul Garza, President and CEO

Raul Garza, President and CEO.
But also not Aunt Martha.

Gary’s Vision was first shown at last week’s 50th Anniversary Gala. At the event, it was actually shown before the video we shared last week. In this context, it serves as a nice bookend to Part One of Raul’s interview with Gary, which we posted a few weeks back.

This video tells the story of Gary Leofanti’s vision for Aunt Martha’s. It’s a vision he helped to plant – thankfully – in so many of our brains.

A Vision for Social Change

25-year old Gary Leofanti had just wrapped up his first official meeting as Park Forest’s new youth worker when he was asked about the relevance of his background in business and economics. That background, he said was an asset.

“Economic planning is a big consideration in implementing social change,” Leofanti said, according to the Park Forest Star on Sunday, March 5, 1972.

“If one can create a big enough demand for something, eventually it will get implemented.”

Gary’s Vision

An Experienced Change-Maker

Mr. Leofanti didn’t come to Park Forest with vision and education alone. He knew the kind of opportunity he was looking for. He found it and was willing to pay handsomely to move on it. In Park Forest he found a, “a community that was ready to do some things.”

It was his expeience, in fact, that made Gary attractive to Park Forest. He was the director of a youth-oriented hotline and drop-in center in suburban Detroit. He earned that experience at Crossroads crisis information center in River Rouge, MI.

Ultimately, the young social worker’s business background would be as important as his on-the-ground experience. And in a way, he laid the earliest foundation for the concept of value-based social work. He told the Park Forest Star another similarity between business and social work is that the main goal of business is a monetary profit while social work projects aim for profit in a sense too.

“Better service to the people or as in the case of Crossroads, better service to youth,” is the type of profit that social workers seek, he said.

Gary's vision and impact are described by Dr. Pat Robey, a former volunteer worker at Aunt Martha's

Aunt Martha’s is what it is today because of the vision of Gary but all the people who worked with him and who have followed him.

– Dr. Pat Robey, Former Volunteer

Gary Leofanti and Raul Garza. Aunt Martha's founding President and CEO with our current President and CEO. July 2022. Leofanti was hired by the Village of Park Forest as a youth worker in 1972.
Gary Leofanti and Raul Garza. Aunt Martha’s founding President and CEO with our current President and CEO. July 2022.

How a Listening Ear and $6,000 helped make Aunt Martha’s

On Wednesday, March 1, 1972, a 25-year old Gary Leofanti, “started working to fulfill the expectations of persons who formulated [his] youth worker job description,” by attending his first Youth Commission meeting in an official capacity for the Village of Park Forest. So it was chronicled in the Park Forest Star the following Sunday.

The young man had earned his masters degree in social work from Wayne State University just a year earlier. While at Wayne State, he’d worked part-time for a lobbying organization in Michigan’s state capital, and – through the types of field learning opportunities he’d purposefully sought out – worked with several organizations that would help shape his work in Park Forest.

Gary Leofanti, Aunt Martha's founding executive director. Salem State University. 1968
Gary Leofanti, Aunt Martha’s founding executive director. Salem State University. 1968

Early Influences

So, Gary, what was the inspiration to move from the East Coast and come to the Midwest?

Well, I was working as a welfare case manager for the state of Massachusetts after college, and they had an incentive to go to graduate school. I could pick any graduate school I wanted, just as long as I made a commitment to come back and they paid my salary and I got to go to grad school. I picked Wayne State University in Detroit.

Listening Ear and Reality Therapy

Why did you pick Wayne State? What was special about Wayne State?

Wayne State has advanced field placements with political leaders and advocacy groups, which is what I was interested in. And I had two field placements. One was with a lobbyist in the state capital of Lansing. And I came in contact with the organization called Listening Ear.

And that was where I got exposed to effective listening. That’s what they taught. And later with Aunt Martha’s we would do that with volunteers.

So you brought the science of effective listening to Aunt Martha’s?

Yes. All volunteers were trained that way. And then later we added Reality Therapy. And for a long time Reality Therapy was the method that we used.

Coming to Park Forest

So after you graduated from Wayne State, how did you end up coming to Park Forest?

Well, after graduation, my field placement turned into a job, and I stayed there for about five, six months.

Then I responded to an ad for a youth worker in Park Forest. And I interviewed for the job. And I liked the community and that, that’s the story there.

But you were you were originally committed to going back out east.

Right. I paid back the salary.

So you had to pay back the salary in order to take the job in Park Forest and move to Park Forest?


How much was the salary you had to pay back?

It wasn’t much. Something like $6,000.

Gary Leofanti was Park Forest's first Youth Worker and then Aunt Martha's first executive director

The community was prepared to do some things

$6,000 back in ’72 was a lot of money! Why did you want to make that commitment?

Because the community was prepared to do some things.

You felt that? You could see that?

Yeah. They were there. They just needed some help. So it worked very quickly.

I came in March and by September we had filed articles of incorporation for Aunt Martha’s.

And how many volunteers were you working with when you came to Park Forest?

Well, the Park Forest’s Youth Commission was instrumental in convincing Park Forest to hire a youth worker. So they were organized.

They also had a task group that was looking at the problem of runaway youth in the community. And that’s a group that founded Aunt Martha’s.

So you leave Boston, a city you love, and you had to pay back the salary you were paid because you were committed by the salary to go back to Massachusetts. And you put all that behind you.

And you come to Park Forest and you take this job and then within six months, it becomes Aunt Martha’s Youth Service Center. And then it opened in December of 1972.

Right, with about 30 volunteers and out of donated space. And we had oh, maybe three or four foster families or volunteer foster families so that when it was needed, we had a place for kids to stay for the night.

youth worker on job
Park Forest Star. Sunday, March 5, 1972.

And so when were you asked to be the executive director of Aunt Martha’s Youth Service Center?

Right at the beginning.

So right at the beginning. How old were you at that time?

I was 26, I think.

And you were asked to be the executive director of this start-up, nonprofit, community-based organization looking to serve youth, children and youth who were runaways.

That’s right.

What made you think or what made you believe you could do that at 26 years old?

That I was doing it!

But to be the executive director, though. Did that even mean anything to you to be the executive director or was it just you seeing it as doing the work?

I was just a staff person to the community. And it just it grew and I was there. And eventually I left the village of Park Forest and they gave Aunt Martha’s a grant for my salary.

And the rest, as they say, is history. No matter how much Mr. Leofanti tries to downplay his role.

We’ll explore that history, through Gary’s eyes and the memories of other friends, in future posts.

Community Health Quality Recognition badge, Health center quality leader, gold status, 2022 awardee

As a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), Aunt Martha’s receives programmatic and funding support from our primary funder, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). Each year, HRSA compiles data from every FQHC across the country and releases an extensive report detailing, among other things, each FQHC’s performance on core quality metrics and its cost of care per patient.

With every new HRSA report, Aunt Martha’s gains a greater understanding of our position in the community health center space and, more importantly, the value that we bring to our patients, communities, funders, and ultimately the taxpayers. As many of you are already aware, Aunt Martha’s considers value to be at the core of everything we do. It is the lens through which we assess our services. It is what drives our decision making. And it is the promise me make – and keep – for the benefit of those we serve. That is why we are honored to announce that, based on the HRSA report released earlier this week,

Aunt Martha’s ranks #3 in quality as compared to all FQHCs in Illinois.*

Our quality outcomes indicate that HRSA will also likely announce in the coming weeks that Aunt Martha’s is a National Quality Leader for the 7th straight year. While Aunt Martha’s is extremely proud of the quality outcomes we have been able to achieve for some of the most vulnerable, underserved patients in our communities, we understand that quality is only part of the equation. At Aunt Martha’s, we believe that in order to determine the true value of the care we provide, the cost of that care must also be considered.

That is why Aunt Martha’s is also honored to announce we were able to provide those high quality outcomes at the lowest cost of care in Illinois. Aunt Martha’s cost of care per patient is a mere $572 while the average cost in Illinois is almost double at $977. In fact, Aunt Martha’s cost of care has remained lower than the average cost of care in Illinois for the past six years in a row. While the cost of care has increased by 47% nationally and 53% in Illinois over the past 7 years, Aunt Martha’s has decreased our cost of care by 18%. We contribute this success not only our fully integrated approach to care, but also to our comprehensive in-house care coordination services, which allow us to tailor our efforts to the needs of our patients.

When you combine both quality and cost data, they tell a powerful story. From a healthcare perspective, Value = Outcomes/Cost. Therefore, the question becomes, “Are our patients getting healthier and are we lowering the cost of care?” This latest HRSA report unequivocally answers this all-important question. Simply put,

Aunt Martha’s provides the best value of any FQHC in Illinois.

Over the past 50 years, Aunt Martha’s has remained devoted to our mission. We have proudly served our communities with a strong commitment to quality. That is the fabric of who Aunt Martha’s is and will always be. In many ways, the data shows the benefits of our investments in technology, our embrace of both business and healthcare science, and our endless pursuit of innovation. From our adoption of an integrated approach to care 19 years ago to our status as the first FQHC in Illinois to pilot tele-psychiatry 15 years ago, Aunt Martha’s prides itself on leading the way.

To our dedicated staff, I want to thank you for your passion for the work and your commitment to our patients. These outcomes demonstrate that we are on the right path – a path that we will continue to forge as we remain steadfast in enhancing and evolving our model to meet the needs of our patients. To our friends and stakeholders, thank you for joining Aunt Martha’s on this exciting journey – for the past 50 years and for years to come. We know that with days like today, the best is yet to come.

*Based on the compilation of quartile rankings for all quality metrics for each FQHC.

From Aunt Martha’s clinic on Chicago’s far South East Side, officials and activists sound call for greater action to curb gun violence

CHICAGO, IL — At a press conference originally planned as a celebration of the recently passed Bipartisan Safer Communities ActCongresswoman Robin Kelly and Mayor Lori Lightfoot called Tuesday for Congress to take more aggressive action to bring an end to gun violence.

The event, hosted by Aunt Martha’s Southeast Chicago Community Health Center, followed a holiday weekend that saw more than 70 Chicagoans shot (at least 10 fatally) and was also marred by the mass shooting at a parade in the north suburb of Highland Park.

Please read this Statement from Aunt Martha’s President and CEO
for more information and to access video content from this event.

Yesterday, Aunt Martha’s Health & Wellness hosted Congresswoman Robin Kelly, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Alderwoman Sue Garza, Reverend Michael Pfleger, and other stakeholders at our Southeast Side Community Health Center for a press conference regarding the bipartisan Safer Communities Act. As the Mayor, Congresswoman, and Alderwoman all shared, the Act’s anticipated impact throughout Illinois and the country in providing comprehensive community supports to address the gun violence we experience in this country is significant for our communities.

Pam Bosely, who lost her son Terrell to gun violence and now supports other victims and families, underscored this point by reminding us all that these preventable tragedies can and do impact us in places where we feel safest – on the grounds of a church and the sidelines of a parade – despite our best personal efforts. Congresswoman Kelly reminded us that it takes a village to keep each other safe and that this legislation begins to take these steps.

The importance of this legislation – the first meaningful federal gun legislation in nearly thirty years – is already known fully by those who care for our patients and participants in the many communities we serve. And after the horrific events that occurred in Highland Park on Monday during what was supposed to be a time of celebration, the importance of this legislation is brought into even sharper focus. As Governor Pritzker said, we should all be angry – angry that mass shootings have continued to occur in our communities unchecked for so long.

And beyond the tragic loss of life, the sorrow, and the personal grief, we know that gun violence traumatizes every member of our community. That trauma – repeated in our streets and replayed on our TVs – then lingers and festers. This is why the mental health, outreach, crisis intervention, and child welfare services that Aunt Martha’s provides in our communities are so vital. One important aspect of the bipartisan Safer Communities Act is that it aims to increase access to mental health services. We continue to rise to the occasion and provide these essential services in the communities that need them the most.

I pray that your loved ones are safe after the horrific events of Monday. Unfortunately, the current climate requires us to all stay vigilant and remain highly aware of our surroundings at all times. Please stay safe out there.

The knock at the door came about 10 p.m. last Thursday. I was expecting my friend, Homero. I knew why he was there.

Homero Tristan is a good friend of Aunt Martha’s. He is a Founding Partner at Tristan & Cervantes, a legal firm that has supported our organization for a number of years. Both Homero and his firm’s Managing Partner, Pedro Cervantes, have become trusted advisors who, along with our in-house counsel have informed our strategic decisions and contended with partners who do not share our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Most recently, they have played a significant role in our continued fight for the rights of DCFS youth in the Village of Midlothian.

When I opened the door, the look on Homero’s face confirmed the worst. After being unable to reach his partner for more than a day, he had gone with the police to do a wellness check at Pedro’s home. They found Pedro there. He was only 43 years old when he died.

Pedro Cervantes was not an Aunt Martha’s employee but, like his partner, he quickly became a member of the Aunt Martha’s family. He shared our calling to stand up for the rights of others. Those of us who knew Pedro respected his passion as much as his talent. Both were on full display in his work on Aunt Martha’s civil rights suit against Midlothian. He defended the rights of the DCFS youth who had been displaced in the midst of a pandemic, then positioned the agency to pivot once again. His efforts laid the groundwork for us to create a step-down program for youth who are ready to leave our Integrated Care Center. Pedro was a fierce advocate. He was a fine lawyer and an even finer gentleman.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the Cervantes family, our friend Homero and all of Pedro’s friends and colleagues.

Partnership will offer one-stop access to primary care, mental health and behavioral health services.

CHICAGO, IL:  Aunt Martha’s Health & Wellness, one of Illinois’ largest Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC), and Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI), one of the largest statewide providers of social services, are collaborating to increase community access to primary care and behavioral health services in Chicago’s Portage Park and Belmont-Cragin neighborhoods.

Logo included in press release announcing collabroation with Lutheran Social Services of Illinois

The partnership will bring Aunt Martha’s services to LSSI’s Portage Cragin Counseling Center, located at 4840 W. Byron Street, Chicago.

Teams of employees from both agencies will work hand-in-hand with patients and their caregivers to develop care plans, coordinate visits and monitor progress toward personal treatment goals.

“This partnership is about bringing value to the community. That’s central to everything we do and in LSSI we found a partner that shares that commitment,” said Raul Garza, Aunt Martha’s President and CEO.

From the patient’s perspective, according to Garza, Aunt Martha’s on-site primary care, nursing and psychiatric services will be seamlessly integrated with the outpatient counseling and therapy services already being provided at LSSI’s Portage Cragin center. The integrated model is the underpinning of Aunt Martha’s value-based approach to care and has been demonstrated to result in higher levels of screening, better adherence to treatment, fewer ER visits and fewer hospital admissions – all factors that contribute to better outcomes and lower costs.

“Health and human service providers have a responsibility to improve the health and well-being of their community,” said Mark A. Stutrud, President and CEO of Lutheran Social Services of Illinois. “This integrated approach provides Whole Person, Whole Family care.”

Aunt Martha’s and LSSI are planning an opening event for the summer of 2021.

About Aunt Martha’s

Aunt Martha’s serves nearly 120,000 children and adults each year with more than 35 sites, including 23 community health centers spread across nine counties. The agency’s integrated health home model offers value-based, coordinated services, delivering whole-person wellness through the integration of primary and behavioral health care and linkages to additional support services that address social determinants of health. Aunt Martha’s has been continuously accredited by The Joint Commission since 1997.

About Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI)

Serving Illinois since 1867, Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI.org) is a nonprofit social service organization of the three Illinois synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). LSSI is one of the largest statewide social service providers. The organization provides critical programs for Illinois residents including foster care, mental health services, alcohol and drug treatment, affordable senior housing, residential programs for people with developmental disabilities, and services that help families who have been impacted by incarceration. LSSI is accredited by the Council on Accreditation.


Media Contacts


Barb Kraeger Hailey

Aunt Martha’s

Kenny Martín-Ocasio

During his final February in office, President Obama said of Black History Month, “It’s about the shared experience of all African Americans…and how those experiences have shaped and challenged and ultimately strengthened America.” This year, focused around a theme of Black Health and Wellness, Black History Month recognizes the legacy of medical scholars and health care providers. It reminds us of the continuing contribution of the hospitals, schools and community clinics they created. It reminds us of the partnerships they forged to support one another in the face of mainstream discrimination and all of the injustices and disparities it breeds.

In the midst of month 23 of a pandemic that has disproportionately ravaged communities of color, Black History Month provides an opportunity to learn from the sacrifices of the past, but also to recognize and to reaffirm our support for our Black and African American coworkers and colleagues as they write their own narrative and shape, as they always have, ours. It seems appropriate to recognize Speaker Welch for his place as the first African American to hold the position, and for his work with the leaders of the Legislative Black Caucus to ensure the historic measures of reform passed last year are implemented with the same vigor and in the spirit of diversity, inclusion and justice with which they were created.

Of the more than 120,000 patients and participants Aunt Martha’s is privileged to serve, over half (53%) identify as Black or African American. When they visit Aunt Martha’s, they see doctors, nurses, child welfare specialists, care coordinators, home visitors, crisis responders and other professionals who come from their community and understand that the most powerful word is always TRUST. Aunt Martha’s, as an organization, is proud to be a part of that vital relationship. And we are, moreover, proud to share the work and impact of our colleagues and friends as they continue to shape and strengthen the communities around us.

For years, visitors to Aunt Martha’s office in downtown Park Forest have been greeted by displays of newspaper stories chronicling the agency’s history. There are retrospectives with titles like Aunt Martha’s at 5 and Aunt Martha’s at 10. Press clippings remind us that Aunt Martha’s already had a rich history when it officially opened its doors in December of 1972.

But Aunt Martha’s at 50?

Today, I invite you to join us as we begin our yearlong celebration of Aunt Martha’s 50th Anniversary. Each month, we’ll dive into the agency’s story from a different perspective, combining newly gathered footage and interviews with press clippings, archival photos and video to tell the story of the people, the challenges they took on, the partnerships they forged and the mark they left on their community and our organization. The celebration will culminate in September with a 50th Anniversary fundraiser.

Even after 50 years, Aunt Martha’s is always grateful for all of our friends and supporters. We are especially grateful to the individuals and local businesses who helped make our 2021 Peggy Eisenstein Holiday Gift Program our most successful campaign to date. Though she only joined Aunt Martha’s in October, well into the campaign season, Katie Lewis did exemplary work to connect with our past donors and engage new ones. In short order, she organized a campaign that raised close to $50,000 and, most importantly, saw the delivery of more than 2,000 gifts to foster children and families in Cook, Kane and Will County. Your support for this program has never been more needed or more meaningful.

But Aunt Martha’s at 50?

Yes. And we’re just getting started.

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