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Near Northwest Side therapist is saving one child at a time

Updated: April 5, 2013 6:09AM

‘Every kid can’t be saved. If you find one who can, you do everything you can.”

That is Tandeleya Hill’s mission statement. Hill is a clinical therapist at the Madden Shelter on Chicago’s Near Northwest Side.

Lately, a lot of people are talking about the kids we did not save. Girls like 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, and the hundreds of other young people taken by rampant gun violence. Hill’s kids face other traumas.

“Most of my girls have suffered from some form of sexual or physical abuse,” she says. Drugs and alcohol have tainted their tender lives.

“It is amazing that they are so resilient. They go through things that I am sure would have broken me.”

One of her kids is “Sharmaine.” She is a ward of the state of Illinois, so I won’t use her real name. Her mom suffers from schizophrenia. Dad is not around.

I met her last fall over breakfast at a North Side diner. Brown-skinned, poised and pretty in rhinestones, pearls and the prominent lip ring that teens favor. She ordered New York-style strawberry cheesecake waffles.

Now 18, she spent earlier years bouncing around foster homes and among family members. In 2011, she arrived at the Madden emergency shelter. Run by Maryville Academy, Madden is a way station for girls ages 14 to 20, as well as their children.

They face towering odds. Sharmaine’s first pregnancy came when she was 12, the second at 14. Her boy was adopted by an aunt. Sharmaine is raising the girl on her own.

Last June, she graduated from Hubbard High School. She managed that despite days that began at 4 a.m., included a four-hour commute, homework and taking good care of the baby.

Sharmaine is determined, ambitious and focused, but says that Hill and Madden made the difference. “They really cared about me, and they really don’t even know me.”

Madden’s girls get tremendous backup. Maryville covers the girls’ child-care costs: milk, formula, food, diapers, baby-sitting services and therapy. Maryville contracts with DCFS, which funds food and housing.

Hill is in the saving business, so she went far beyond that call. For Sharmaine, she spearheaded donations and support for the little things all girls want: a prom dress, shoes, hair care. And fun stuff, like field trips to sporting events. Hill has stayed in close touch, long after Sharmaine left her care.

Sharmaine is now in her second semester at Northeastern Illinois University, where she is studying pre-law.

Do you have a boyfriend? I asked. A coy giggle, then, “I don’t have time.”

I get regular “Sharmaine updates” from Maryville spokesman John Gorman, who introduced us. He is another informal mentor who keeps up with her. She just aced her first exam in psychology class, I hear, and is looking for a summer job.

She remains in DCFS care, living with her daughter in a teen living program on the South Side. Her apartment is about a mile from where Hadiya was killed.

There is so much more saving to do.

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