And the winner is…Project Oz!

Nonprofit Excellence Award Winner!

At Project Oz, we love a chance to celebrate and share good news! On Saturday, we were honored to be chosen as the winner of the annual Nonprofit Excellence Award from the McLean County Chamber of Commerce. We are especially proud of this recognition in light of the impressive accomplishments of our fellow human services nominees.

Since the start of the pandemic, the urgency and impact of our work, ranging from 24/7 crisis response and shelter to in-school prevention and counseling, has only become more clear. The remarkable community support we enjoy is key to helping young people weather life’s storms and achieve their goals. Our efforts could not be successful without you – our amazing staff members (both past and present), board members, host home families, volunteers, and many, many friends and community partners!

Thank you for sharing in our mission “to partner with young people to build a foundation that promotes safety, opportunities, and well-being in their lives.” There’s more work to do and we’ve got big plans for the future, so stay tuned for more exciting news!

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National Runaway Prevention Month


Please join us during National Runaway Prevention Month!

What: National Runaway Prevention Month is spearheaded nationally each November by our partner, the National Runaway Safeline ( It is a chance to let the 4.2 million youth in the United States who experience some form of homelessness each year know that we see them and that safe shelter and caring adults are available to help them thrive through challenging situations.

You Can Help!: During November, we hope you will join Project Oz in recognizing National Runaway Prevention Month and help “shine a light” on the needs of homeless youth. There are many ways you can join the movement to prevent and end youth homelessness!

  • Spread the word by “Liking” and sharing our social media posts throughout the month, and telling your friends about Project Oz.
  • Show your support for runaway and homeless youth by taking and sharing pictures of yourself and your family or co-workers wearing green on Wednesday, November 10th. Don’t forget to tag Project Oz on your social media!
  • Light up your home or business with green for “Light the Night” on Wednesday, November 17th. We’d love to see your pictures! Please email Sam at if you’d like to be added to our list of participating partners.

To impact even more young people, we will also be participating in Giving Tuesday on November 30th. We hope you will consider making us your charity of choice on Giving Tuesday and sharing our campaign. You can also click here to donate anytime during the month of November.

Why Now: As a result of the pandemic, more young people are experiencing family conflicts, financial stressors, mental health concerns, and barriers to resources for support that may cause them to leave home. Whether “couch-surfing” or living on the streets, youth without safe shelter are targets for sexual assault, exploitation, trafficking, and other violence. Focused on day-to-day survival, they are also more likely to leave school, have trouble finding or keeping a job, use substances as a coping mechanism, and become involved in the justice system. Youth may feel hopeless and trapped in a cycle of instability and trauma.

Project Oz’s Strategy: We connect quickly with youth in unsafe living situations through 24/7 crisis response, immediate access to safe shelter, and targeted street outreach.  We operate the only emergency shelter and transitional living programs for young people ages 10-23 in McLean and Livingston Counties. Wrap-around support, life skills education, and counseling help youth and families resolve conflicts and achieve their goals for the future.

But we don’t stop there. We also help young people throughout McLean County build the skills and knowledge to make safe choices and connect to caring adults through in-school substance use prevention, mental health awareness education, and embedded Restorative Schools counselors.

Together with friends like you, we are working to build a safer and healthier future for all young people in our community. Thank you for your support!




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We are geared up for the new school year!

The pandemic continues to make school “interesting” for young people and our many school-based Project Oz staff members.  After a busy summer of planning and training, we are excited to head back into classrooms across McLean County and provide the support students need to weather these challenging transitions, connect with caring adults, and build brighter futures – now and all year long!  Read on for update, back-to-school tips, upcoming events, and thoughts from retiring Prevention Educator, Lisa Soliday.

Youth Empowered Schools Goes Back to Class

Did you know that last year our Youth Empowered Schools (YES) staff in Bloomington High School, Normal Community High School, and Normal Community West High School collectively reached out to over 1,100 students to bridge the digital divide and help them re-engage in remote learning?  Despite the challenges of COVID, YES staff are always ready to jump in wherever needed to help students achieve their goals in school and develop their full potential. We are thankful to our partners at the State Farm Foundation, District 87, and Unit 5 for their continued support of this program!  This year we are excited to work with District 87 to expand the program and support students, families, and staff in three new schools through restorative practices: Bloomington Junior High, Irving Elementary, and Sheridan Elementary.  Here are a few “first day” photos form our awesome new YES team members!


Helping Young People Cope with Back-to-School Anxiety

As we head back to school, many children and teens are unsure about how to feel.  After so many months of virtual learning, changing schedules, and extra time at home, this is a big adjustment.  Here are a few tips that can help you provide support as we return to school.

  • Talk openly about how your child or teen is feeling, and validate their feelings. There is no wrong way to feel in this situation, and it’s okay if they feel anxious, afraid, or overwhelmed – and it’s also okay if they feel eager, relieved, and excited!
  • Set a tone by approaching conversations with positivity and helping them consider how they could approach different challenges.
  • Help them set small, achievable goals, especially if they feel overwhelmed.
  • Prioritize their mental health and encourage them to let you know if they are struggling. It’s much harder for young people to learn when they are experiencing mental health challenges.
  • Keep and eye out for warning signs of mental health challenges like anxiety and depression, such as changes in mood or behavior, withdrawal, feelings of hopelessness, increased irritability, or physical symptoms like headaches and stomachaches.
  • Be ready to provide support if you notice that your child or teen is having a hard time. This could include checking in more regularly, doing activities together, or talking about how they feel.  It could also include reaching out to resources like their teachers, school counselor, or pediatrician.
  • Learn about local mental health options. If you’re looking for extra support and don’t know where to start, we recommend calling PATH Crisis Center at 2-1-1 to learn more about the resources that are available in our community.  You can also reach out to Colleen (, our mental health education coordinator at Project Oz, with questions about how to support a young person who might be struggling with their mental health.


Keys of Hope Dueling Piano Night for Suicide Prevention Returns

The dueling pianos are back!  Our friends at the IIDA Illinois Central IL City Center are once again hosting the Keys of Hope dueling piano fundraiser to benefit our NAMI Ending the Silence (ETS) program. ETS is a mental health education and suicide prevention program that reaches students at all local public junior and senior high schools. The program encourages important conversations about mental health, de-stigmatizes mental illness, and empowers young people to ask for help. Please join us for a fun evening of entertainment, prizes, and laughter as you sing, dance, and clap along to audience favorites! (Tickets are limited based on gathering restrictions)

Date and Time: Friday, September 24th, 2021 ; 530-11 pm

Location: The Castle Theatre, Bloomington, IL

Tickets: $25


Celebrating Retiring Ozzer, Lisa Soliday!

After 15 years at Project Oz, Lisa Soliday, Prevention Educator Extraordinaire, is retiring this month.  During her career, Lisa taught in-school substance use prevention education to more than 7,000 McLean County students and advised several prevention-focused youth groups. Lisa’s dedication to youth, energy, and spirit of fun are truly unmatched.  She has also served as a mentor and cheerleader to many staff and her welcoming smile, kindness, and care for others helped shape the Oz culture.  As she is wrapping up her time with us, we asked her to share some reflections on her career.

Q. What individual successes have been the most meaningful for you?

I am most proud of all the work I did with the different youth groups I advised over the years.  I learned many new skills from the teens, was able to help their creative ideas come to fruition, and was energized when implementing events with them.  Some of my favorites were: alcohol forum, flash mob at Intercity basketball game, mannequin challenge, If You Really Knew Me Commerical, Reverse Trick or Treat, Yoga/WERQ events, art mural, and Chalk the Walks.

Q. What agency achievements are you most proud of?

The growth that I have seen in our agency; the positive impact we have had on young peoples’ lives; the respect and reputation that Project Oz has in our community makes me really proud to be a part of the agency.  I’m so very thankful for the leadership, and for how we have all handled the challenge of COVID fairly gracefully.  I will miss the work, and especially all the terrific Ozzers who have made work a joy.

Q. What is your most memorable Oz moment?

The opportunity to work with Joel Bergner for Artolution on the Market Street Mural was quite memorable.  It was pretty amazing to hear cars honking, cheering and yelling positive comments while we painted.  It was exciting to bring something so beautiful to the people that live in the neighborhood. I think all of us who worked on it felt so proud.  The work that Joel Bergner does around the world is inspiring, check it out: Artolution

Q. What was one of the most challenging mements in your career?

I’ve had a few! I do not like interviewing on TV, radio, with the newspaper, even for a training video (yuck) and I’ve had to do these a few times.  It is not my strength.  The year of COVID and video taping myself was especially challenging!

Q. What advice would you give to someone entering the prevention field today?

  • It’s really important to establish good relationships with schools, law enforcement, and community members.
  • Take every opportunity in trainings for professional development
  • Be curios, research, be open to learning and hearing others ideas.
  • If you don’t know something, it’s okay to say, “I’m not familiar with that, but I’ll do some research and get back to you.”
  • Practice good self care so you are mentally and physically fit to bring your best self to your job, co-workers and students.

Q. In 5 words, why do you think universal prevention is important?

Prevention builds youths’ bright futures

Q. What are you looking forward to in retirement?

Lots of things!  Pursuing some creative interests, like learning guitar, cooking & drawing; Being able to work exercise into my daily schedule; Spending more time with my sweet granddaughter; RE-potting and starting new houseplants; Traveling; Biking; Paddle boarding; Yoga; More time with family & friends; Annoying my husband by invading his personal space in the morning 🙂





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Spring 2021 Update

There are always new things happening at Oz! Thanks to our amazing staff, partners, and supporters, we are helping more young people than ever. Read on for a round-up of recent Project Oz news.

Building Equity and Expanding Restorative Practices Through a Healing Illinois grant, our Youth Empowered Schools (YES) program has been promoting dialogue and connection by facilitating listening circles related to the impact of racism, remote learning, and COVID-19 on students and teachers in our community. We were also inspired by the voices of the talented young people who participated in our inaugural Martin Luther King-Healing Illinois Youth Poetry Contest. Finally, we are excited to partner with District 87 to expand YES to elementary and junior high students in several schools thanks to a new state Restore, Reinvest, Renew (R3) grant!

Crisis Services in High Demand Our Youth Services staff has been especially busy responding to crisis calls during the winter – calls to our pager were up 30% this year! Our team is available 24/7 to help stabilize youth facing a housing crisis and offer immediate emergency shelter.  We are also proud to report that one of our young people was chosen to be part of Youth Collaboratory’s “Youth Catalyst” team, a group of young leaders from across the country committed to using their knowledge, skills, insights, and lived experience to improve program practices, and inform and further mobilize the youth services field. Finally, we are thankful to our friends at the John M. Scott Health Care Commission for continuing to support improved health and well-being for runaway and homeless youth through their partnership with our Transitional Living Program.

Remote or in-person? Prevention Educators are working hard to reach students – wherever they are! The Prevention Education department recently celebrated an unusual spring milestone: the schedule for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year was finally set! The complicated task of coordinating 1,035 class periods of substance use prevention and suicide prevention education across 18 schools in 8 districts across McLean County is usually completed in August. But as our partner schools have transitioned between remote, hybrid, and fully in-person learning, our flexible staff have worked closely with them to accommodate changing schedules and continue to reach all students.  Helping students make healthy choices, develop positive coping skills, and learn about resources for support is especially critical as we all face new challenges resulting from the pandemic. Our Youth Action Board has also been busy.  Upcoming activities include a “Chalk the Walk” event during National Prevention Week and our semi-annual drive-through Prescription Drug Take-back event, held in collaboration with the Normal Police Department, on April 24th. Last Fall, YAB members helped collect an estimated 210 pounds of unused/expired medications from a record 115 cars!

“Feels Like Home” Exhibit to Benefit Project Oz The Inside Out: Accessible Art Gallery and Cooperative is currently featuring a special exhibit, “Feels Like Home”, with a portion of the proceeds from the sales going directly to Project Oz. Stop in to their gallery in downtown Bloomington to view the fantastic pieces available or check them out on theirFacebook page.  A selection of pieces are also available for purchase through theironline store. Thank you to all of the participating artists for generously sharing your talents with us!

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We are looking to grow our passionate team!

Project Oz has a few new full-time openings in local elementary/middle schools for skilled relationship builders to use restorative practices to create an inclusive, supportive, engaged, and equitable school climate that will serve as a strong foundation for improved well-being, learning, and achievement for all students. Duties include assisting youth, families, and school administration in developing positive relationships to promote academic achievement, school attendance, and school safety, as well as reduce conflict, classroom disruptions, and disciplinary incidents.

Bachelor’s degree and related professional experience are required. Must be trauma-informed, sensitive to diversity in all its forms, have excellent communication skills, a good driving history, and be able to pass extensive background checks.

We offer competitive pay, excellent benefits, and amazing coworkers. Please review the job description for more details and visit our Employment Page to start the application process.

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MLK Healing Illinois Poetry Contest

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National Runaway Prevention Month

Join us during National Runaway Prevention Month!

Each year more than 4.2 million young people in the United States experience some form of homelessness. Whether living on the streets, in a car, or bouncing between friends’ couches, young people with no safe place to stay and few supports are at high risk for exploitation and victimization. The COVID-19 pandemic brings additional challenges. Young people experiencing homelessness are at higher risk for infection because their circumstances make it difficult to follow recommended health, hygiene, and social distancing practices.

This month, we hope you will join Project Oz in recognizing National Runaway Prevention Month (NRPM) and help “Shine a light” on the needs of homeless youth. There are many ways you can join the movement to prevent and end youth homelessness!
• Spread the word by “Liking” and sharing our social media posts throughout the month, and telling your friends about Project Oz.
• Show your support for runaway and homeless youth by taking and sharing pictures of yourself wearing green on Tuesday, November 10th.  Don’t forget to tag Project Oz on your social media!
• Light up your house or business with green for “Light the Night” on Tuesday, November 17th. We’d love to see your pictures!
To impact even more young people, we will also be participating in “Giving Tuesday” on December 1st. We hope you will consider making us your charity of choice on Giving Tuesday and sharing our campaign. You can also click here to donate anytime during the month of November.

Thank you for your support!

Together, we are working to build a safer and healthier future for all young people in our community.




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We Are All In This Together


Friends of Oz, we are deeply touched by those of you who have reached out to us during these challenging times and asked about our needs. As we all navigate this new normal together, we want you to know that Project Oz is working harder than ever to meet the needs of youth in our community in new ways.

We continue to provide safe shelter and support for young people experiencing homelessness, many of whom are now also feeling the impact of job loss, a strained support system, and interrupted plans for the future.  We have also taken steps to adjust services to protect the health of our clients, staff, and community, while continuing essential operations to support youth who have nowhere else to turn.

If you know of a young person who is struggling right now, please help them connect to us.  They can:

  • Call our office at 309-827-0377 during regular business hours (8:30-4:30); or
  • Call the 2-1-1 crisis hotline after hours to be connected to our on-call staff; or
  • Young people experiencing a crisis may also go to the closest Bloomington/Normal fire station- these serve as “Safe Places” and staff are trained to connect youth to us; or
  • Text the word “safe” and current location to 4HELP (44357) to reach the National Safe Place helpline and connect to trained counselors.

24/7 Crisis Response and Emergency Shelter Still Available

An essential element of “sheltering in place” is having a safe place to stay.  Our office building is closed and our crisis staff are working remotely as much as possible. We continue, however, to offer 24/7 crisis response and emergency shelter for any youth between the ages of 10 and 23 who is experiencing a housing or family crisis. We also continue to process new clients and referrals.


Youth Housing Program

All of Project Oz’s Youth Housing and Outreach Programs are operating, providing safe, supportive environments for young people experiencing homelessness, in which to shelter in place and receive meals and other services.  We are currently housing 26 young people, along with their 11 children or infants, in transitional living apartments or our emergency shelter.  On-going case management is being done virtually through phone or video calls.



Youth Employment Program


Many young people have been impacted by job loss due to COVID-19. We continue to enroll new clients virtually and provide on-going support to existing clients.  We are also working to connect youth looking for work to employers who are currently hiring. If your company or organization is hiring, please reach out to us and let us know about your needs.


School-Based Services

The school closures have affected our in-school services, including Substance Use Prevention Education, Ending the Silence, and Youth Empowered Schools programs. Our staff are working closely with school administrators to provide virtual lessons to be used as part of e-learning where possible and to offer virtual support services to students and teachers.


Many of our friends are asking what they can do to help. Right now our biggest needs are for non-medical grade masks for staff and clients, shelf stable snacks and microwaveable meals (for those clients who do not have access to a full kitchen), cleaning supplies, and small increment grocery store gift cards. To set up a contact-free drop-off or to send e-gift cards, please email us at

Alternatively, you may also click here to make an online contribution to Project Oz. Thank you for standing with us to support youth during this time!

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Project Oz Employment News!


Youth and Family Specialist (serving dual counties)

Project Oz has a full-time opening for a Youth and Family Specialist to provide day-to-day case management, life skills training, street outreach, counseling, and crisis intervention to individuals between the ages of 10 and 24 who are in Livingston and McLean counties.

Bachelor’s degree required and crisis counseling experience preferred.

Must be results oriented, have excellent communication skills, a good driving history, and be able to pass extensive background checks.

Safe and reliable transportation and evening and weekend work required.

Competitive salary, excellent benefits, and flexible work environment.  For consideration please go to our Employment Page to apply online.

School Youth Specialist (serving within a local junior high school)

Project Oz has a full-time opening to assist youth with diverse backgrounds in high risk situations, primarily operating in a junior high school setting. Duties include collaborating with students, parents, school administrators, counselors, and community partners to resolve crises and build positive relationships. Primary focus is on mentoring underserved youth for educational success by using restorative practices and intervention skills.

Bachelor’s degree required and related professional experience working with youth are required.

Must be trauma-informed, sensitive to diversity in all its forms, have excellent communication skills, a good driving history, and be able to pass extensive background checks.

Safe and reliable transportation and evening and weekend work are required.

Competitive salary, excellent benefits, and flexible work environment.

For consideration please go to our Employment Page to apply online.


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Project Oz Fall News and Updates

September is National Suicide Prevention Month.

Did you know that 17% of McLean County 10th graders and 15% of 12th graders report that they seriously considered attempting suicide in the past twelve months? The NAMI Ending the Silence program, presented locally by Project Oz in collaboration with NAMI Mid Central Illinois, brings in-school mental health and suicide prevention education to 6th and 9th grade students in every junior and senior high school in McLean County.

This month our friends at the IIDA Central Illinois are hosting an evening of Dueling Pianos, with the proceeds to benefit Ending the Silence.  Join them to sing along with all your favorite songs and help break the silence surrounding youth suicide!  By encouraging teens to talk about mental illness, and empowering them to ask for help for themselves and their friends, we can save lives.


Keys of Hope: Designing for a Brighter Future

Friday, September 20th, Castle Theater

Doors open 5:30 PM, Dueling Pianos at 7:00 PM

Tickets: $20

Purchase Tickets HERE


Your support helps build happy endings for runaway and homeless youth.

We are privileged to celebrate many milestones with our youth, including graduations, new apartments, new babies, and first jobs!

This fall, we have several youth moving into new Transitional Living Apartments.  If you would like to help provide move-in items (such as kitchen items, bedding, cleaning supplies, etc.), please click here to see our apartment wishlist or here to donate funds.

Thank you for helping our young people make a fresh start!




Save the Date: 3rd Annual Behavioral Health Community Forum, Thursday, October 17th.

Join the community conversation on mental health by attending the 3rd Annual Behavioral Health Community Forum, which will take place on Thursday, October 17th, from 8:00 AM to 3:45 PM at the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in Normal, Illinois.

Joanne Glancy, Project Oz’s Manager of Prevention Services, will be among those presenting.

Registration information will be posted on our Facebook page as soon as it is available!



Project Oz in D.C.

Support from our legislators is vital to prevent and end youth homelessness in Central Illinois and around the country.

Project Oz Executive Director Lisa Thompson, along with the leaders of other youth-serving organizations, was recently in Washington, D.C. visiting with local legislators to share information from the Chapin Hall Voices of Youth Count report.

Among the key observations in this comprehensive report is the fact that rural youth homelessness is just as prevalent as homelessness in urban areas, though it is often more hidden.




Project Oz youth on Market Street Mural

Did you know that the determined young lady depicted riding a bike in the Market Street Community Mural is modeled on a Project Oz youth?

Project Oz youth were also among those who used their artistic talents to create this amazing mural and express their thoughts on community, culture, and social issues.

The mural project was a collaboration between Illinois State University’s Illinois Art Station, Artolution, and the City of Bloomington, and is located at the intersection of Market and Morris Streets, Bloomington, Illinois.

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