Phone: (309) 827-0377

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 [email protected].

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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November is National Runaway Prevention Month!

November is National Runaway Prevention Month!

Dear Friends of Oz,

Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed with troubling news stories? We know that feeling. But, every week something good is happening at Project Oz.

Through our programs more kids are reaching out for help with mental health concerns, making good choices about alcohol and other drugs, graduating from school, building stronger relationships, starting first jobs, and getting first apartments.

In the face of challenging situations, our youth inspire us with their talents, strength, and resilience.When caring adults like you and I work together to keep youth safe and provide the support they need, there’s no limit to what our young people can achieve.

This month, for National Runaway Prevention Month, we’d like to invite you to join us as we “Shine a Light” on the needs of youth in Central Illinois, the programs we offer to help keep kids safe, and to urge everyone in our community to be a source of light, hope, and support for youth. Throughout the next several weeks, we will be sharing personal stories and information through social media to raise awareness and funds to empower youth.

To maximize our impact, however, we need you. If you are active on Facebook or Instagram, please help us amplify our voice this month by serving as a social media ambassador. You can help by:

  1. Following, liking, sharing, and engaging with our posts on Facebook or Instagram.
  2. Inviting your friends to “like us” and letting them know why our work is important to you.
  3. Choosing Project Oz as your Giving Tuesday nonprofit of choice on Tuesday November 27th.
    You may also donate direct on our “Shine a Light” campaign page.

Thank you for joining us in building a community where all our young people can develop their full potential and share their unique talents and voices!

Lisa Thompson
Executive Director

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Project Oz in the News!

Exciting developments and news are happening at Project Oz so fast, it’s hard to keep up!
Below are the highlights of the last several months.

Please sign up for our newsletter HERE so you don’t miss any future news.


As Project Oz celebrates its 45th year of operation, we also say good-bye to Peter Rankaitis, Executive Director, as he too celebrates his 45th year and retires after founding Project Oz in 1977.

Peter Rankaitis

He leaves us with this letter:

Dear Friends of Oz,

This October there will be a changing of the guard at Project Oz, as I retire from my position as the agency’s Executive Director.

My wife, Chris Carlton, and I founded Project Oz 45 years ago as college students, working out of a borrowed building on Washington Street. This organization has grown and expanded in ways that I never could have imagined at 19. I am proud of the role I played in that development and feel privileged to have been a positive part of the lives of so many young people in our community over the years.I am also sincerely thankful for all of the dedicated co-workers, wise colleagues, and strong friends and supporters who have joined me on this journey.You make our work possible.

The Board of Directors has chosen Lisa Thompson, our current Vice President of Operations, to lead the next chapter at Project Oz as our new Executive Director. Lisa is the perfect candidate. Since joining Project Oz as an intern 23 years ago, she has been an integral part of Project Oz’s success. With Lisa’s strong leadership, enthusiasm, and dedication to youth, I have no doubt that great things are in store for the agency. Project Oz staff will continue to put our founding values into practice every day and create safe places, where young people are treated with respect, connect to caring adults and community resources, and learn the skills they need to achieve their goals and lead happy, healthy, productive lives.

Thank you for your continued support of Project Oz!

Peter Rankaitis
Executive Director

On October 4, 2018, a flag was flown over the Illinois State Capitol in recognition of Peter Rankaitis’ legislative advocacy. At dusk, the flag was brought down and sent to him as an honorary memento.

A bipartisan resolution was confirmed, signed by the Speaker of the House, and presented by Representative Dan Brady for his outstanding achievements in public service and support of young people in Illinois.

We wish Peter well, and echo his sentiments as we welcome new Executive Director, Lisa Thompson!

Lisa Thompson


Project Oz is excited to introduce a new Community Youth Employment Program (CYEP) to McLean County youth and employers. This state-funded CYEP program will serve approximately 20 area youth in 2018, with a goal of increasing that number in future years.

The Community Youth Employment Program seeks to bridge the opportunity gap, connecting low-income and at-risk youth to successful, long-term employment. Program members will acquire skills and receive paid work experience that will help them enter and advance in the workforce. A job coach will offer individualized support throughout the experience, and assistance with child care and transportation will be provided in order to help eliminate barriers to participation. Each youth will develop a personal career plan and work readiness skills through career exploration activities, job training, individual counseling, life skills training, and supervised meaningful long term work experience and/or enhanced educational experiences.

For more information, please visit our YOUTH EMPLOYMENT PAGE HERE.


Per The Pantagraph article on October 22, 2018:

BLOOMINGTON — Two-thirds of teens who report abuse of prescription drugs get them from family and friends, and many of those drugs are gradually taken from medicine cabinets without loved ones knowing.

“We want to get unused and unneeded prescription drugs out of medicine cabinets,” said Lisa Soliday, prevention specialist with Project Oz, which helps at-risk youth.

Central Illinoisans will have another opportunity on Oct. 27 to safely dispose of no-longer-needed prescription drugs.

The occasion is the 16th National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, a twice-yearly event that allows people to safely dispose of unneeded or expired prescription drugs.

From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 27, thousands of sites nationwide, including several in Central Illinois, will accept drugs for safe disposal.

“Nearly 80 percent of people who use heroin started by abusing prescription drugs,” Soliday said Friday. “It’s important to get these drugs out of people’s homes so they aren’t misused or abused.”

The U.S. Department of Justice’s Drug Enforcement Administration sponsors National Prescription Drug Take Back Day to reduce drug abuse and addiction, overdose deaths and accidental poisonings by keeping medicines away from people who shouldn’t have them.

A second goal is to discourage disposal of medicine by dumping it down the toilet or sink, which means the medicine could end up in the water supply.

During the 15th drug take-back day on April 28, a record-high 949,046 pounds of drugs were collected at 5,842 sites nationwide, according to DEA. That included 37,172 pounds of drugs collected at 196 sites in Illinois.

All 15 drug take-back events have collected 9,964,714 pounds of drugs, including 481,732 in Illinois, DEA said.

Agencies participating in drug take-back day include Bloomington Police Department, 305 S. East St.; Normal Police Department (with Project Oz’s Youth Action Board), 100 E. Phoenix Ave.; Danvers Police Department, 105 S. Broadway; Heyworth Police Department, 108 S. Buchanan; McLean Police Department, 110 S. Main St.; El Paso Police Department, 540 E. Main St.; Minier Police Department, 110 W. Central Ave.; Woodford County Sheriff’s Office, 111 E. Court St., Metamora; Morton Police Department, 375 W. Birchwood St.; Live Well Streator at Streator City Park, southwest corner parking lot on Hickory Street; Pekin Police Department, 111 S. Capitol St.; and Decatur Police Department, 707 W. South Side Drive.


Project Oz was well represented at the Monday, October 8, 2018 McLean County Behavioral Health Forum in Normal, IL.

At the 2nd Annual McLean County Behavioral Health Community Forum, the day was intended for all members of the community, and also included a day of sessions for adolescents aged 12 and older. The County of McLean shared what it has to offer with regard to behavioral health, how to get involved, how to help individuals with behavioral health concerns, and self-coping strategies.


Congratulations to Joanne Glancy, winner of the 2018 Illinois Association for Behavioral Health Prevention Leadership Award.

Joanne has committed 32 years of energy and talent, bringing public attention to the need for prevention and fostering the growth and development of the Illinois prevention movement. Because of her dedication, countless young people have developed the skills they need to make safe, healthy choices and to achieve their goals.

Joanne Glancy


Per The Pantagraph article on July 25, 2018:

BLOOMINGTON — Full-time mentors with Project Oz will be added to Bloomington-Normal public high schools this year to guide and counsel students and their families

A school youth specialist will be added at Normal Community, Normal Community West and Bloomington high schools for the 2018-19 year through the Youth Empowered Schools (YES) Program with Project Oz.

Jay Shannon, YES program manager, said the program has been implemented in Normal-based McLean County Unit 5 and Bloomington District 87 in the past but was reduced over the years due to funding issues.

Now, the program is funded by McLean County United Way, State Farm Foundation and Unit 5.

The District 87 school board will discuss joining the funding partnership at an upcoming board meeting.

“The ultimate goal of the program is to help students graduate high school on time and provide mentoring, counseling and conflict resolution services to show just how successful they can be,” said Shannon.

During the last three years, 93 percent of seniors enrolled in YES graduated on time and 86 percent of underclassmen stayed on track to graduate on time, according to Project Oz.

The program specialists are Matthew Coates at BHS, Andrew Bennett at NCHS, and Robert Harris at Normal West.

The counselors also will address “supplemental cases” for students, said Shannon.

“They’d be available for any student to talk to and connect with about day-to-day concerns,” said Shannon.

Shannon said the program can address violence in the community “from a proactive approach instead of a reactive approach.”

“We have to be holistic for youth in our community and we should build resources around them, especially at school — a place they spend nine months out of the year,” said Shannon.

Dave Johnson, principal at Normal West, said the program will offer a much-needed service for students.

“For students with the greatest needs, it provides another avenue to help them. The program will go beyond the school day and beyond the expertise and abilities currently in our school,” said Johnson.

The specialists also will work closely with families, said Johnson.

“If a student becomes homeless, Project Oz can help them find a place to live, which is a resource a school usually can’t provide. This creates a better path for families,” he said.

Barry Reilly, superintendent of District 87, said each counselor brings a personalized touch to the role.

“This is a position that does a lot of intervention, promotes leadership and helps kids who are struggling in school, socially and academically,” said Reilly.

Many schools are expected to provide mental health services despite limited resources, said Reilly.

“Classroom teachers are having to act as mental health providers. Programs like this help offer support to schools. The level of expertise they’ll bring to the building plays a critical role in helping youth and families in our community,” said Reilly.



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Walking For Project Oz

Walking for Project Oz

Nathan Henthorn will walk the 2,600 mile Pacific Crest Trail beginning March 18, 2018 at the southern tip near San Diego, CA, and ending at the northern tip at the Canadian border.

Along the way, he plans to raise awareness for the plight of homeless and runaway youth, and raise money for Project Oz to help those youth. All funds donated through this page will go directly to Project Oz.

Here is why Nathan is embarking on this walk:


I’m 19 years old, and have always loved the outdoors while camping, hiking, and backpacking.

Alex and I have been close friends since 7th grade. After my mom passed, he was there for me when I felt most alone. My church has also been a big inspiration.

During our sophomore year, when Alex shared his idea for this walk, I immediately wanted to join him. We spent the next three years preparing, which included my losing 60 lbs.

I wish I’d known about Project Oz when one of my high school friends was kicked out of his home and had nowhere to stay but in my garage. I want to do all I can to help homeless youth in his position.

To donate toward their goal of $2,600, please go to their donation page here.

2,600 Mile Pacific Crest Trail

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Thanks For Making #GivingTuesday 2017 A Success!

We are awed and thankful for the generosity our supporters have shown on #GivingTuesday.

We received over $4,000 in total donations before funds are matched from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The contributions received will translate into helping improve the lives of youth in need of homes, and guidance, in our community.

Our Facebook video, #Talk2Somebody, shares a small portion of how Project Oz’s programs and staff affect the youth in our community.

Many thanks to the Friends of Project Oz!

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How to Help on #GivingTuesday

Dear Friends:

We are asking for your support on Tuesday, November 28th!

Double your impact by visiting our Facebook page and making a donation between 7:00 a.m.- 10:00 p.m, CST.

Every donation made on #GivingTuesday will be matched by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation!

Proceeds to this campaign will help local homeless & runaway youth, support school-based counselors, and provide drug, alcohol, and suicide prevention to local youth.

Project Oz believes that all youth desire to have meaningful, fulfilling lives. We believe that preventing problems and intervening when life becomes difficult is critical to a family’s success.

Our desire is to promote health and well-being for all youth and their families.

Project Oz works to make a difference in the lives of youth.

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Project Oz Prevention Specialist Colleen O’Connor Receives Award

Congratulations to Project Oz Prevention Specialist, Colleen O’Connor, CPS, CADC, who was awarded the 2017 McLean County Public Health Award by the McLean County Board of Health last week.

Colleen O’Connor receives McLean County Health Department’s 2017 Public Health Award

“Colleen O’Connor makes a difference in the lives of young people by teaching Youth Mental Health First Aid classes within the community. She shines shines as a community leader, role model, and symbol of health and hope in McLean County.” –McLean County Health Department Board

Last year Colleen started a school-based prevention program that has reached more than 2,000 students at nine schools. The health department says the program has referred dozens of students to other support services as a result of the program, some of them with depression and suicide attempts. Here is WGLT’s full article.


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Dear Friends of Project Oz,

Did you know that if all the runaways in the United States lived in a city, it would be the fifth largest city in the US? Project Oz works hard every day to scale that city back.

It starts by getting youth to #Talk2Somebody.

We all need somebody to talk to:

Somebody to lighten the load when our problems threaten to overwhelm us.
Somebody to celebrate our strengths.
Somebody to encourage us with hope for the future.
Somebody to share our successes along the way.
Somebody to help guide us.

For almost 900 young people in our community last year, that somebody was a Project Oz counselor or caseworker. Every day, Project Oz connects with youth on the streets and in the schools who just need somebody to listen and give them a little help to achieve their goals for the future.

November is National Runaway Prevention Month. Project Oz wants to make sure that all young people in our community know they’re not alone.

Throughout the month, we’ll share personal stories, statistics, and articles through social media in order to raise awareness about the needs of homeless and runaway youth in Central Illinois, and the services we provide. Please help us spread the word by “Liking” and sharing our social media posts, and telling your friends about Project Oz.

Please follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, & LinkedIn

Project Oz helped 216 runaways in McLean County and Livingston Counties during the past year, and provided phone support for an additional 87 runaways.

To help more runaways, we are participating in “Giving Tuesday” on November 28th.

We hope you’ll consider donating to Project Oz to help ensure that local youth can #Talk2Somebody, and have a safe place to go this holiday season.

Please click here to donate to #GivingTuesday anytime during the month of November.

Your gift can make a difference! Thank you for your continued support of Project Oz!

Peter Rankaitis

Executive Director

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