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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Federal Grant Will Help Project Oz Curb Sexual Exploitation

“The efforts of Project Oz to combat youth homelessness, exploitation, and sex trafficking are crucial not just for McLean County, but for Illinois as a whole.

“Project Oz is exactly the kind of local resource we need to prevent this criminal industry from growing and save at-risk children in our communities from becoming victims. Thank you to the team at Project Oz for helping make a difference in the lives of children in Central Illinois.”
–U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville WGLT Article Link

#GivingTuesday -> You can help by donating here.

“The grant will help Project Oz pay for nine new beds for homeless youth who are at risk of exploitation or already being exploited,” said Project Oz Vice President Lisa Thompson. “Many homeless youth who are being exploited are engaging in some type of “survival sex. Picture an 18-year-old who’s staying with someone 40 years older than her, giving her food and a place to stay in exchange for a sexual relationship.”

Lisa Thompson is vice president at Project Oz in Bloomington.

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SAVE THE DATE for #Giving Tuesday, November 28, 2017

SAVE THE DATE for GIVING TUESDAY, November 28, 2017.

#GivingTuesday is a global day of giving, fueled by the power of social media and collaboration.

Celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday & Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday kicks off the charitable season, when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving.

One of the best ways to get involved is in your own community.

The countdown is on!

Mark your calendars for November 28th and donate to Project Oz the day after the busiest shopping days of the season!

Join the movement with Project Oz and give back!

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Join our Youth Action Board for upcoming October – November Events!


WHEN: October 28, 2017, 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM
WHERE: Normal Police Department, 100 E. Phoenix Avenue, Normal, IL
WHAT: Dispose of your unwanted and/or expired prescription drugs safely.

The DEA’s National Prescription Drug Take Back Day aims to provide a safe, convenient, and responsible way to dispose of prescription drugs, and also educate the general public about the potential for abuse of medications.

Project Oz’s Youth Action Board and Bloomington High School’s H.Y.P.E. Club will assist the Normal Police Department collect unwanted and/or expired prescription drugs for safe disposal.

We’ll make it easy for you! You don’t have to even leave your car. Just drive your car through Normal Police Department’s circle driveway at 100 E. Phoenix Avenue, Normal Illinois. Students and police officers will collect your unwanted prescriptions for safe disposal.

Below is a link to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) National Take Back Day which occurs on October 28, 2017 all across the nation.

The following police departments in McLean County will be participating in the DEA’s National Drug Take Back Day:

Bloomington Police Department, 305 S. East St., Bloomington 309 434-2700 M-F 9:00am-11:00pm

Normal Police Department, 100 E. Phoenix Ave, Normal, 309 454-9535

Chenoa Police Department, 209 Green St, Chenoa, 815 945-7627

Colfax Police Department, 307 N Harrison, Colfax, 309 723-6241

Danvers Police Department, 105 N Broadway, Danvers 309 963-6330

Heyworth Police Department, 108 S Buchanan, Heyworth, 309 473-2811

Leroy Police Department, 207 S East St, Leroy, 309 962-3310

Lexington Police Department, 329 E Main, Lexington, 309 365-3871

Stanford Police Department , 200 S Grant, Stanford 309 379-2026


Project Oz’s Youth Action Board will host a booth at Miller Park’s Spooktacular on Sunday, October 29, 2017, from 12-3 p.m.

Please come out and join us for a fun afternoon at the Zoo.

Please see the links below for more details.


Sign up here:

Visit our Facebook page:

We hope to see you for a beautiful day to RUN DRUGS OUT OF TOWN!

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