Huntley woman turns around from her abusive childhood to help kids today
By Jeanie Mayer For The Courier-News December 24, 2012 2:20PM
Kristie Sams of Huntley, co-founder of It's Our Little Secret organization dedicated to helping children in foster care.
Updated: January 26, 2013 6:04AM
This is another in a series of stories on people and events that shaped our communities in 2012.
HUNTLEY — Kristie Sams always knew she wanted to do something in life to help abused kids. Herself a survivor of child abuse, Sams co-founded It’s Our Little Secret (IOLS), an organization dedicated to helping children in foster care learn to truly live, not just survive.
Sams, 32, and co-founder Maebelle Obispo Emery founded the organization in 2009 after discovering that they shared commonalities in how they grew up and decided to reach out to help others. IOLS has a governing board of six members and more than 100 volunteers who help execute the programs and outreach initiatives that reach hundreds of children each year.
The organization works closely with the Department of Children and Family Services branches in Woodstock, Elgin and Aurora to provide toys at Christmas, journey backpacks for kids entering foster care and birthday party kits, because most foster children don’t get to celebrate even basic milestones.
Sams works as the vice president of finance at Bridgeview Bank Mortgage Group in Lombard and owns C & C Event Planning and Management, Inc., a corporate and social event company in Chicago. She graduated from DePaul University with a degree in finance and resides in Huntley with her two children, Caleb, age 10 and Carly, age 7.
Her unbounded energy and limitless passion for life and for helping abused children gives Sams the appearance of a woman who has never had a bad experience. But her life began with parents who were addicted to drugs and alcohol. She suffered physical and sexual abuse at the hands of people her parents trusted, she said. She was in and out of a dozen foster care situations and living in a half dozen different states by the time real help arrived in the form of a group home.
“I was sent away to Milton Hershey School in Hershey, PA, at the age of 10. I was removed out of that (abusive) environment and given a totally different experience at Hershey,” she said.
Now in a safe environment, Sams’ troubles weren’t completely over. She was diagnosed with cervical cancer as result of the sexual abuse she endured and was successfully treated at the age of 12.
The care and opportunities she received at Hershey gave Sams the tools to rebuild her life. It is that ideal that she seeks to share with the children she helps today, she said.
“The American dream is not owning a home or owning a business. I have done those things over and over. The American dream is to take what you came from and make it better. Learn to live every day,” she said.
Sams has plans in the works for a group home for abused children called the IOLS Academy of Arts and Healing. As a goal, the facility will provide a permanent home for 35 children and include a community center for additional programming.
“I want to take what I learned at Milton Hershey and apply it here,” she said.
Sams said she wants to give others who are suffering what she has received: peace.
“I wouldn’t change my past for anything. I have no hate, no anger. I feel free,” Sams said.
IOLS is a not-for-profit 501c3 organization based in Huntley. More information on the outreach work of IOLS, as well as information on how you can help these children in need can be obtained by logging onto the website at www.itsourlittlesecret.org.