At Cunningham, through residential treatment, special education and community-based services, our staff works hard to transform lives by helping children and youth reach their potential.
Andrea Phillpot is a perfect example of this.
Shortly after turning 15 years old, Andrea became part of the Cunningham family through our then-foster care program. She began working with TJ, her case manager, who guided this determined young lady on what has turned out to be an amazing journey.
Andrea received support from various Cunningham programs. At HopeSprings Counseling Services, Andrea learned to manage her anxiety and insomnia that stemmed from past traumas. She developed coping skills like taking deep breaths, meditation and surrounding herself with positive people which helped regulate her emotions.
As a participant in Cunningham’s Independent Living Program, she was taught life skills like money management and credit building while going to school at Danville Area Community College (DACC) and working as a Certified Nursing Assistant. When Andrea decided to pursue a degree in social work, TJ helped her enroll in the transfer program.
"With that extra support I’m able to live on my own, go to school and then transition into an adult," Andrea said back in 2017. "It’s good to have people; I talk to TJ at least once a week and ask for his help and advice. Having a supportive team helps a lot."
After earning an associate degree from DACC, Andrea enrolled at Illinois State University. She worked with TJ until she turned 21 and the two have continued to stay in touch.
"We still text from time to time," Andrea said. "I give him updates and ask him for advice. He’s been a major influence in my life; he is a mentor for me. He’s just always been there…a phone call, a text away for when I needed support or guidance. TJ has had a path similar to what I want to follow, and it’s nice to have someone who has done things I want to do in life."
Last May, Andrea invited TJ to her graduation ceremony from Illinois State, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology.
"It was incredibly rewarding to be there for Andrea’s graduation," TJ said. "Her dad shook my hand about five times and told me he was thankful for everything I, and Cunningham, have done for Andrea. She has come a long way and I am incredibly proud of her and all the success she has achieved."
Now, Andrea has the chance to pay it forward. She has been hired as a Recovery Specialist in the rehab center at the Champaign location of Rosecrance, a non-profit agency that provides a variety of behavioral health programs and services to children, adults and families. There, she helps lead groups and assesses clients and helps them on their path to recovery.
"Looking at things now that I am in this field, the sacrifices my team at Cunningham made for me, I don’t know too many people that would do that," Andrea said. "They were really influential in shaping me into who I am today. I hear stories all the time about people who didn’t know that certain things were available for foster youth, so they didn’t try in school and didn’t think that college was an opportunity. I really feel like Cunningham saved my life."
Andrea’s own experience of hope and healing will be a tremendous asset to her as she helps others. And we can’t say enough about TJ, whose ongoing care and support for Andrea may just be the reason she is thriving today. He has been a valuable member of the Cunningham team for 12+ years and truly makes a difference in helping others heal, learn and grow.
The ongoing support iof our donors is also a difference-maker. Their gifts allow us to continue to provide important services that offer possibilities and build hope. So grateful they believie in the work we do and help us realize our vision "to see every child thrive."