All posts by Judith McLean

“There is a silent crisis in the United States due to the extreme shortage of specialists who care for children with medical complexity (CMC) specifically, and Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics (DBP) in general.  We are developing an innovative program to address this crucial workforce issue” 
Peter J. Smith, MD, MA, Almost Home Kids Medical Director – Chicago

Their Futures Depend on What You Do Today

Almost Home Kids (AHK), an affiliate of Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, is announcing a new Scholars Program in Developmental & Behavioral Pediatric (DBP), Mental Health (MH) and Complex Care (CC) for Advance Practice Registered Nurses.

Nationally there are more than 3 million children with special healthcare needs, growing at 5% annually, they are among the most rapidly growing subgroups of the pediatric population. In Illinois, there are currently 14,000 children who are medically complex. Advances in medicine and technology are allowing children who are medically complex to live longer lives which results in an increased need for supportive services from medical the community.

Parents and providers report that families face 9-12-month delays to see a sub-specialist in Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics (DBP) for diagnosis and treatment interventions and the same is true for children and adolescents waiting to see a psychiatrist for mental health services. Many children with complex care needs are forced to be hospitalized longer than necessary, putting these children at higher risk for poor health outcomes due to limited availability of providers, such as Almost Home Kids.

Recognizing the need to increase the core group of medical professionals competently trained to care for these children, AHK has developed a new initiative with a goal of educating Advance Practice Registered Nurses (APRN’s) in the sub-specialties of Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics, Mental Health, and Complex Care.  With advanced training, APRN’s will be able to diagnose, manage, co-manage, and refer as needed, children for developmental disabilities (including cerebral palsy, autism, and learning disabilities), medical complexities (including epilepsy, genetic abnormalities, neurological impairment, feeding and respiratory problems), and behavioral issues (including ADHD, anxiety, depression, and incontinence).

Here’s What You Can Expect

The APRN scholar will participate in an intensive one-year, 50 week, two days, 20 hours per week, training program partnering with  the University of Illinois at Chicago’s LEND (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disorders), the Ohio State KySS (Keep Your Child Safe and Secure) online Mental Health Fellowship, ADOS-2 (Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule) training at Advocate Illinois Masonic Developmental Center, DuPage Easter Seals, Division of Specialized Care for Children (DSCC)  and Professional Development Training at Erikson Institute. Program faculty including Anita D. Berry MSN, CNP, APN, CPMHS, APRN Scholars Program Director and Peter J. Smith MD. MA, and Ann B. Karch MD, Medical Directors.

Our Team

Anita Berry MSN, CNP, APN, PMHS
AHK Manager APRN Fellowship Program

Click here for Ms. Berry’s CV

Anita Berry has dedicated her career to pediatric nursing, working in several leading hospitals and outpatient facilities as a pediatric nurse practitioner. Currently Anita Directs the APRN Scholars Program in Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics, Mental Health and Complex Care. Prior to this role she worked at Advocate Children’s Hospital as the Director of the Healthy Steps for Young Children Program, where she educated providers and staff in primary care practices, Federally Qualified Health Centers, residency and nurse practitioner programs throughout the state of Illinois, on child development and mental health.

Anita is an accomplished lecturer and teacher having received several awards for her dedication to the families and the community, most recently including the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (NAPNAP) 2016 Kelly Reed Advance Practice Community Impact Award for Excellence in the Community and Beyond, and Children’s Hospital of Illinois 2016 Robert D. Hart, M.D. Endowed Lectureship Speaker. Anita has served as editor for Pediatric Nurse Practitioner primary care textbooks, published in numerous peer reviewed journals, and has spoken professionally at multiple conferences.

Anita enjoys spending time with her husband Mark, her five grown children and their spouses, and her nine young grandchildren. Her education and career experiences are driven by her passion to help parents and children be the best they can be.

Peter J. Smith, MD, MA
AHK Chicago – Medical Director

Click here for Dr. Smith’s CV

The medical director for AHK Chicago is Peter J. Smith. Dr. Smith is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Chicago. Dr. Smith is also a faculty member of the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics at the University of Chicago. Dr. Smith attended the University of Notre Dame for his undergraduate degree, Duke University for Medical School, and completed his Masters in Theology (Ethics) at Boston College.  He completed his general pediatrics residency at St. Louis Children’s Hospital (Washington University) and two fellowships at Boston Children’s Hospital (Harvard).  He is board certified in two subspecialties of pediatrics, Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (NDD) and Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics (DBP).

Dr. Smith’s direct clinical service has included inpatient care (he is former Chief of the Medical Staff at La Rabida Children’s Hospital), work in residential schools (he is Medical Director both at the Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School and at the Illinois Center for Rehabilitation and Education), and outpatient clinics (currently at Comer Children’s Hospital, the Erikson Institute, and at Easter Seals of DuPage and Fox Valley).  Both families and colleagues respect him as a hard-working and passionate advocate for children with complex medical needs.

Within the region, Dr. Smith has held several leadership positions.  He has served on multiple Committees of the Illinois Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (ICAAP) related to children with complex medical concerns, and he chaired one of these committees, the Committee on Children with Disabilities.  He has previously served as Medical Director for the Child and Family Connections team in DuPage County (CFC#5).

Nationally, Dr. Smith has been elected as Chair of the Executive Committee of the Section of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics (SODBP) for the American Academy of Pediatrics. In addition, he has served on the Executive Committee for the Council on Children with Disabilities (COCWD) for the national AAP (as a liaison from the SODBP).  He also previously served on the Board of Directors for the American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) and is involved in developing national standards for the healthcare of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Dr. Smith is also a teacher and scholar. As a teacher, he has many roles. In one of these roles, he started and directed the first training program in the Midwest for pediatricians who want to become experts in the care of children with developmental and behavioral difficulties (a Fellowship in DBP).   He has also developed the medical education program (for medical students, residents, and fellows) at Almost Home Kids.  Dr. Smith’s scholarship has focused upon the ethics of care for children with special needs as well as the training of doctors to care for children with medical complexity.  He has authored multiple articles in scientific journals as well as several chapters in the textbooks used by specialists in this field. Dr. Smith is a frequent presenter at local, regional, and national scientific meetings as well as at formal educational programs for doctors.

Most importantly, Dr. Smith is a husband, father to four wonderful children, sibling to five brothers and one sister, and son to parents that taught & inspired him to serve others, especially children.

Ann B. Karch M.D.
AHK Chicago & Naperville – Associate Medical Director

Click here for Dr. Karch’s CV

Dr. Ann Karch Serves as Associate Medical Director for both Chicago and Naperville. Dr. Karch is a board certified general pediatrician with a special interest in children with developmental disabilities stemming from college summer work at Easter Seals Camp Wawbeek in Wisconsin. She has been a member of the AHK Medical Advisory Committee since 2012. Dr. Karch earned her medical degree from the University of Wisconsin. She completed a residency in pediatrics at the University of Chicago where she subsequently served as Chief Resident in Pediatrics.

Dr. Karch has worked as a pediatrician in private practice and has had several opportunities to work as a pediatrician with international medical teams. She has volunteered with teams in Bolivia, the Philippines, and Kenya (all with the Diocese of Joliet Partnership in Mission); and with Operation Smile in the Philippines. Ann and her husband, Gary, live in Glen Ellyn, where they raised three sons.

Career Benefits to Scholars

The DBP-APN Advanced Training Program will provide the scholar with varied clinical and educational opportunities to prepare them for autonomous practice. Upon completing this program, APRNs will have the depth, breadth, volume, and intensity of foundational knowledge coupled with appropriate clinical experience to independently manage children with the conditions served by DBP clinicians.  Graduates of this APRN Advanced Training Program will be well positioned to be thought leaders in the field.

Program Curriculum

Scholars will participate in case-based discussions and journal club. The scholar will be provided opportunities for the following during the Advanced Training Program:

  • understand the complex developmental processes of infants, children, adolescents and young adults, in the context of their families and communities
  • understand the biological, psychological, and social influences on development in the emotional, social, motor, language, and cognitive domains
  • understand the mechanisms for primary and secondary prevention of disorders in behavior and development
  • analyze pathophysiology for various disease processes
  • develop diagnoses, formulate treatment plans and evaluate patient response to treatment
  • utilize evidence-based practices in delivering quality, cost-effective care
  • educate patients and families about disease process and prevention
  • develop organizational skills vital to effectively managing patient caseloads
  • develop effective communication and presentation skills essential to work with an interdisciplinary team
  • develop an age-appropriate treatment plan for mental health problems based on biopsychosocial theories, evidenced-based standards of care, and practice guidelines, including differential diagnosis for mental health problems
  • demonstrate behaviors that reflect a commitment to continuous professional development, ethical practice, an understanding and sensitivity to diversity and a responsible attitude toward patients, profession and society
  • evaluate the relationships among access, cost, quality, and safety and their influence on health care
  • demonstrate critical thinking and diagnostic reasoning skills in clinical decision making

Scholars will receive a certificate of completion from Almost Home Kids as well as certifications from ADOS-2 training, the KySS Program, and LEND.

Scholars will not receive any compensation for participating in this program and must secure professional liability insurance with limits of at least $1,000,000 per occurrence, $3,000,000 aggregate to participate in clinical rotation at the various sites.

Summer is heating up and Labor Day will be here before we know it!

Spend a day on the golf course for the kids, or support someone else who’s up to the challenge of 100 holes of golf! Our annual Golf Marathon is a great opportunity for friends of AHK to get their networks engaged with our mission by supporting Golf Marathon participants at $1 a hole (or whatever amount is feasible). In return participants receive boxed lunch, cold beer and beverages all day, and a barbecue feast at the completion of 100 holes.

Register now at

Escape to the elegance of Italy at our eighth annual Share the Care Ball – Italia at Hotel InterContinental Chicago on October 25, 2019. Enjoy cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, dinner, silent and live auction and lively entertainment by the Ken Arlen Evolution Orchestra and special guests. All proceeds benefit Almost Home Kids Chicago.

Advance tickets are available at a reduced cost at:

If you are interested in a sponsorship option (details below), please reach out to Judith at 

Event Sponsorship Options
Platinum – $25,000

  • 2 Tables of 10 in a VIP location
  • Premier logo inclusion on event signage*
  • Title heading on Invitation
  • Title heading location on program and on display during the event*
  • Recognition during the evening program
  • 10 Parking Passes

Gold – $10,000

  • Table for 10 in a premier location and prominent logo inclusion on each bidder paddle (see sample above with Plum Market logo and web address incorporated)
  • Prominent logo inclusion on event signage*
  • Prominent logo location on Invitation
  • Prominent logo location on program and on display during the event*
  • Recognition during the evening program
  • 5 Parking Passes

Silver – $7,500

  • Table for 10 or prominent logo inclusion on each bidder paddle
  • (see sample above with Plum Market logo and web address incorporated)
  • Prominent logo inclusion on event signage*
  • Prominent logo on Invitation
  • Prominent logo on program and on display during the event*
  • Recognition during the evening program

Bronze – $5,000

  • Table for 10 in a prominent location
  • Name or logo included on Invitation*
  • Name or logo included on program and on display during the event*
  • Recognition during the evening program

*subject to print deadlines (tbd)

We had a fantastic evening of wine tasting at Larkin Hall last week as we hosted our 6th annual summer event – the second one to showcase wine and wine tasting. Nearly 150 guest raised $25,000 of much needed funds for Almost Home Kids thanks in part to an amazing raffle with items from Paul Hobbs, Forth Wines, Daniel, Da Vero and the East Bank Club to name just a few.

Jenni Wagoner (Wine Director for Sepia & Proxi) served as our host and introduced us to 8 amazing sommeliers and wine professionals from some of Chicago’s top restaurants and wine retailers who helped describe the wines and enhance the tasting experience.

Our wonderful event committee led by Bregan Herrold and Julia Chappell organized an impressive raffle, excellent beer and wine at the bar and a sumptuous display of heavy apps from Blue Plate catering to make the evening event even more enjoyable.

Special thanks to CIBC, Maverick Wines, Vin Chicago, Plum Market, Wine ’till Sold Out and Revolution Brewing for their sponsorship and support and to Cassandra Sakai (The Girl and the Goat), Jamel Freeman (Bellemore), Jim Bube (Hogsalt), Rebekah Mahru (City Winery), Peter Schwarzbach and Greg Spaulding (VIN Chicago), Samantha Hunt (Cherry Circle Room) and Ryan Baldwin (Waldorf Astoria / Margeaux Brasserie)


AHK Young Associates held their 5th annual No Place Like Home fundraiser at Porters Kitchen & Deck. Over $30,000 of much needed funds were raised for Almost Home Kids.

Thank you to everyone who worked on making this a fantastic event, especially the YAB Board and sponsors Plante Moran and Tito’s vodka.

Special thanks to everyone who attended, donated their time and contributed to the amazing raffle!

Please join us at our annual summer wine event “Tasting for a Cause, Women in Wine” with Jenni Wagoner, Wine Director for Sepia and Proxi. Jenni will be joined by some of Chicago’s best Sommeliers and will be featuring women crafted wines. The event benefits the programs and children at Almost Home Kids.

Tasting for a Cause – Women in Wine –
When: THURSDAY, JUNE 13 – 6:00 PM – 8:30 PM
Where: LARKIN HALL – 1362 W Fulton Street, Chicago
Street and nearby parking lots are readily available

Early Bird Tickets: $100 (until 6/1) $125 from June 2nd and at the door:
Ticket price includes premium wine tastings, beer and wine bar, heavy apps and dessert


The energy was high as we danced the night away to the Motown sound by The Moods at our Naperville gala on April 12, 2019. Guests were treated to a fun and memorable experience by Co-Chairs Sheila Gallagher and Yonhee Gordon, and their talented committee, and inspired by the extraordinary commitment of event honorees, Neuco and Kathy Wennerstrum.

Paige Richards eloquently shared her family’s experience with Almost Home Kids and reminded everyone why their support matters. CBS2 reporter and news anchor Mai Martinez served as host and together with Marion Valle (auctioneers) encouraged the 340 attendees to raise almost $150,000 in much needed funds for Almost Home Kids.

Thank you to our sponsors and everyone who helped make this a fabulous and very successful evening! #UPS #NEUCO #MULLARKEYASSOCIATES

Our Naperville gala is this week, and promises to be a fabulous evening, with a nod to the Motown era and an opportunity to thank two very deserving awardees, learn more about Almost Home Kids and have a very fun evening raising much needed funds.

Join us at I’ll Be There, a Motown Affair!

This year we are honoring long-time volunteer Kathy Wennerstrum as Share the Care Champion, and NEUCO as very deserving Distinguished Donors.

Here is just a bit about both –

Kathy Wennerstrum, Share the Care Champion.
Kathy traded in her corporate ID many years ago and has since taken full advantage of a wide range of opportunities to volunteer. As a result, Almost Home Kids has benefited greatly from  Kathy’s willingness to serve our organization in many different capacities. Kathy enjoyed a successful career which concluded in Sales & Marketing at Van Kampen American Capital, where she worked with the company’s Wholesalers and external retail Brokers, before retiring from corporate life to become a stay-at-home mom and driver for her three sons Matt, Dan, and Tom.

Since then, Kathy has freely offered her time and talents to several worthy organizations. She served as the President of the Western Springs District 101 School Board, as a Board member and President of the Western Springs Little League, Board member of the Western Springs Foundation for Educational Excellence, as President of the local PTO, and as a Commissioner for the Village of Western Springs’ Recreation Department. Kathy has also been active in the local and global mission activities of her church for the last several years, actively supporting several projects addressing hunger, homelessness, and community sustainability. Kathy presently works to broaden Chicago partnerships within the Presbytery of Havana and supports her congregation’s own partnership with a Cuban congregation.

Most importantly, during the last nine years, Kathy’s been affiliated with Almost Home Kids as a Recreational Volunteer and has spent more than 230 volunteer hours engaging with the children at AHK. Kathy has been part of the Planning Committee for the Naperville Gala since 2011 and served as Chair for two highly successful Naperville galas, and she considers it an honor to be just one small part of the greater team working to expand AHK’s reach and services.

Neuco, Distinguished Donors
Neuco became involved with Almost Home Kids (AHK) in 2009 when Bill Neustadt, retired President and current Chairman of NEUCO, was introduced to Almost Home Kids by his neighbor and former AHK Board Member, Mike Busse. Bill was instantly inspired by the mission and children, and in 2010 joined our Board of Directors, serving as Board Chair from 2013 to 2016. Bill also encouraged the company to adopt Almost Home Kids as a beneficiary of their corporate charitable endeavors. Since 2010 NEUCO has sponsored countless Almost Home Kids events, from our past golf outings, to the galas in both Chicago and Naperville. For several years Neuco has had a foursome of golfers headed by Brian and Billy Neustadt in the AHK Golf Marathon, and Neuco employees have personally supported AHK — encouraging their friends and families to also become involved.

In 2013 Neuco employees began an annual tradition by hosting the Holiday Party for the children & siblings at AHK Naperville, recruiting musical entertainment from Neuco employees, providing lunch for family members and staff, and even donning the big red suit and beard to make sure the children at Almost Home Kids have a visit and pictures with Santa, AKA Bill. In addition to Almost Home Kids, Neuco has dedicated significant time and resources to the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, the Marfan Foundation and Sharing Connections Furniture Bank in Downers Grove.

Neuco is the premier master distributor of HVAC/R controls in North America, providing excellent service, technical knowledge, and support to wholesale distributors by serving as an extension of the manufacturers. The origins of the company date back to 1907 when John M. Neustadt started his hay, coal and grain business on the west side of Chicago. Today, Neuco stocks over 54,000 replacement parts from top HVAC/R manufacturers such as Honeywell, Johnson Controls, Carrier, Trane and Lennox at their new location in Bollingbrook, IL. Amid the evolution of the company from the early 1900’s to today, one thing has remained the same: Neuco’s commitment to customer service and satisfaction is second to none.

Join the Young Associates Board of Almost Home Kids at Porter Kitchen & Deck for their fifth annual No Place Like Home event on May 3, 2019 from 7:00 – 10:00 PM.

Grab your friends and enjoy drinks, apps and music for another night to remember benefiting Almost Home Kids Chicago.

Advance tickets are $85 (price goes up to $95 after April 20, 20119), so get your tickets now at


Masses of thanks to our amazing runners at this years Shamrock Shuffle! You guys raised a ton of much needed funds for AHK and helped spread the word, and a bit of orange in a sea of green!

Over $3,000 was raised thanks to Steve Tziforos, Cory Eigenschenk, Bec Williams, Adam Polywka, Liam Brady, Jaclyn Kaminski, Briley Kellison, Noah Placzek, Audrey Smith, Jenn Splinter, and Angie McNeil. Special shout out to the Grant Thonton Team and  Team Tziforos.

There is still time to donate to a runner: