Mind & Spirit

More Than a Free Home

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For 20 years, funds from the Great Home Giveaway have improved the lives of the developmentally disabled. See how your ticket can change lives.

Outside this year’s Great Home Giveaway, a fully accessible ranch-style home located off State Street near Showplace 16. (Rebecca O'Malley photo)

For 20 years, Rockford-area residents have had the chance to win a brand-new home in the Great Home Giveaway. What many of those 15,000 annual ticket-buyers may not realize is how their raffle tickets help local families. All proceeds support The Arc of Winnebago, Boone and Ogle Counties, a Rockford-based organization that serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in northern Illinois.

“It’s a very good fundraiser for us,” says Jacki Neil Boss, executive director. “And it’s been absolutely essential because of the state cutting funding and also paying so far behind. We’ve been able to stay afloat and keep meeting the needs of the community, so it comes to us from the community and it goes back into the community.”

The local chapter of a national advocacy group, The Arc provides services including money management assistance, social events, classes on life skills and healthy relationships, home-based assistance and guardianship assistance. The Arc helps about 150 families and individuals every month.

Just as amazing are the generous business donations that make the home giveaway possible. This year, nearly 60 local businesses – from appliance and furniture retailers to construction, lumber and insurance companies – provided materials and home décor. Almost everything in the house and the giveaway is donated each year, and that’s how it’s been since the program started as an out-of-the-box fundraiser in 1992.

This year’s home, located at 8480 Blue River Road, off East State Street near Showplace 16 in Rockford, was built by Howlett Homes. Completely handicap-accessible, the ranch-style dwelling includes wide hallways, open-concept floor plans, high ceilings, cantilevered sinks and a spacious roll-in master shower, plus showroom-quality amenities and décor.

The wide-open kitchen, designed by River Valley Kitchens & Baths in Roscoe, includes quartz countertops, high-tech, easy-to-use faucets and a bright breakfast nook. Al Grace Appliance in Rockford and Direct Value Furniture in Roscoe supplied modern-style appliances and furniture.

Downstairs in the unfinished basement, there’s a “man cave,” with plush recliners and a large-screen TV. Upstairs, two bedrooms are small but cozy. The sprawling master suite, however, is bright and luxurious, with massive closets and a sleek, contemporary bathroom. In the bright and spacious living room, the home’s large windows reveal a tranquil, pastoral scene.
“It faces out to a corn field with trees in the back, so when you walk in, you can see out of three big windows,” says Neil Boss. “It looks like a beautiful painting of the landscape.”

The home is open to the public from noon to 4 p.m. every weekend until the Nov. 15 drawing, when the winner will be announced live during WTVO’s 6 p.m. evening newscast. Additional “early bird” raffle prizes are now being drawn monthly and are announced on-air.

“The biggest kick of all is watching the winners come through the door,” says Neil Boss, who’s overseen the giveaway for the past 10 years. “That’s fantastic. I’m always a little sad because the home isn’t ours anymore, but to know that it’s going to make such a positive difference in the lives of these people is really fabulous, and we’ve kept in touch with our winners.”

Past winners come from many backgrounds, and raffle ticket buyers live as far away as Alaska, California, Arizona and Arkansas. Giveaway winners can do with the home as they please, and although some choose to sell it, most either live in it or rent it to family and friends.

“Our first winner still has the house,” says Neil Boss. “Her daughter lived in it for a while, and now she’s there, so it’s really interesting to see what people do with the house, and how it benefits them.”

In a new twist, The Arc now offers an optional $100,000 grand prize, instead of the house. One of the first winners to take the cash expanded their farmhouse kitchen and family room to accommodate five active children.

Proceeds from the home giveaway support nearly half of The Arc’s annual budget, and Neil Boss is grateful for the continuing support from local businesses and from generous raffle contestants, many of whom show up year after year. As the mother of an adult with developmental disabilities, Neil Boss knows firsthand how The Arc fills an important role for families of those with special needs.

“They’re just like everybody else,” she says. “It’s just they may not be able to communicate, or they may have some special challenges. Intellect – that narrow thing we think of as intellect – in the narrow scheme of things, it’s not the most important thing to quality of life.”

Tickets for the Great Home Giveaway can be purchased at this year’s home, at The Arc’s Rockford office, and at several other outlets. A single ticket costs $20, and bundles are sold at discounted prices, available through Nov. 15. For more information, visit www.rockfordgreathomegiveaway.org.

SEE MORE PHOTOS INSIDE THIS YEAR’S HOME. CLICK TO ENLARGE

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