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Donors Help Rescue Youth Shelter Harbour House, Which Was At Risk Of Closing After Pandemic Slowed Fundraising

CHICAGO (CBS) -- They're scared and alone; teens in need of a place to sleep.

A suburban non-profit worried its emergency youth shelter would have to shut down because of code violations. Organizers are crediting a previous Morning Insiders story with flipping their script.

CBS 2's Lauren Victory explains.

The Harbour House in Des Plaines has weathered some storms, literally and figuratively.

"When I first arrived here, I was utterly alone," Sophia Stefaniuk told a crowd of Harbour House supporters.

She stayed at the emergency homeless shelter for teens in 2019.

"Showing up to an old house that looked like it was built by the three little pigs," joked Stefaniuk.

You probably could huff, puff, and blow the house down. Volunteer handyman Ted Sigg showed CB2 several repairs needed in March.

"It is definitely falling apart," said Sigg then, pointing out duct-taped windows, crumbling drywall, flood damage in the basement, power issues, and more.

The local fire marshal took notice too, warning the non-profit running the shelter (the Harbour) that it needed to bring the building up to code or construct something new. Both options would cost a lot of money that the organization didn't have.

"It's so emotional," said Kris Salyards, the Harbour's executive director, as she struggled to finish her interview. The happy tears came because this week's groundbreaking on "Project 2020" was expected last year.

The Harbour's idea for a new 3,500-square-foot shelter was in jeopardy for months, because fundraising stalled during the pandemic. Then our story aired.

"Once the CBS spot ran, we had an angel donor who came out of the woodwork and called himself Santa Claus in a cold call," said Salyards.

That angel donor, Mike Clune, owner of Clune Construction, gave $200,000, apparently telling her that he'd been looking for a passion project, saw the news, and knew the Harbour House was it.

Several other people told the Harbour they noticed the report on Facebook. About 50 people made smaller donations, amounting to $12,000 after the report.

"He said, 'I saw the CBS spot. I received a stimulus check. I didn't need it. I wanted to give it to you,'" said Salyards, recalling a conversation with one of the new donors.

Every dollar made the difference.

Nigel Blakeway is the CEO of Omron Management Center of America. His company gave $250,000 in seed money for the project more than 4 years ago.

"It's fantastic to see how the other donors have believed in the story, seen the mission, and can see the future," Blakeway said of finally reaching the day of groundbreaking.

Speaking of the future, looks like Sigg the handyman is freed up for repairs at other Harbour properties.

"You don't hear about the good people all the time that really care and want to make a difference. It's huge," Sigg told CBS2.

"The Harbour and its new building will give you the world," Stefaniuk said in a message to future youth looking for a safe haven.

"Because of you, they have a tomorrow," said Salyards, tearing up again as she thanked attendees at the groundbreaking.

Construction by Kinzie Builders is expected to begin this week and wrap up in February 2022. The company is offering its services at a reduced rate which helps with the overall project cost. The existing youth shelter will stay open until the new one is complete.

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