Lost and Found

Emotionally disturbed teenagers in Illinois used to be shipped off to locked institutions in other states. Stuart Marcus and Tim Carl brought some of them home.

"We had potential staff calling us, asking us when we were going to open up," Marcus says. "I think the hardships we were starting to face -- in addition to the financial hardship -- was our loss of credibility. People were starting to say things like 'This isn't really going to happen, is it?'"

Karen O'Reilly, a school social worker and personal friend of Marcus, says she started worrying about her friend about that time. "At first, I didn't realize what this would entail," O'Reilly says. "I was just so pleased that he had such a good idea and the gumption to do something about it. But this was a huge undertaking. There were trips to the lawyers, to Chicago and to Springfield. He had a well-established practice in Belleville, but he was taking a financial hit. I was fearful for him, and I would talk to him and ask him if he was sure he wanted to do this."

Even Dan began to wonder.

Stuart Marcus, co-founder of the Juvenile Transitional Center: "People were starting to look at me like I was crazy."
Mark Gilliland
Stuart Marcus, co-founder of the Juvenile Transitional Center: "People were starting to look at me like I was crazy."

It wasn't until May 1998 that the director of the southern region handed down his official approval. It was Carl and Marcus' first victory in almost a year, and now it was just a matter of waiting for the state director to approve. That, both men thought, would come quickly.

But months went by with no word from Springfield. Then a letter came late in the summer stating that the director's office wanted more information about the project. Until then, it would officially be considered "on hold."

DCFS's Slomka says the state had its reasons.

"They were a brand-new entity that we hadn't done business with before," he says. "Understandably, and this is the business side of the child-welfare system, we had to be very careful about the process -- and, I think, rightfully so, because the goal here is that they will be serving our children, and we have to make sure this is an entity that can provide us with that service."

By this time, the money had run out. Marcus had already dropped most of his private clients, and Carl, who had already turned down several other job offers, began selling off his personal belongings.

"I was pretty beat-up by this time," Carl says. "I was at my wits' end. Going through it was hell, basically. I mean, by this time, I had gone through my life's savings. I took a waiter's job to live. A waiter's job. I'd run into a lot of people I knew and they'd ask me why the hell I was waiting tables, and I'd say, 'Well, see, there's this project....' Two months later they'd come back in, and I'd say, 'I'm still working on this project, see....'"

Rommie Martinez, a friend of Carl's who owns the CD ROM hair salon on the Hill, remembers the time well.

"He just stuck with it," Martinez says. "I mean, this was a person who used to make a very decent living, and I watched him take a job as a waiter. He sold his car at one point, and, I mean, he was used to driving Jaguars. He gave up all of his personal possessions just to stick with this thing."

For Carl and Marcus, there was little choice. They had swum out into the middle of an ocean, and the only decision to be made was whether to go forward or back. At that point, it didn't make much difference.

Says Carl: "Our close friends looked at us and said, 'Are you crazy?' And we'd say that this thing is going to happen, and they'd say, 'Sure it is. Sure it is.' Even when my own kids would want something and I'd say, "Dad doesn't have the money right now,' they'd say, 'Oh, when the deal comes through?' Then they'd roll their eyes at me."

The pair watched Field of Dreams and The Big Lebowski daily.

"People were starting to look at me like I was crazy," Marcus says.

Looking back, he thinks maybe he was.

It was a bad time for Marcus and Carl, the worst they'd ever been through. In a little more than a year, they had pawned their careers and sacrificed their reputations. Because he devoted so much time to the project, Marcus' large private counseling practice had been cut down to just nine clients, and Carl, a business administrator by profession, now waited tables full-time.

Urgency overtook all common sense. The money was gone, and every better business practice known by the men had been violated. When they ran into smirking former colleagues eager for gossip, all either of the men could say was "Well, see, there's this project...."

For both men, the project was everything, and for both men, the project was going nowhere. It was now October 1998, 13 months since they'd first approached DCFS with the idea of opening a private facility for the state's most emotionally troubled teenagers, and it still hovered in the future like a mirage.

"Almost everyone who supported the project in the beginning had dropped out," Marcus says, "and understandably so. It wasn't going anywhere."

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