The “Good News” Letter – The Gracie Center

Lifting up the non-profits & volunteers who serve the most vulnerable in our community

In each newsletter I send out, I intend to highlight a different local non-profit agency in DeKalb, Boone or Kane County. Non-profit agencies fill in the gap of providing critical services to the most vulnerable in our community. Government programs and services only go so far. It is the faith-based and non-profit agencies and their donors and volunteers who are the real unsung heroes of our community.
For this week’s spotlight on a local non-profit, we are featuring The Gracie Center. Please read below to learn about them and the outstanding work they do on behalf of adults with disabilities.
Please do not hesitate to contact my district office in Sycamore if I or a member of our staff may be of assistance to you. You can reach us by phone at (815) 748-3494 or via e-mail at
Jeff Keicher
State Representative, 70th District
Spotlight on Local Non-Profit: The Gracie Center
On a Christmas Eve six years ago, Deanna Thornton was enjoying family holiday cheer, when a question asked by family brought a realization to the forefront. Her daughter, Grace, was turning 22 years old in the near future, and like other young adults with disabilities, that milestone meant the end of formal education and all of the other services that the school district provided.

Like every parent in her position, she dreamed of a life for her daughter that included opportunities to become more independent, to develop friendships and to develop skills for daily living and, maybe one day, a paying job. Rather than just dreaming, however, Deanna and her daughter Kara, set in motion a plan that grew into the Gracie Center, which today provides the type of programming that they wanted for Grace to her and  about 20 other adults with disabilities from across DeKalb County.
“Our goal is to help adults with developmental disabilities reach their highest potential through programming provided by our staff and by getting them out and interacting with the community. We want to increase their independence and improve their quality of life,” says Thornton, who oversees operations for the not-for-profit organization.
One of the key ways the organization meets those goals is by raising and selling popcorn. From planting, to harvesting, to shucking to sale, members of The Gracie Center “Crew” learn skills in agriculture, food preparation and customer service that may someday help them land jobs in the community.  Their mobile store, The Pop Up Shop, can be seen at festivals and events across the county throughout DeKalb County during warmer months.
“We want everyone who participates at Gracie Center, our Crew, to be genuinely appreciated and fully integrated into their communities,” says Julie Craig, who oversees programming and has worked side-by-side with Thornton from the start. Her daughter, Kayla has benefitted from the programming.
The Crew also learns vocational skills through their monthly Crew Café, planning, preparing and serving a lunch at the Kingston Friendship Center, from 11 until 12:15 on the third Friday of each month. Invitations are available by calling 815-884-0842. Functional programming for the crew is geared to lifestyle and social skills as well as to safety and well-being skills.
The organization has grown quickly over the past six years thanks in part to generous grant support from the DeKalb County Community Foundation, the DeKalb County Community Mental Health Board and various charitable organizations. It also has established successful partnerships with other groups in the county, including DeKalb County Community Gardens and Trans Vac that have helped expand and improve programming.
To learn more about The Gracie Center visit