Psychology alumna named Chicago Illini of the Year
Rebecca Darr has dedicated her career to ending domestic violence and homelessness
Rebecca A. Darr (BS, ’90, psychology) has grown the Palatine, Illinois-based Women in Need of Growing Stronger (WINGS) program into one of the state’s largest social service agencies for women and children fleeing domestic violence. First as executive director (1999-2014) and then as chief executive officer (2014 to present), she has helped the nonprofit’s assets (including apartments and homes for domestic violence victims) from $600,000 to more than $25 million.
Darr has also developed new funding sources for WINGS, which allows the organization to achieve its objectives with less than 15 percent of its funding coming from government sources.
Two others were named Chicago Illini of the Year at a ceremony this week. They are Mary Kay Kretch Haben (BS, ’77, business administration), whose business career includes executive roles at Kraft Foods and Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co., and Judge James F. Holderman Jr. (BS, ’68, agriculture science; JD, ’71) who worked 30 years as a federal judge, including seven years as chief judge.
“The success of our graduates is a true indicator of the University of Illinois System’s impact and excellence,” said University of Illinois President Timothy Killeen. “These three distinguished alumni and their rich legacy of achievement reflect the power that our nearly 140,000 living Illini in the Chicago region hold to drive progress in the workplace and in their communities.”
Under Darr’s leadership, WINGS has grown its annual budget from $360,000 to $6 million. The program has launched three resale stores, and Darr led the program to build and open the first domestic violence shelter in Chicago’s northwest suburbs. Since opening in 2005, more than 2,000 women and children have escaped abuse and homelessness at the shelter.
In 2013, WINGS was awarded a $1.8 million grant from the city of Chicago to open a new domestic violence shelter in the city. It opened in February 2016 as the first new domestic violence shelter in more than a decade. It increased the shelter bed capacity in the city of Chicago by 36 percent.
“My number one goal is to be out of business,” Darr told the Daily Herald in 2016. “But as long as the phone keeps ringing we are going to keep trying to find ways to help, to provide resources for these women and children.”
A past recipient of the United Way’s Executive of the Year award, Darr also serves on several boards and coalitions that advocate for stronger legislation and increased awareness related to domestic violence, including the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network, and the Cook County Commission on Women’s Issues.
A native of Alton, Illinois, Darr is a current member of the Department of Psychology’s alumni advisory board. She and her husband, Joe (BS, ’90; MS, ’92; mechanical engineering) live in the Chicago area with their three sons.
Dave Evensen and University of Illinois Alumni Association
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