Children’s home gets funds from student-run foundation



By Andy Kwalwaser

The University athletic community renewed its ties to an Urbana facility for special-needs youth after the Orange Krush Foundation agreed to back construction efforts earlier this month.

The foundation will donate $50,000 over five years to Cunningham Children’s Home, said Orange Krush President Eric Benz, senior in LAS.

The facility is entering the fourth year of an extensive – and expensive – building project.

“With the special needs kids have today, we need facilities to give staff the chance to be successful with them,” said Sam Banks, president and CEO of the Cunningham Children’s Home.

Banks said that the home, 1301 N. Cunningham Ave., has outgrown its facilities, with residential and classroom areas filled beyond capacity.

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Cunningham houses two schools for nonresidents and area youth. The nonresidential school was designed to accommodate 30 students; today it serves 70.

“We are really cramped for space,” Banks said.

Construction on a new school and recreation center has been delayed by lengthy fundraising efforts. Cunningham expects to break ground within five years, leaving its current students and staff with outdated facilities.

Needs for the home range from extra classrooms to more secure residences with locking windows to prevent troubled youth from running away, according to a Cunningham press release.

Cunningham’s students and residents do not pay for the facility’s services. Its income is dependent on a variety of other sources.

More than half of Cunningham’s funding comes as reimbursements from the Department of Children and Family Services and other youth-service organizations. The construction project, however, is projected to cost up to $15 million – well exceeding the facility’s annual income.

A separate campaign raised $10 million for the construction of a religious complex and a new residence, but the rest is contingent on donations.

Cunningham has been in the Champaign-Urbana community for more than 100 years, but its relationship with the University has more recent beginnings.

In 1991, former NBA player and University alumnus Kendall Gill became sponsor of the facility’s golf fundraiser. Gill has since funded a Cunningham residence and several other facility activities.

It was Gill’s work that attracted the support of his former coach, Lou Henson.

Henson founded what is now called Orange Krush before the 1975-76 season and introduced the student organization to Cunningham after it began charity activities in 1997.

The funding drive, dubbed the “Coach’s Campaign,” is sponsored by the former University basketball coach. Henson pledged to match the $50,000 Orange Krush donation.

“Coach Henson had an idea that was close to his heart,” Benz said. “We’re trying to make a mark on the local community.”