Ostrem comes up Big in McHenry County

McHENRY – “I’m passionate about what I do for Big Brothers/Big Sisters every day,” Robyn Ostrem said.

That commitment is not surprising. Ostrem joined the organization 11 years ago – first as a site-based coordinator, then as fundraiser, and later as a grant writer. Last November, after two months as interim director, Ostrem was named executive director of the agency she has embraced.

Board President James Kratchovil called her “an outstanding leader” and praised her enthusiasm and “contagious” compassion for the organization.

“I learned from the ground up here, but that was not hard,” Ostrem said. “I was so passionate about it and I embraced it. And I was not afraid to ask if I didn’t know.”

The admitted “life-long learner” said she always was looking for opportunities to better the agency and herself. A graduate of Dundee-Crown High School, she grew up with an appreciation of community service. Her dad, Jerry Christopherson, owned the property management company Custom Care Maintenance. Between that and an involvement in the local chamber, she said, he was constantly impacting people’s lives for the better.

“I’ve had many great experiences over the years here, but one thing remains constant: There will always be children in our community who need caring mentors,” Ostrem said. “I believe we have a supportive public, and an extremely dedicated staff and board of directors needed to grow and serve even more children.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters of McHenry County provides about 500 at-risk children with safe, caring mentors; improving the odds that they will succeed in school and in life. Programs include a lunch-time mentoring program involving employees from local companies such as Sage Products, Knaack, Corporate Disk, and Follett Software. Ostrem believes the programs give as good as they get.

“I do think there is an immediate friendship and a lifelong impact,” Ostrem said of becoming a ‘Big.’ “Grown adults attribute their success to having a Big Brother or Big Sister.”

Ostrem worked at Sherman Hospital after graduating from Eastern Illinois University in Charleston.
“I did their community wellness program, such as health fairs,” she said. “That is what I studied in college: Health promotion and community wellness.”

But it never was a 9-to-5 job. Just as well. She is not one to follow formulas. Give her a boundary, a goal, and she sets about exceeding it.

“My passion really is to reach out to under-served people,” Ostrem said. “I’d love to serve every kid that needs and wants a Big Brother or Big Sister in the county. We served 558 children in 2010, and my goal is 613 in 2011. There are 9,000 kids in the county who live in single-parent homes.”

Ostrem credited her co-workers and collaborators for making Big Brothers Big Sisters of McHenry County so successful – despite an economy that taxes our time, money and resolve. But Ostrem has a knack for keeping things in perspective. When she is not helping children, she’s acting like one; playing with her own children and her year-old Labrador retriever, Finn.

“It’s rewarding. The impact we make is so profound. It’s the bettering of kids’ futures by intervening while they are younger,” Ostrem said. “The need is more prevalent than ever. It’s a full-time job finding people to do the job. … I keep busy between work and my kids. I fill out the calendar.”

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