When Diane Nilan leaves town for one of her cross-country trips to raise awareness of homeless children and youth, she squeezes in a pile of books written by Naperville’s famous child author-advocate, Pat Van Doren, former photojournalist at the Sun.

The two women work together on the Naperville-based national nonprofit HEAR US Inc., which turned 10 years old on July 1.

When Nilan was running the shelter at Aurora’s Hesed House, Van Doren hung out there. She took the iconic photo of “Charlie,” the little boy holding a cat, belly hanging out and shoes on the wrong feet. That image led to passage of the IL Homeless Education Act, “Charlie’s Bill,” now a federal law. Charlie is also highlighted in the HEAR US logo.

Ten years ago Nilan founded HEAR US and set out in her small motorhome to film homeless children and youth, compiling their observations about homelessness into “My Own Four Walls,” an award winning documentary, one of several films she’s made as she gives voice and visibility to an estimated 3+ million homeless kids. She’s amassed 220,000+ miles of backroads travel, making more videos to help schools deal with record numbers of homeless students.

She carries a stack of Pat’s books to sell at conferences and presentations; “Where Can I Build My Volcano?,” Van Doren’s award-winning first book, accompanied by “A Family of 5 or 6,” and “A Place of Our Own,” the sequel to the volcano book.

Pat and Diane continue to raise awareness about family and youth homelessness.

When asked recently about plans for HEAR US’s 10th Anniversary, the women point to the highway. Nilan will return to Kansas to film a documentary on homeless kids in summer camp.

Van Doren will continue to promote her books, timeless treasures that open up eyes, minds and hearts to the issue of homelessness in Naperville and beyond.

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