Stepping Stones: The Beginning

Stepping Stones was established in 1969 by a dedicated group of local mental health advocates who saw a need for housing and mental health programs for adults with serious mental illnesses. The passing of the Community Mental Health Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 led to significant changes in mental health treatment, allowing for the de-institutionalizing of persons with serious mental illnesses. Stepping Stones prepared to fill the gap between discharge and community living, ready to provide quality mental health services which improved the quality of care. Residential services began in 1970 when Stepping Stones opened its first halfway house for eight residents. Stephen Langley was named Executive Director in 1979, serving in this role until 2016. In 1983, Steve helped found the Northern Illinois Alliance for the Mentally Ill, an organization which remains active today.

The Early Years

As the organization grew, the halfway house model evolved to a more specialized community-based services approach. Stepping Stones’ commitment to improving the overall mental health in our community was solidified in 1981 when a permanent administrative facility was secured in downtown Rockford. In place of the halfway house, group homes formed the foundation of residential care. Stepping Stones quickly established itself in the community by providing quality community-based services for those with serious mental illnesses.

In 1993, with the assistance of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Stepping Stones built the first two new housing units totaling 30 apartments for adults with serious mental illnesses in Winnebago County. These supervised apartments remain in place today. They were designed to provide safe and affordable housing, to those who no longer needed the structure of a group home.

In 1997, the organization entered into an agreement with the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to serve individuals in need of ongoing mental health care who were making their transition to adulthood. Many of these young adults were previously being referred outside of their communities or the state by DCFS for residential treatment. Mental health treatment began for these young adults in supervised housing settings.

A long-time dream was realized in 2000 when a cooperative program with Rockford Housing Authority (RHA) allowed us to open River North, a 40-bed apartment complex to serve seniors age 50 and older. River North is located at the north end of Rockford. River North has received national recognition as a cooperative venture between a housing authority and a provider of mental health services.

New Adventures

True to the organization’s mission, Stepping Stones began accepting referrals from Winnebago County’s Mental Health Court’s Therapeutic Intervention Program (TIP) in 2006. In 2012, Stepping Stones expanded our presence in the court system by developing the Community Conditional Release Program (CCRP) and the Fitness Restoration Program. The organization also began working with the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ) to provide mental health services to young adults between the ages of 18-21.

A Best-Kept Secret

The staff at Stepping Stones often hear that it is a “best kept secret” in the surrounding area. As we’ve continued to develop programs, expand group homes, and secure apartments, our presence in the community has expanded. Growth and recognition has allowed the organization to serve hundreds of individuals and their families, and to become Northern Illinois’ leading provider of residential psychiatric rehabilitation for adults with serious, persistent mental illnesses. Stepping Stones’ experience in meeting the housing and recovery needs of those with serious mental illnes is considerable. Through mental health services and programs, Stepping Stones helps those we serve to break the cycle of psychiatric hospitalization, decrease homelessness, and encourage positive involvement in the criminal justice system. Persons with serious mental illness are able to live as independently as possible within their community setting of choice.

Stepping Stones History: Over the Years

1969: Stepping Stones is founded and incorporated. The Junior League plays a part in starting the organization.

1970: A home at 922 Haskell Avenue is purchased as the first halfway house in the area for persons with serious mental illnesses. Resident capacity is for nine individuals and there are three employees.

1971: Arrangements are made for individuals served to live in an apartment building at 912 Haskell Avenue creating the first semi-independent “Apartment Program” in the area.

1979: Stephen E. Langley is hired as the Executive Director and brings a strong commitment to expanding community care options for individuals served by the organization.

1980: Residential services replace the Halfway House model and full case management is offered to all organization residents for the first time. Service capacity reaches 20 individuals.

1982: The group home at 817 Haskell Avenue is opened in the former home of Amos and Mary Woodward. Mr. Woodward was an engineer and the founder of the Woodward Governor. The organization received a “Heart of Rockford” award for renovations made at the group home.

1983: Stephen E. Langley helps found what is now known as the Northern Illinois Alliance for the Mentally Ill. This organization remains active today as NAMI Northern Illinois providing education, advocacy, and support for families and those affected by mental illness.

1984: A group home with a service capacity for ten persons is opened at 703 Kishwaukee Street. This is a joint effort with H. Douglas Singer Center.

1985: The organization opened a Home Improvement Program (HIP) in a small home on Main Street which became the first foster home placement in the area for persons with mental illnesses. This program was phased out in1987.

1986: The organization moves to the first office at 1130 East State Street. This office is occupied until 1991.

1987: The Psychosocial Rehabilitation model (the first of its kind in the area) is implemented. Staff receives extensive training and uses computerized methods to teach skills to residents.

1988: A successful application is made to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to build two 15-unit apartment buildings to be occupied exclusively by organization residents. These locations are the first new housing built for adults with serious and persistent mental Illnesses in Winnebago County. The buildings are named "Overdene" and "City View." The facility at 706 N. Main is secured. This facility later becomes the Mildred Kral Rehabilitation Center and the organization's headquarters.

1990: In cooperation with Janet Wattles Center and Rockford Housing Authority, the organization opens a Community Integrated Living Environment (CILA) program for 17 residents at Campus Towers (Brewington Oaks). Services are now provided to 85 persons.

1991: In order to fully participate in the Department of Mental Health’s CILA services, services are expanded to include psychiatry, nursing, crisis management, and day treatment services. The Mildred Kral Center is dedicated and becomes the headquarters for administrative, counseling, nursing, and day treatment services.

1993: In collaboration with Singer Center and Janet Wattles Center, the organization completes construction of two HUD apartments at City View and Overdene in July. These are supported housing units and reflect the need for housing. These two 15-unit apartments become occupied in 90 days of availability. These are later converted to gender-specific 24-hour supervised sites.

1994: Stepping Stones accepts the property and care of the residents at the “Phoenix House”, a group home previously operated by the members of our local NAMI affiliate. This home is still in operation today and serves an all-male population.

1994: The organization institutes a comprehensive management information system in order to provide the technology for billing third-party funding sources. Medicaid license is received from the Illinois Department of Mental Health and participation in the Medicaid reimbursement program begins. There is restructuring of the group home on Haskell Avenue in order to provide services to adults with mental illness and developmental disabilities. These residential services are the first in our area for this specialized population. The program capacity reaches 120 persons. There are 50 full-time and 10 regular part-time staff members. The budget is approximately 2.3 million dollars.

1995: The organization celebrates its 25-year anniversary and Stephen E. Langley presents organization highlights at the first public Recognition Dinner.

1996: Stepping Stones joins the Northwest Behavioral Health Consortium which is comprised of area treatment providers. The goal is to institute proactive behavioral healthcare measures. The first group home designed specifically to serve residents with mental illness and intellectual disabilities is opened.

1997: The organization joins Precedence Plus, a not-for-profit Behavioral Healthcare Network and becomes accredited By the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO). Stepping Stoness enters an agreement with the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to serve young adults ages 18-21 in need of onging mental health care as they transition to adulthood.

1998: Stepping Stones closes the financing necessary to purchase four additional apartment buildings in order to provide one-bedroom apartments for 16 individuals. The second group home dedicated exclusively to serving persons with mental illnesses and intellectual disabilities is opened. Psychosocial rehabilitation services are expanded to assist individuals with emotional intensity disorders (EID) and computer training opportunities are offered. A Consumer Affairs office is created, and consumers are empowered to create newsletters and operate various special events and attend consumer forums and recovery activities.

1999: Along with local providers, the organization joins a collaborative initiative between the Illinois Office of Mental Health and the Office of Substance Abuse to expand services available to individuals with mental illness and substance abuse (MISA). In cooperation with Rockford Housing Authority, the organization opens “River North”, a residential program designed specifically to serve seniors aged 50 and older. This facility also operates a program for adults with mental illness and traumatic brain injury. Overall, organization service capacity reaches 140 persons. Pulitzer Prize winning author and humorist Art Buchwald keynotes the organization’s Recognition Dinner.

2002: Due to inadequate funding, the two group homes designed specifically to serve those with mental illness and intellectual disabilities are closed.

2003: Due to a reduction in funding, one additional group home is closed. The organization returns to its original mission of serving adults with serious and persistent mental illnesses.

2004: Stepping Stones serves 120 individuals in four fully-supervised group homes, two 15-unit fully-supported housing apartment units, four independent apartments, the River North facility, and case management for those living more independently. The organization’s budget is approximately 4.2 million dollars and there are 75 full-time employees. There is a restructuring of leadership which creates the new position of Director of Operations. The organization completes the purchase of River North and assumes full operations of this 40-bed facility for seniors.

2005: An Electronic Clinical Expert System (eCET) is initiated as a step towards developing an electronic records system. This clinical decision, support, and outcomes system is aimed at reducing the amount of time spent on paperwork while increasing time spent serving organization residents. The system follows best practices and promotes consistent data collection and flow throughout the treatment process.

2006: The organization earns accreditation from the Commission on the Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF). The organization accepts first referrals from the Winnebago County’s Mental Health Court’s Therapeutic Intervention Program (TIP) to intervene with repeat offenders.

2007: The organization remains actively involved in neighborhood groups, especially the Coronado-Haskell Neighborhood Association where the main office and the 817 Haskell Group Home reside. Employees and consumers participate in meetings, neighborhood clean-up projects, gardening, anti-crime activities, and related advocacy efforts.

2008: An online e-learning training system is implemented. This system allows employees to complete certain required training modules in a more cost-effective and convenient manner. Introductory, “level”, and other training still occur face-to-face. Work shifts are changed in order to provide “awake staff” at all times at the organization’s 24-hour sites. The State Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Mental Health creates an Administrative Services Organization (ASO) known as the Illinois Mental Health Collaborative for Access and Choice. The organization participates successfully in its first audit conducted by the ASO.

2009: The organization earns re-accreditation from CARF.

2011: Leadership initiates a Quality Assurance/Utilization system aimed at increasing the quality and effectiveness of services.

2012: The organization earns re-accreditation from the Commission on the Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) and receives no recommendations for the first time in our survey history.

2012: A satellite office at 2825 Glenwood Ave is opened in November in order to expand case management services for individuals living more independently and participating in the “apartment program”.

2013: In cooperation with NAMI Northern Illinois, space is provided for the Stars of Light Theatre Troupe and its director begins to offer expressive therapy classes as part of the organization’s Psychosocial Rehabilitation Program. Services are expanded to offer an employment specialist and the Consumer Representative office is re-opened. The organization enters into a collaboration project with an independent film maker, Frank G. Caruso, working towards the goal of making the feature documentary "Broken." The film was designed to add to understanding of mental illness and attempt to break the unfounded stigma those with mental illness face. The pilot is filmed on-site and locally and includes interviews with organization staff, residents, board members, members of the Stars of Light Theatre Troup, and NAMI members and their families. The organization takes steps to provide services in the state’s new manage care system.

2014: The Community Fitness Restoration (CFR) program is initiated to help adults who have determined to be unfit to stand trial (UST) become stable enough to do so. The Community Conditional Release Program (CCRP) begins to accept referrals at the 315 S. 5th Street Group Home for males being released to the community.

2015: The Transitional Apartment Program (TAP) opens at the Darwood office with a staff office on-site to help individuals make their transition from supported housing to more independent living. The program is expanded with the opening of adjacent apartments on Canterbury to further expand this program. Stepping Stones enters into a contract with the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ) to begin serving young adults between the ages of 18-21 in need of psychiatric rehabilitation services. The organization is re-accredited by CARF and adds the Adult Criminal Justice System Program to its license.

The organization’s first dedicated psychiatrist, Dr, Kamal Modir, retired after 24 years at Stepping Stones. He helped the organization establish an identity and implement innovative care to persons served.      

2016: The organization re-opens its fifth group home designed to serve women in need of residential services. The Mildred Kral Center hosts NAMI Northern Illinois’ Art of Recovery exhibit as part of the Rockford Area Art Council’s Fall Art Scene event. Stephen E. Langley retires as CEO after leading the organization for 37 years. Previous Director of Services, Susan Schroeder, is appointed by the organization’s Board of Directors as the new CEO.

2017: The organization begins implementation of a new electronic record system.

2018: The organization is re-accredited by CARF and Health Home is added to its license. The organization updates its logo and mission statement. Stepping Stones makes its presence on social media. The organization serves over 165 persons and employs just over 100 employees. An employee recognition dinner was held at the Capital House.

2019: Stepping Stones celebrates its 50th Annivesary! Festivities included a 50th anniversary celebration at the Radisson Hotel on Tuesday, May 7, 2019. The event, "50 Years of Improving Lives, One Step at a Time," featured a city proclamation, video presentation, Stars of LIght performance, community awards, dueling pianos, silent auction raffle and dinner. "Kindness Stones" were provided to the 190 attendees at the evening's festivities. Stars of Light sponsored the traveling  "Art of Recovery" gallery, while the #MYINTENT products encouraged those in attendance to choose a word as "a catalyst for meaningful conversation and positive action." Emerald Sponsors for the event includes Blackhawk Bank; Gallagher. Jade Sponsors included Larson and Darby Group; Hinshaw; Genoa Health Care; and Credible Behavior Health Software. Community Award recipients included NAMI Northern Illinois and The Honorable Janet Holmgren. Felix and Fingers Dueling Pianos provided music, entertainment and laughs. The video production was created by Bill Daer, Strawman Productions. We are grateful to everyone who has supported the agency's mission over the past 50 years. You've made our legacy possible!

2020: A once in a century virus, COVID-19, arrived which required the organization to implement safety and distance related protocols that changed day-to-day operations. These changes were directed by the internal COVID-19 Action Plan Committee.   

2021: In May, the organization was awarded a grant from the Winnebago County Community Mental Health Board (WCCMHB) to open a new outpatient Counseling Center which allowed Stepping Stones to provide mental health services to children for the first time in its history. Funding for this program, that also serves youth and adults, was made possible by the WCCMHB with the ½ penny sales tax. Funds generated by this tax help fund mental health and substance abuse services in Winnebago County.  

The site of 4317 Maray Drive was selected for the new Counseling Center and after being extensively remodeled, was opened in 2022. An open house for this facility was held on May 12, 2022.

After twenty-seven years of dedicated service, Dr. Zaffar Rizvi retired as the organization’s psychiatrist. We are forever grateful for the respectful care he delivered to all who participated in Stepping Stones’ programs.  

The organization receives a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The grant created a Community Support Services team approach to providing services and further increased outpatient mental services for those with severe emotional disturbances and mental illnesses, who traditionally don’t engage in needed services or were negatively impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic.  This grant was approved for a two-year funding cycle.

Stepping Stones’ service to the area community is recognized by the Crusader Community Health Foundation’s Spirit of Caring Award.  

2022: The Counseling Center’s grant from the WCCMHB is renewed for another year and an additional grant was awarded to open a new Group Home. The organization employees 115 employees and serves over 250 active clients. The organization’s annual budget revenues reach 11 million dollars

The Mildred Kral Center hosted the Stars of Light’s Art in Recovery Gallery as part of the Rockford Area Arts Councils' fall ArtScene.

NAMI Northern Illinois moves its offices to the Counseling Center and expands its staff and programs.

In order to meet the growing clinical needs, the new positions of Associate Director of Services was created.

2023: The Stars of Light, in collaboration with the Artists’ Ensemble Theater, produced the play Jumping to Delusions, a mental health primer for a number of showings at Rockford University.

A matching grant is received from the Federal Home and Loan Bank of Chicago to partially fund purchases and major upgrades and renovations of the River North facility including residents’ HVAC systems, air conditioners, kitchens, bathrooms and related apartment improvements. 

The outpatient Counseling Center becomes financially self-sustaining with no additional grant funds requested from the WCCMHB.

A property is purchased on North Highland Avenue and renovations begin towards opening a new Group Home in 2024. The WCCMHB awards a grant to build a “brand new” Group Home which will be the first new Group Home build to serve adults with mental illness in Winnebago County.

An “A-Team” (Alliance for Teamwork, Engagement, Appreciation and Morale) committee is created to further the workplace culture at the organization with the goal of ensuring employees feel they are valued, supported and motivated to success.    

The organization has 130 employees, plus a pre-vocational crew of 13. There were 365 individuals active in program at the end-of-the year and 425 persons were served in 2023. The FY ‘24 fiscal budget reaches 11.9 million dollars.

                         Stepping Stones of Rockford, Inc.                     

Residential and Supported Services          Outpatient Counseling Center      
706 N. Main Street                                         4317 Maray Drive 
Rockford, IL 61103                                         Rockford, IL 61107
815.963.0683                                                  779.970.5605

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