On the Record

Comforts of home

On the Record with Heather Du Vall

Heather Du Vall
Heather Du Vall

SYCAMORE – Heather Du Vall loves Christmas, not because she loves receiving presents, but because she loves helping others and showing them that she cares.

Du Vall, 26, originally from Green Bay, Wisconsin, is the new executive director of the Pay-It-Forward House.

Pay-It-Forward House is a nonprofit organization and healthcare hospitality house for family and friends of patients receiving medical treatment. Guests can stay at the house for a goodwill offering of $10 a night while they visit a loved one at Kindred Hospital, Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital or under the care of DeKalb County Hospice.

Pay-It-Forward House was founded in 2005 by MaryLou Eubanks, taking its name from the phrase “to pay it forward:” doing a good deed for a stranger in their time of need. The nonprofit’s previous director, Joyce Mathey, retired in November.

Du Vall met with MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton to discuss Pay-It-Forward House and her new position.

Milton: Why did you decide to apply for the position?

Du Vall: I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for nonprofits. I have my MBA in nonprofit management. It was just serendipitous how it all came together. I saw the position’s opening online and applied.

Milton: Have you always been interested in nonprofit organizations?

Du Vall: My family has our own nonprofit, Bryan’s Angel Classic, which we started in 2003. We created it after my brother passed away from cancer when he was 7. I’ve always loved volunteering and giving back, making a difference in your own community. I like that everyone can make a difference, regardless if they donate money or volunteer. I’ve actually never worked for a for-profit company, unless you count the pizza place I worked at in high school.

Milton: When did you become Pay-It-Forward House’s new executive director?

Du Vall: I accepted the job on Halloween and started working mid-November. I’ve been the director for a little over a month. I met MaryLou and Joyce, they were part of the interview process. I’ve been learning everything and meeting everyone this past month.

Milton: What do you like the most about your job?

Du Vall: I like being able to spend time with the guests, sit down and talk or listen or share cookies together. I love being able to get to know their stories. When my brother was sick, we moved around and visited multiple Ronald McDonald houses. I understand the stress and difficulty of having a loved one that’s ill and how tough it is emotionally, financially. Hospitality houses are important. Knowing that they’re there helps and makes things a little less difficult.

Milton: How would you describe the role of hospitality houses like Pay-It-Forward House?

Du Vall: We take care of the patients’ loved ones while the patient is being taken care of by the hospital. It’s nice to just be there to distract them, enjoy their company and sit and chat. We can remind them that they can relax. It’s a home-away-from-home. We have beds, showers, a laundry room, food, drinks, cookies. We have anything you need, and we’re only a parking lot away from the hospital. ... We’re not a hospital, we have beds and couches and the comforts of home. The house doesn’t smell like a hospital, it smells like cookies and laundry and home-cooked food.

Milton: Does Pay-It-Forward House do anything special for Christmas?

Du Vall: The house is beautifully decorated for Christmas. It’s like a big, welcoming hug when you walk through the doors. There are touches of love everywhere, from a comfy couch to friendly volunteers. It’s such a loving, warm environment, especially at Christmas. We’re also putting together small packages, gifts, to help our guests celebrate the holidays.

Milton: Are there any upcoming events?

Du Vall: There is a volunteer orientation from noon to 1 p.m. Jan. 25 at the house. There is also a fundraising barbecue buffet dinner at the Sycamore VFW on Feb. 16. We have also our Adopt-a-Day Campaign, allowing people to donate $100 and choose a day in memory of or to honor someone.

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