Preserve and Protect

100 Club of Chicago provides hope, heart and support for the families of fallen first responders.

By Marissa Nelson

Photo by David Miller

November 16, 2018 2:21 PM

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On the evening of Jan. 14, 1983, Ashburn, Chicago, brothers Jay and Tony Vincent, and their expectant mother, Marilyn, came face-to-face with their worst fear. Their father, Larry Vincent, a dedicated Chicago police officer and three-year veteran of the force, was shot and killed in the line of duty during a gun battle with two burglary suspects—and their family’s world was turned upside down in an instant. 

Nothing can replace a loved one. And no one can prepare you for the heartbreak. But within a matter of hours, the 100 Club of Chicago, a nonprofit organization devoted to supporting the families of fallen first responders in Cook and Lake Counties, knocked on the Vincents’ front door—and extended a helping hand. During their darkest hour, the 100 Club of Chicago was by their side, offering both financial and emotional support to the Vincent family, relieving some of the burden they would carry in the days and weeks to come.

“We rely on our police officers and firefighters whenever we need help, and they come running to help us,” says Joseph Ahern, CEO of the 100 Club of Chicago, now in its 53rd year of providing first-response assistance for the families of the brave men and women who serve in Chicago’s public safety, police and fire departments. “When, sadly, one of them goes down, we step into action.”

In 2017, 250 U.S. law enforcement officials, paramedics and firefighters died in the line of duty, according to a report by the International Public Safety Organization. Each and every one of these families could potentially be waiting for up to two years before they begin to see any form of financial support from their city government. The 100 Club of Chicago bridges that gap, stepping in with immediate financial assistance. “In 2017, the 100 Club of Chicago assisted three families of fallen heroes who were killed in the line of duty,” says Ahern. “And this year already, we have assisted another three families.”

The 100 Club of Chicago upholds the values of the original 100 Club organization (100club.org) that began in Detroit. In 1952, after an officer of the Detroit Police Department was shot and killed, good samaritan William M. Packer asked 100 of his friends to make donations to a fund that would support the officer’s wife. As word spread about the Hundred Club, as it was first called, and its efforts to help families of fallen heroes, cities across the country grabbed hold of the mission and began replicating its work. There are now more than 100 chapters across the nation, providing help and hope to families in the midst of unthinkable tragedies. Ralph Scheu, a Chicago businessman, brought the nonprofit to Chicago in 1966. 

Packer and Scheu understood that the sudden loss of a family member can be financially devastating, especially if the first responder is the primary provider for the family. Within the first 24 hours of a first responder’s passing in the line of duty, the 100 Club of Chicago provides a $15,000 check to the family to cover urgent financial needs like funeral costs and monthly bills. A few weeks later, the family is presented with an additional $35,000 to help cover any outstanding debts. (The Vincents used the financial support they received to cover their home mortgage.) In total, the 100 Club of Chicago has provided more than $10 million to more than 260 families since its inception.

But the lifeline doesn’t end there. Acknowledging that an unexpected death disrupts a family’s entire life, not just their finances, the 100 Club lends emotional support, too, connecting families with its Gold Shield Partners. Powerhouse partners like Mesirow Financial, Motorola Solutions, Clifford Law Group and healthcare provider CuraLinc extend additional resources and services such as financial advising, legal support and counseling. 

“It’s not only about the financial help,” Ahern says. “It’s the fact that these families know that people care about them, that their loved one didn’t die in vain, that there’s literally thousands of people out there that really care. The 100 Club is a family.” And it’s a relationship and support system that extends far beyond the first few weeks. As the children of fallen first responders grow up, the 100 Club of Chicago offers financial assistance to help them further their education. Currently, 30 students are pursuing a higher education with the support of the 100 Club of Chicago’s Educational Assistance program, and there are 69 more Chicagoland youth who will be eligible for the assistance once they graduate from high school.

Jay Vincent, who attended Marquette University and Notre Dame with financial aid from the 100 Club of Chicago, will never forget the organization’s kindness. “The 100 Club of Chicago had a profound impact on my views of what it means to be a citizen in this country and to be a provider for my family,” he says. “I have an obligation to help where help is needed. Generosity ought to be blind, and that’s one of the things I have come to believe as a result of the generosity that was extended to my family.”

Today, Jay remains closely connected with the 100 Club of Chicago. In 2013, on the 30th anniversary of his father’s death, Jay and his family established the Larry J. Vincent Scholarship with the 100 Club of Chicago for students attending private schools in need of financial assistance for supplies and services such as books and tutors. And in 2015, Jay became a member of the org’s board of directors to further carry out its mission.

A key part of the mission is awareness and fundraising. Each year, the 100 Club of Chicago hosts more than 100 events to raise awareness and money for its programming. One of its biggest fundraisers is the Chicago Auto Show First Look for Charity event held annually in February on opening night of the Chicago Auto Show. When guests purchase tickets through 100 Club of Chicago’s website, a portion of the proceeds goes back to the organization. Additionally, on April 25, 2019, the 100 Club of Chicago holds its Valor Awards at the Chicago Cultural Center, recognizing first responders who have performed extraordinary acts of bravery. This ceremony isn’t a fundraising initiative—it’s a moment to show gratitude. “Police and fire departments in Cook and Lake County nominate first responders and then we honor them,” Ahern says. “It’s our opportunity to give back to these families and acknowledge what they do and their bravery and courage.”

100clubchicago.org