It was almost over before it ever started for Shawn Jeffers.

Thirty years of experience in the health and human services field had prepared him for the greatest of challenges. As someone who was born and raised in Chicago, taking on the Executive Director role of Little City in the Chicagoland area seemed like a perfect fit at the perfect time. But the initial meeting didn’t go as expected. Whether it was a test or something was just off about the fit, Shawn recalls the initial interview being a tough day.

So, he entered a verbal agreement with another agency and was ready to take his career on a path that did not include Little City. That’s when then-Board President Alex Alexandrou made a phone call.

“He asked me to reconsider and it turned out Little City did very much want me,” Shawn said. “It was the strength of his ask that was so convincing. But he said things at Little City were worse than they expected financially and if I wanted to withdraw my name, they would understand.”

The challenge only made Shawn want the opportunity more. People like Alex who had a brother at Little City and other leaders like Verne Carson and Dorothy Rose immediately helped Shawn see Little City as a family. That approach helped Shawn form the vision for how Little City would get out of the hole it was in, and it became a team effort from day one.

“I was invigorated by the challenge and good things began to happen,” Shawn said. “Everyone had skin in the game. Whether it was board members like Alex or employees like our CFO Linda [LaPorte], so many people had loved ones who depended on Little City. I know it is cliché but when I came on, I wanted Little City to be like a family because that is what it truly was. Failure was not an option. We had to succeed.”

And so, Shawn’s work began.


Thanks to some well-timed grants and unexpected donations, Little City started to see a light at the end of the tunnel in Shawn’s first few months. The financial crisis was no longer near fatal for the agency, but difficult cuts were still expected.

An outside consultant came to a conclusion no one was excited to hear: either cut children’s programming or cut adult programming, as Little City could not viably do both. It was a tough choice but serious consideration had to be made. Shawn said at one point – even if only as a lastditch effort – the idea to sell the 56-acre Palatine campus was on the table.

“It was like being asked which hand you want to cut off,” Shawn said. “I could not fathom how we would dismantle either. Aside from economics, we knew the campus was a transformational place for people with developmental disabilities. So, how do we put it to the best use?”

Instead of cutting anything, Shawn and his leadership team were bold enough to do the opposite and expand. There would be a chief program officer for adults and a chief program officer for children. And most importantly, the campus would be revived.

No family can fully appreciate the night and day transformation of the campus under Shawn’s leadership more than the Rose family. Jerry Rose was one of the earliest Little City residents and got to experience the school as a child and horticulture center as an adult. When Shawn arrived, Little City had no school and the horticulture center had turned into a storage facility.

Shawn promised Jerry’s mother, Dorothy, that the horticulture center would reopen. Not only is the horticulture center re-opened and thriving with roughly 100 participants, annual plant sales and a growing vocational program, it was re-named the Dorothy Rose Horticulture Center in her honor.

And while Jerry was able to enjoy a specialized education on Little City’s campus, many children who needed that support could no longer find it. That changed in 2011 when the ChildBridge Center for Education re-opened and has now become one of the only therapeutic day schools in the entire state to support students with the highest intensity needs.

None of these milestone accomplishments and huge turnarounds came as a surprise to Jerry’s sister, Andrea Hockfield, who knew from the moment she met Shawn that he was special.

“He was so charismatic, sincere and inspiring, we would’ve followed him anywhere,” Andrea said. “Shawn has been a godsend for Little City. Before he came, Little City never had that personal connection. You would never see an executive director walking around talking to the residents on a first-name basis, knowing their favorite movies or food. Shawn has a heart of gold that shines through in everything he does and Jerry and everyone have a better life because of it.”

Andrea’s husband, Ed Hockfield, saw Shawn’s magic in the many years they worked alongside one another. According to Ed, Shawn’s belief in others and leadership never wavered.

“We were told we could never do something like the Duffey Family Children’s Village, or that the wonderful therapeutic day school would never happen, so Shawn just rolled up his sleeves and we did it anyway,” Ed said.

“Where Little City is today is a reflection of his leadership and the staff he surrounds himself with. He’s a fabulous leader and a great friend.”


Fresh off the major revitalization of the campus, Shawn oversaw two of the most impactful accomplishments of his 20-year career: the opening of the Duffey Family Children’s Village and the merger with Countryside Association.

While the Children’s Village was a resounding success from the start, the merger with Countryside had its share of bumps and challenges along the way. Shawn said he remembers the many hard conversations and skepticism that came with the merger, but he also clearly remembers when he was able to start to shift the perception.

“When Countryside families started to take tours of Little City, I think things started to change slowly,” Shawn said. “They didn’t see Mr. Jeffers but they saw a ‘Hey Shawn!’ from residents who know me personally and I know them. I think that was unexpected for them and seeing that relationship I have with residents started to change their minds.”

Wendy Mayfield, Director of Program Design & Evaluation for Community Day Services, was a major player in the merger as Countryside’s director of day services at the time. She said she remembers a difficult transition during that time for families, staff and even participants.

But Shawn’s leadership never wavered and Wendy could see his sincere care for everyone in moments like when he showed up to one of Countryside’s final events and sat in a dunk tank just to get involved with people who were meeting and getting to know him for the first time.

“We certainly struggled at times but Shawn is always honest, direct, and transparent with people. And he treats everyone with the same respect whether it is a donor, longtime staff member or participant,” Wendy said.

If Shawn thought the merger would be the most difficult chapter of his Little City career, that feeling did not last long. In 2020, the global COVID-19 pandemic changed Shawn’s perspective forever and is what he’ll always remember as his greatest challenge.

From programs closing to uncertain funding and the health and safety of hundreds of staff at stake, Shawn said it was a whirlwind and eye-opening experience on how he viewed success.

“That was truly a test of all I thought I knew but we made it through,” Shawn said. “What I will always remember is the actions of people, especially our staff, during the toughest moments. The effort people give to make life better for others regardless of circumstance is incredible. My job was to allow heroic people to do their best work.”


From guiding the agency through tumultuous financial hardships in the early years, to revitalizing a fading campus with the re-openings of programs and schools and starting new chapters with a children’s village and mergers, Shawn’s legacy at Little City is unprecedented.

When he knew it was time to end this chapter of his life, he wasn’t quite sure, but hitting what he calls the 20-50-70 mark seemed like fate. Twenty years at Little City, 50 in the human services field and 70 in life felt like the right time to close this chapter.

“What we did, how we did it, all these defining moments – I can pause and see it all so clearly now,” Shawn said. “We did all we could do together and now Little City is on to a new chapter and I am on to a whole new book because this really feels like the perfect ending to me.”

But before he left, Shawn got what he said was the most memorable experience he thinks he will ever have from Little City. Friends, families, and staff gathered together to celebrate Shawn and honor him with a street sign named in his honor as Shawn Jeffers Way now proudly stands right outside Pine Home.

It wasn’t the naming of a street that moved him though, but the validation of what he had set out to do on that very first day 20 years ago – make Little City a family.

“To look out and see all the people I admire and love come together was just something I will always remember. I was on cloud nine,” Shawn said. “I could have dropped the microphone right there and got on a plane knowing Little City is the family I always knew it could be. I will remember that forever.”