Jeanne Curtin has worked for many years as a cashier at Jewel-Osco. Throughout the years, she became friends with many of her coworkers who lived at Lambs Farm.
From a Jewel breakroom, to Graceland: meet the volunteer who created #Elvis Club at @LambsFarm
Located in suburban Libertyville, Lambs Farm provides vocational, residential and social programs for people with developmental disabilities. Curtin eventually started to wonder whether she could find a way to support the organization that had done so much for her colleagues and friends.
“In the back of my mind, I wondered what I could do at Lambs Farm. How could I help?” Curtin says. “I’m not a teacher, I’m not a counselor. I didn’t have any experience working with people who were developmentally disabled. I thought there was nothing. That was a bummer.”
Then one day, during her lunch break, everything changed.
As Curtin sat in the breakroom with her favorite Elvis Presley lunchbox, a young coworker named Betsy admired it. Before long, others joined in. Curtin told them she was a member of the Chicago Elvis Club and had a collection of Elvis memorabilia.
Curtin arranged to visit Betsy at her Lambs Farm residence, where they made popcorn, watched Elvis movies and looked at Curtin’s collection of souvenirs. Other residents stopped by and told stories about how much they loved Elvis, too.
“That night it hit me. Why couldn’t we start our own Elvis club at Lambs Farm?” Curtin says. “When I got my nerve up, I called.”
A member of the Elvis Club at Lambs Farm displays his souvenir Elvis lunchbox. Mutual love of the King brings residents together to watch his movies, listen to his music—and even travel to Memphis’ Graceland together.
That was nearly 14 years ago, and the Lambs Farm Elvis Club has been thriving since, marking 150 club meetings in September 2015.
During the meetings, which draw 20 to 40 people, club members watch movies, listen to music and snack on Elvis treats such as fried peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches and banana pudding.
“My premise early on was that if just one person showed up and I made their day better, I’ve succeeded,” Curtain says.
In fact, Curtin has raised funds to bring groups of club members on two separate trips to Memphis to visit Graceland, in 2004 and 2005.
During their first trip, while walking along Beale Street, the group was invited into a music club. The band, which had been playing reggae, welcomed them and shifted gears to play Elvis music. The Lambs Farm Elvis Club members danced, and were even invited to sing along onstage.
“Everyone was dancing and everyone lived it up. At that moment, I thought my entire life was worth it,” Curtin says.
“It was amazing. Everything in my life had prepared me and led me to this moment. The Elvis Club at Lambs Farm, and the joy it’s brought to the participants, has brought me joy, too. It’s like a mix of friends and family.”
A masked Elvis cutout presides over an Elvis Club Halloween party. Jeanne Curtin, center, founded the group with the philosophy that “if just one person showed up and I made their day better, I’ve succeeded.”
Dianne M. Yaconetti, president and CEO of Lambs Farm, says Curtin has brought an extraordinary gift to the residents of Lambs Farm. “She’s a very special person. She’s very positive, very generous, creative and has a lot of patience,” she says.
“Jeanne is one of those people who can start a conversation with anybody and make them feel like they’ve known each other all their lives.”
Yaconetti says the trips to Graceland made a huge impact on the Lambs Farm Elvis Club members. “It was a life-changing experience for them,” she says.
But Curtin has done much more than run the Elvis Club. She’s also helped participants at the Magnolia Cafe & Bakery and Lambs Industries write and send letters to soldiers in Iraq, and make patriotic artwork for veterans at the Lovell Medical Center.
Curtin has shared her passion for Presley through fourteen years and over 150 meetings of the Elvis Club. Lambs Farm CEO Dianne M. Yaconetti says, “Jeanne doesn’t consider them people with disabilities, but as people with common interests. That’s how she connects.”
Many people want to volunteer at Lambs Farm, and Curtin exemplifies what it takes. “Lambs Farm is known all over the world, and that’s part of the draw,” Yaconetti says. “The people we serve are able to interact with our volunteers. Jeanne doesn’t consider them people with disabilities, but as people with common interests. That’s how she connects. She’s always very creative and interested in connecting with people.”
Curtin’s compassion and dedication have earned her Lambs Farm’s Casanova Award for her extraordinary service to the organization.
In her award speed, Yaconetti explained, “Over the past 14 years, there has never been a time when Jeanne was not planning, executing or thinking about additional ways to make life better for the men and women of Lambs Farm.”