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Ben Smiles Memorial Foundation

Established 2017

Ben Smiles Foundation

The Ben Smiles Memorial Foundation was established by Rob & Elizabeth Gerlach in hopes of creating happiness and smiles for children with special needs, making important toys and tools accessible.

It’s important that all children have access to their environment. Many kids with fine & gross motor development, cognitive or sensory issues have a difficult time playing, moving, communicating, eating, talking, learning … doing the basic things that a child should be able to do. Special equipment, adapted toys, other tools are out there but they are expensive, hard to find, and many times, not covered by insurance or come with large copays. Our hope is that we can promote smiles within this group of special kids and their families by providing switch-adapted toys, switches, communication tools, learning devices and positioning equipment. Ben smiled…and we hope that our gifts will create more smiles from these special families.

About Benjamin

Benjamin Robert Gerlach was a triplet born on June 30, 2012 very early at only 25 weeks. He and his brother Colin and sister Ava spent 4-5 months in the NICU at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, IL. Ben had an extremely difficult time in his first few weeks of life due to his prematurity. Going through the NICU rollercoaster, we didn’t know what the future would hold for him. We were just so happy and felt so blessed when he finally left the hospital and came home on Saturday November 24, 2012. After just four short years with us, Ben passed away of respiratory failure on May 2, 2016 at Lurie Children’s Hospital after multiple respiratory viruses over the previous two years.

In his brief life, he faced many challenges. We just knew that he was going to struggle with motor development specifically and probably many other things due to his primary condition of cystic encephalomalacia. He was officially diagnosed with quadriplegic cerebral palsy at 10 months old. He also had a feeding tube (g-tube), visual impairment, regular seizures/epilepsy, was nonverbal and developed chronic respiratory illnesses.

Despite all of this, he thrived. He was happy. He was always surrounded with love and compassion by angels (disguised as teachers, doctors, nurses, therapists, friends and family) that came into his life and participated in this journey with him.

To keep Ben’s name and memory alive, we wanted to give back to those ‘angels’ and organizations that helped us along the way.

Organizations We Support

Easter Seals of Fox River Valley – Benjamin was blessed with numerous therapists who loved him, pushed him and were invested in his outcome. We are going to support ES special families with switch toys, smaller adaptive equipment and communication devices.

St Charles D303 Early Childhood program – When Ben entered preschool he was given the opportunity to participate in a typical classroom with typically-developed kids. This was such an invaluable opportunity for him socially and academically…but it’s not easy to adapt classroom and learning tools for kids that need significant support. We are going to provide learning tools and positioning equipment to be used for kids like Ben so they have the same opportunities that he did.

First Baptist Church Geneva Masterpiece Ministries – we first attended FBCG at Buddy Break, which is a monthly respite event designed to give parents of special kids a ‘break’ for three hours. We then learned about their Masterpiece programs geared to mothers/families/special kids. They catered to Ben and customized their care and program to his needs. It is truly a special place to be and worship, and they also provided tremendous support when he died, and still do.

Others: Lurie Children’s Hospital, Central Dupage Hospital PICU, Ronald McDonald House/Chicago, Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital.


A community foundation is a donor-driven organization that helps donors custom-design funds that reflect their charitable interests. Through the years, grants from these funds have made a significant impact on our local communities.

Sharon Stredde

President Emeritus

As a first-generation college student from a low-income family, I was worried about how I was going to pay for books and supplies. This scholarship will allow me to focus more on my studies instead of worrying about how to afford college. I am working to not only create opportunities for myself but to motivate future generations. Thank you so much for helping me along this journey!

Moises J.

Claude & Alice Allen Memorial Scholarship Recipient

We chose the Community Foundation because of its reputation. It’s well known, established and we can trust them to do the job for us.

Dick Schindel

Richard and Susan Schindel Scholarship Funds

Thank you very much for supporting my college education for these four years. I will never be able to repay you for the opportunity that this scholarship has given to me.

Julia H.

[Renewing Scholarship Recipient] Graduate of Hinkley-Big Rock High School

There’s no question in my mind that the scholarship I received opened up possibilities.

Marianne Renner

Past Scholarship Recipient & Current Leadership Coach

…you can always start small, even $25 can make a difference. Remember we can’t take our money with us. Even if it’s just your gift of time. Volunteer and get involved.

Cris Anderson

Cristina & Thomas S. Anderson Endowment Fund | Tom & Cris Anderson Colonial Advisory Fund

Community Foundation of the Fox River Valley

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