“One Person can make a difference and everyone should try.” – President John F. Kennedy
Imagine driving down Route 66 in the 1960s. Destination: California. A new life in The Golden State awaits as you make your way west, but your plans are thwarted when your car breaks down in the middle of the Grand Canyon State. Such was the fate of a young single woman named Ilene Butler. This seemingly anticlimactic event forever changed her life and the lives of thousands of children and young adults who would come to call “Hacienda,” their home.
After Ilene’s plans to move to California took a permanent hiatus, she put down roots in the Valley of the Sun in hopes of starting a family. Her desire for motherhood bloomed from years of working with institutionalized special needs children in her home state of Illinois. To Ilene, being a single unmarried woman was not a personal prerequisite for motherhood, but the state of Arizona disagreed and denied Ilene’s application to adopt or become a foster parent.
Unfazed, Ilene applied again—this time offering to provide a loving forever home to a child who’d been institutionalized due to a physical and developmental disability. In 1967 the state approved her application and granted Ilene foster care custody of Cindy, a cute two-year-old girl who’d been diagnosed with hydrocephalus (fluid accumulation in the brain). Soon after, Ilene fostered two more special needs children who she would later adopt—Lupe and Ronnie.
When Cindy passed away, Ilene discovered her calling was to provide a loving home to children with profound disabilities. She hired nurses and recruited her family members to help care for “her little angels.” But her passion and vision soon outgrew not only her mobile home, but her second home on 19th Avenue and Northern. So in 1970, with the help of her attorney Steve Friedman, Hacienda de Los Angeles incorporated and became a nonprofit organization.
Thanks to the support of friends, family, and local churches, a property was secured in South Phoenix where Ilene could build a home for the children. Las Madrinas, or the Godmothers, was a woman’s auxiliary organization that moved quickly to raise money for the building fund. The Madrinas hosted bake sales, craft fundraisers, and sold artwork from the famed artist, Ted DeGrazia. All of these efforts helped raise approximately $30,000 to support the construction of the first facility, and by 1976 friends, family and the National Guard came together to help all thirty-five of the children in Ilene’s care move into their new 7,800 square foot South Mountain home.
In 2012, Hacienda HealthCare held a special dedication for Ilene Butler. Steve Friedman, Ilene’s attorney and founding Board Member, spoke of Ilene’s great love for the children, her tenacity, and her strength.