The problems discussed weren't necessarily new, but Monday's free-form exchange of ideas was.
An eclectic group of 10 Northwest suburban residents, all of them leaders in their communities or in their professions, gathered in Schaumburg on Monday to discuss life in the suburbs and how to make it better.
The meeting was part of On the Table, a unique event fostered by the Chicago Community Trust, an organization dedicated to improving the city and suburbs through acts of philanthropy. Nearly 10,000 people all over the Chicago area met over breakfast, lunch and dinner Monday in similar discussions.
The Northwest suburban meeting had no formal agenda. The participants talked about challenges in the suburbs and consider potential ways to tackle them.
"At the very least, we'll have a good conversation about our communities, what we see as challenges, what we see as solutions," John Lampinen, editor of the Daily Herald, said at the start of the meeting. The Daily Herald hosted the event over lunch at Riccardo's Ristorante in Schaumburg.
Participants talked about challenges that dog the Northwest suburbs -- connecting teenagers and youth with available services to keep them in school and out of trouble; identifying programs threatened with failure for a lack of money; a shortage of mental-health resources and getting people to take advantage of those resources, among others.
The bulk of the discussion, though, revolved around possible solutions.
Jillian Walsh, director of community investment at Zurich North America, said public-private partnerships can be hugely effective in addressing local problems. The trick, she said, is getting those partnerships established.
"More corporations now are doing 'strategic philanthropy,'" Walsh said. "There are so many groups asking (for assistance), so you need to figure out how to get on their road map."
Mount Prospect resident John Brennan, founder of the Suburban Mosaic Book of the Year reading program, would like to see suburban churches reach across denominational lines more often to combat social injustice. Deb Whisler, director of communications at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library, said hosting discussion meeting that bring together multiple leaders from the community can inspire partnerships.
"We have to create our own opportunities," she said. "When you get a bunch of leaders in a room, they naturally find ways to work together."
State Rep. Fred Crespo of Hoffman Estates said that an important first step toward helping communities in need is to talk directly to people who actually need the help.
"You have to drill down and ask people what their needs really are," he said. "The answers can often be surprising."
The group agreed to discuss possible solutions further in the coming weeks. All participants said they'd like to meet again in a few months.
Some of the On the Table discussions Monday produced concrete action ideas; others, like the Northwest suburban one, are still working toward a project or projects. The Chicago Community Trust has money available to fund some of the projects identified at On The Table meetings.
In addition to those already mentioned, participants in Monday's Northwest suburban discussion are:
• Burt Jensen, a former FBI agent, volunteers with the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
• Bob Jilke of Hanover Park, a member of the Roselle Lions Club for 33 years, a former member of the Hanover Park Public Relations and Special Events Committee.
• Julie Kuhn of Hoffman Estates, an engineer/system architect at Motorola; active in many community events.
• Arlene Mulder, former longtime village president of Arlington Heights, current member of the Metra board, former educator.
• Sheila Schwartz, of Hoffman Estates, who has a banking background, long involvement with United Way and is co-chairwoman of the Pace Advisory Board.
• Kathy Villano, of Elk Grove Village, project administrator for birth through age 5 programs serving at-risk children and their families in northwest Cook County.