Corporate America's investment -- both human and financial -- is crucial for any local community to thrive. The hard part, however, is persuading corporations that's what they need to be doing.
That was among the main conclusions of a breakfast discussion Monday in Elgin, an event launching a daylong series of community-building meetings throughout the suburbs facilitated by the Daily Herald Media Group.
The overall initiative is spearheaded by the Chicago Community Trust, which invited 10,000 people in the metro area to participate in more than 1,050 community discussions.
The first Daily Herald session included community leaders and volunteers from the Fox Valley area who met for breakfast at Bennigan's in Elgin. Their discussion ranged from how to get more people to volunteer to how to promote a sense of ownership so everyone works together to better communities.
It's all about showing corporations and large businesses what they have to gain, said Ruth Munson of Elgin, a former state representative.
"They have to figure out why youth development programs and good schools are important for your employees," she said. "If you don't have future employees, your business is not going to thrive."
Irene Findley of Cary, a semiretired minister/chaplain for hospice and palliative care patients, suggested putting together a personalized marketing presentation aimed at increasing corporations' community involvement.
Persistence is the key to getting direct access to business owners and CEOs, whose mantra should be "exist globally, behave locally," said Mark Seigle of Elgin, president of Seigle Cabinet Center.
The news media should help by focusing more on reporting positive, feel-good stories that tout community pride, said David Vollrath of Elgin, a volunteer and employee of Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Elgin.
Rise' Jones of Elgin, co-founder and executive director of Hamilton Wings, agreed.
"It's part of our responsibility to change the collective consciousness about what is valued," she said. "Is blood and guts what's valued, or is it promoting youth and what they're doing in our communities?"
It's important to highlight Elgin's vibrant arts community and great educational opportunities, so people can feel that community pride, said Judy Cabrera of Elgin, a board member for United Way of Elgin. "We need to toot our own horn," she said.
Still, a truly inclusive community should foster diversity among city staff, as well as its police and fire departments, said longtime volunteer Joe Dominguez, who participated with his wife Armida.
Other members of the discussion group were George "Bill" Brown of Sleepy Hollow, a retired ironworker and business owner; James Gebhardt of St. Charles, a retired sales manager and member of the citizens advisory board for Fermilab; and Wendy Gruber of St. Charles, an active volunteer and mother of four teenagers.
Tom Roeser, of Barrington Hills and CEO of Otto Engineering in Carpentersville, said there's only so much a single person can do.
"I can fix the capital stock, but I can't fix the human capital stock -- it takes everybody to do that," he said.
Gruber suggested creating an online database of one-time, quick-hit volunteering opportunities that are less daunting than weekly or monthly commitments. Any such databases that already exist should be better publicized, she added.
"People are busy, sadly, but I think everyone could contribute something," she said.
One can't forget about spiritual needs, Irene Findley said.
"It's important to find out exactly where people are spiritually, emotionally, what is important in their life," she said. "We must listen to people, affirm them, so they feel more comfortable being part of the community."
The Daily Herald Media Group hosted five separate two-hour sessions Monday. Others included a lunch in Schaumburg and dinners in Downers Grove and Mundelein, plus one in Elgin held by the Reflejos bilingual newspaper that will focus on the Latino community.