DuPage County leaders who want to collaborate, decrease duplication of social services and make sure kids are given resources to succeed discussed Monday the possibility of coordinating more efforts through the nonprofit Giving DuPage during a community dinner.
The discussion in Downers Grove was one of five sessions facilitated by the Daily Herald Media Group as part of Chicago Community Trust's On the Table series. The trust invited 10,000 people across the region to 1,050 discussion sessions and challenged them to bring forward ways to improve their communities.
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Nine people who work or live in DuPage County focused much of their conversation on establishing ways to cooperate and trust each other to build healthier communities where all young people have a shot at success.
Healthy Lombard, for example, can coordinate with health-promotion efforts in West Chicago led by Mayor Ruben Pineda, who has begun inviting residents to walk 5K routes with him through different sections of town. Both initiatives aiming to decrease childhood obesity can sign up as participating nonprofits in the Human Race hosted by Giving DuPage, which gives small charities the framework for a 5K fundraiser without all the planning.
"Sometimes we all like to do our good things in silos," said Ray Kinney of Naperville, a businessman who has been involved with organizations such as Naperville Jaycees and Hesed House in Aurora. "I like to break down silos."
Mario Lambert, a fellow Naperville resident and businessman who leads the DuPage County branch of the NAACP, agreed, saying trust is the necessary ingredient to foster collaboration.
"My purpose in life is all around driving healthy inclusion," Lambert said, "bridging gaps of communities that don't talk to each other."
Moon Khan, a Lombard resident who leads the Asian-American Caucus of DuPage, also pushed for inclusion and said the county needs more people of color in elected municipal government.
Monday's discussion group also included an educator, longtime Willowbrook High School teacher Andy Isaacson, and a former educator, Healthy Lombard founder Jay Wojcik. Both said positive changes in community involvement need to start in the classroom.
Whatever we do has to have that educational component," Wojcik said.
"Our message to kids is about giving back and being part of something bigger," Isaacson said. "The message to young people is, 'Yeah, we do care.'"
To bridge the gaps between organizations and people willing to help, Villa Park resident Ellen Ferrara, who founded the Illinois Association of Nonprofit Organizations, suggested an idea she called a "skills bank." Residents would sign up listing their areas of expertise or ways they want to volunteer, and people in need of service would pay $100 for four hours of work, giving revenue to a charity that would organize the skills bank and helping projects get accomplished.
"Nonprofits always step in to fill the void when government doesn't," Ferrara said. "This would be a huge undertaking, but if in each community we could develop a skills bank of people who were willing to donate time or resources to do things where government can't ... then you can manipulate them to solve problems."
Something should be done to decrease duplication of services in a county with more historical societies or preservation organizations than it has municipalities, said Peggy Frank of Naperville, former executive director of the Naper Settlement.
"I do believe we have a problem with collaboration," Frank said. "As much as everybody says how nice it would be ... I think there's too much lip service and people are still extremely territorial and protective of their own. They're afraid they're going to lose their identity."
Kinney suggested Giving DuPage as a potential clearinghouse through which to run collaborative volunteer efforts. Executive Director Shefali Trivedi ran with the suggestion, using the discussion as a networking event to connect with involved community members.
"It's really great to be at a table of good givers and good doers," Trivedi said.