In wake of election victories, advocates continue push for community mental health boards

Mental health advocates in the suburbs persuaded voters in November to establish new community boards and a new tax that will fund local organizations that address mental health, substance abuse and development disabilities.

Now the work is shifting from campaigning to implementation, a task largely in the hands of township officials, who will appoint the boards' members and exert significant control over their purse strings.

The community mental health boards - also known as 708 boards - will be set up in Addison, Lisle, Naperville, Schaumburg, Wheeling and Vernon townships, as well as Will County.

Advocates who helped put the requests on the ballot are now urging elected township leaders to follow through by appointing 708 board members - the deadline is 60 days from the certification of election results - and levying the tax needed to fund their work.

Wheeling Township Supervisor Kathy Penner said the 708 board there is expected to be appointed in January. The township, she said, already is receiving applications from people interested in serving on the seven-member panel.

Advocates are closely monitoring the township's progress, fearing there remains some resistance to the concept.

"Our group wants, as I'm sure the township wants, to be in the best possible position to take advantage of the new board and all the new possibilities," said Lorri Grainawi, who campaigned for the 708 board. "We have talked many times about everything that the township has done to demonstrate that you're in the business of helping people, and for that purpose we would like to offer our help as well."

She said one of the group's goals is to help provide the best selection of candidates for the 708 board.

"We have had the advantage over the past year of meeting with other newly formed 708 boards. They provided us with the application process," she said.

Also encouraging Wheeling Township leaders at a recent township board meeting were representatives of Christian Church of Arlington Heights.

"We have seen people in our community who clearly needed mental health support who weren't able to get it until it reached a crisis level that affected not only that person, but also the congregation and the neighborhood," Pastor Allie Lundblad said.

"My hope for this board is that you will appoint people who can look at those gaps really closely and think about the ways that we get people support before it becomes a crisis."

In Vernon Township, Supervisor Jonathan Altenberg said officials have conducted a first round of reviewing applications from potential board members, and follow-up interviews are under way.

Lisle Township has an application form for the new board on its website,

"I've had a lot of really good interest, so I'm really excited about that," Supervisor Diane Hewitt said.

Once the board is in place, the township will assess what services need funding.

"We need to figure out where the holes are and go from there," she said.

Why mental health is on the ballot in the suburbs this fall

With opposition emerging, 708 mental health board supporters press their case

'A heart for change' Advocates celebrate voter support for mental health boards

  Wheeling Township Supervisor Kathy Penner, center, at a recent meeting flanked by attorney Kenneth Florey and Regina Stapleton, director of finance and administration. The township is taking applications for its new 708 board. Steve Zalusky/
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