Roughly $100K in state funds allocated to Oak Park groups

Library, D97 Multicultural Center share state funding


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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

More than $100,000 from the state is coming to two Oak Park entities. 

Oak Park Public Library and District 97's Multicultural Center will divvy up $135,000 in state appropriations secured by state Rep. LaShawn Ford (8th). Neither organization requested the money, which Ford applied for last year.

Ford said he sought the appropriations to get community organizations in his district much-needed funds for educational programs. 

The Multicultural Center, which is housed at Julian Middle School, 416 S. Ridgeland Ave., provides after-school and summer programming. The center also works with D97 classroom teachers on multicultural projects. The Oak Park Public Library, 834 Lake St., provides year-round programming for youth.

With the state still facing a financial crunch, Ford said it was tough getting this money.

"Some individuals believe we should stop spending and pay down our bills, but our communities are hurting. We should spend money where it's needed," said Ford. 

The Oak Park state representative, whose district extends to the West Side and western suburbs, also secured more than half a million dollars for community organizations in Austin. Ford said the appropriations were approved this month and the community groups have received the money. 

The Oak Park Public Library has received $100,000, with the Multicultural Center getting $35,000. Lynn Allen, the center's director, said the funds will be used for a video production project she has wanted to undertake.

The center's summer programming includes college field trips, African dancing and drumming, rapping and Taekwondo. Allen said she'd like to have the kids make videos of those activities and talk about them. She added that the village is interested in broadcasting the students' work on VOP Channel 6. 

"I've never done this before, but I've always wanted to do it because the kids are showing a real interest in video production," Allen said. 

Ford stressed that he requested the money specifically for educational programs. 

Austin has seen schools shuttered and the local YMCA closed within the last year, he noted. While Oak Park is known as an affluent community overall, Allen said there are many families here who are struggling.

"People think everyone in Oak Park is rich, but there are families who are hurting. They don't have a lot of money and if they do have it, they can't spend on non-essential things," she said.

Ford said he plans to request more money for youth programming in his district.  

$300K for ACT-SO program

The Chicago Westside Branch of the NAACP, which is located in Austin, received $300,000 in state funding to expand its ACT-SO youth program, which includes students from Oak Park and River Forest High School.  

Sponsored by the national NAACP, ACT-SO (Academic, Cultural, Technological, Scientific Olympics) is a scholastic program that targets high school students. NAACP chapters nationwide also host local competitions where students compete in "Olympic-style" academic events in math, science and the arts. 

Karl Brinson, president of the Westside NAACP, said the chapter will use its money to recruit more students and adult mentors for the program, which promotes students' interest in academic achievement. Students from OPRF participate in ACT-SO and compete annually in the West Side competition. Last year, two OPRF students qualified for the national competition. 

Nia Smith and Briana Williams took first place in last year's local competition, qualifying them to participate at the national event that July in Florida. This year's local competition is Saturday, April 26, at UIC Student Center, 750 S. Halsted. 


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Posted: April 1st, 2014 12:11 PM

@Jim From South Oak Park The Multicultural Center is located at Julian, which has cameras via the Digital Communications Club The club hasn't met this year, but I'm fairly certain the school still has cameras. If Ms. Allen would collaborate with the school, she might not need money she didn't request.

joe from south oak park  

Posted: March 30th, 2014 7:54 PM

jim- I could not agree more

Jim from South Oak Park  

Posted: March 29th, 2014 2:20 PM

Another "feel good" project with little care for cost. Illinois lawmakers don't seem to hear the state Constitution's call for a balanced budget. So, IL has $5.4 billion in unpaid bills; a crumbling credit rating, and a "temporary" income tax that probably becomes permanent. If you support this "gift," ask this: Is it worth higher taxes so it's "nice" for kids to video record the dancing, drumming, rapping and Taekwondo they're doing? Could parents with smart phone already be doing this?


Posted: March 29th, 2014 11:04 AM

Oak Park: Step out of your ivory tower/bubble world. Do you think this money falls from the sky like manna? That "temporary" tax increase that we all pay for will be permanent. Its programs like this (which sound nice but aren't free) which are the cause of that.

I really do not get this  

Posted: March 29th, 2014 8:36 AM

@Oak Park Resident, while I get your first point, I fail to see its applicability here. I could see the money used to pay bills to the state's vendors being used to stimulate the economy better then money given to the Library or the school. As to your second point, yes, it is nice OP is getting $ back.

Oak Park Resident from Oak Park  

Posted: March 29th, 2014 1:24 AM

To @OP Res - Yes, we need to pay our bills, however I am not in favor of an austerity plan that puts every dime into paying bills because financial experts tell us that some spending stimulates the economy increasing the tax base to pay our bills. Also there are taxpaying citizens who need help in our community. If funding is designated for community projects, I am glad to see Oak Park getting some of it for a change. We sure pay enough taxes to get some of it back.

Oak Park Resident from Oak Park  

Posted: March 29th, 2014 1:04 AM

To Big Al - My property taxes are high like everyone else's, and I want to see my taxes distributed in both a fiscally responsible and more equitable way that serves a broader spectrum of people in our community. I said "diversity", not "race". Your assumption that any kids who hang out or get into trouble are of a particular race is a reflection of part of the problem in our town. Race card indeed!

I really do not get this  

Posted: March 28th, 2014 1:23 PM

@Oak Park Resident, that is a false analogy. There is a difference between the Oak Park Park District spending tax dollars it collects and the State of Illinois spending money that should go to pay its bills to entities that were not asking for the grant in the first place.

Big Al from Oak Park  

Posted: March 28th, 2014 1:11 PM

@ Wrong kids...ah yes the old race card strategy. That is getting really old and really doesn't hold any water. You also seem to presume that none of the commenters here that are for fiscal responsibility are black ......sad very sad.

Oak Park Resident from Oak Park  

Posted: March 28th, 2014 12:12 PM

Wow!! It is amazing how often people who have nothing to say when our government entities spend millions on expensive activities like gymnastics, swimming and ice skating, begrudge programs that reach the very kids they complain about if they hang out in the streets or get into trouble. Quality education can be achieved at high levels in many forms ?" not just the "traditional" ways. In a diverse society, we need to reach and inspire kids in diverse ways so they will be the best they can be.


Posted: March 28th, 2014 12:05 PM

@ its his job; Still, his constituents are also these units of government, and he should be asking them what they need, not unilaterally giving them grants. Its about communication and keeping an open line of communication to the professionals who run these organizations. Otherwise, guess what happens, criticism, correct.

I really do not get this  

Posted: March 28th, 2014 11:32 AM

While it is nice these entities received $ they did not seek, we should not ignore the effect this has on the state's creditors. When the state cannot pay a small business that provides services to the state or receives state reimbursement for services provided (medical providers, day care, etc.), that small business has to somehow make "due" paying its bills (payroll, taxes, rent, utilities). To think there are no ramifications with the decision to fund these entities is foolish and ignorant.

It's his job  

Posted: March 28th, 2014 9:32 AM

That's why he was elected is to advocate for his constituents. I'm fairly impressed and proud of the work he did. That's going the extra mile when it wasn't even requested. As for the budget, this is the kind of spending we need MORE. Not less. Our state's fiscal problems won't be solved by shortchanging valuable educational programs. You don't like it. But we're a blue state, this is kind of the bread and butter most taxpayers want to see.


Posted: March 28th, 2014 9:09 AM

This is great that we are getting the money, but I question Rep Ford on why he did this. Neither the Library or D97 asked for these funds. Would it not be better if Ford would communicate and coordinate with our local gov'ts on their needs rather than just securing grants for what he thinks is best.

Wrong Kids?  

Posted: March 28th, 2014 8:26 AM

Comments about the library receiving money seem non-existent, so that must be OK. Therefore, the problem must be that the wrong kids might benefit from this funding. If it was for gifted kids or advanced scholars, no problem. Guess which group is not highly represented in those programs right now? Now I know you will claim State finance troubles, but it's really the group served that bugs you. I mean, what could someone learn from the vocabulary and grammar involved in positive rap?


Posted: March 28th, 2014 8:17 AM

Kidding is right. Less feelings and culture, and more reading, writing and math.

Big Al from Oak Park  

Posted: March 27th, 2014 11:08 PM

@ @ Kidding. sorry but "Are You Kidding" is right. Illinois' fiscal ship is going under and yet we are still spending like there is no tomorrow. Sure this is a nice story but if this spending for every little thing doesn't stop, these children learning to dance and rap now are going to inherit a heavy burden of debt from our generation. As adults they are going to question "what were they thinking??" about the extravagances and fiscal irresponsibility of their well meaning but naive' parents.


Posted: March 27th, 2014 8:03 PM

Way to take a positive story about kids in our community and turn it into a whine. Bravo!

Are You Kidding?  

Posted: March 27th, 2014 6:47 PM

Illinois is broke and these state funds are likely borrowed at high interest. How exactly will African dancing and drumming and learning to rap improve the lives of Oak Park children? What a tremendous waste of hard-earned tax dollars!

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