By Dan Haley
Each fall, for many years, the Journal and Review would publish a special section called Community of Caring. It was an effort to focus readers' attention on the annual fundraising efforts of the local United Way by telling the stories of people who received social services from the agencies that depended on funding from the charity.
But then the United Way got less local and the connection to local agencies grew more tenuous and, finally, a couple of years ago, we reluctantly gave up entirely on the section. We were no longer sure that the money given locally stayed local. And the United Way narrowed its funding focus to the extent that many local community services we valued no longer fit into its funding mechanisms.
So we took a couple of years off. But then this summer we came to our senses. This section was simply organized around the United Way. It wasn't about the United Way. It was about families in Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park who needed help and turned toward one of the dozens of social service groups and volunteer efforts that met their need. It was about professionals and volunteers who were devoting their lives to meet the needs of our neighbors.
And when, in words and pictures, we told those individual stories of need and the courage to reach out — of reciprocating care and kindness — then our Community of Caring became a simple circle.
That circle was not broken by the United Way's new focus. It wasn't broken by the state of Illinois' inability to meets its financial obligations to social service groups. Yes, those were challenges. But the circle endures because the needs are great and the strength of our towns is real.
So this year, Community of Caring returns and it continues its simple mission of storytelling. We have chosen a dozen local organizations. Some have been in service for decades, a couple are almost brand new. They serve kids, teens, elders, people with disabilities and people who find themselves in need.
Each story is about an individual who has benefited from the loving and expert care these groups provide. Reporter Deb Quantock McCarey and photographer David Pierini combined to make these people very real. These are our neighbors and we hope you will find their stories memorable and actionable.
Give back. It could be your hard-earned cash in this tough economy. It could be your time in this constrained moment. One thing is sure: Your family has felt a need at some moment of crisis because every family has those moments. And someone has answered your call.
This is your moment.