Collaborating: New village trustees Bob Tucker, Adam Salzman and Ray Johnson hosted a forum at Eastgate Cafe last month.File 2011/J. GEIL

Recently Dr. Nathan DeWall of the University of Kentucky reported that his study of pop lyrics showed “an increasing focus on me and my instead of we and our and us,” and reflected a shift away from concern for community to self-engagement in America.

Despite this report, I see signs of a new direction in Oak Park, as evidenced by community conversations in a number of areas. Here’s the evidence of changes that can help shape our villages for years to come:

People are taking local action to counter climate change through green blocks, community gardens, composting and recycling. These local efforts are being harnessed to a community-wide effort through Plan It Green (an OPRF Community Foundation’s Community Works initiative), which has convened government agencies, local businesses, interfaith groups and neighborhood groups to find ways to share best practices, educate the public about simple steps to conservation and engage community structures to support these efforts.

The Citizens Council formed to reduce teen drug and alcohol use has been gaining steam, rather than fizzling out as prior efforts did, meeting with parents, government representatives and concerned residents explore better strategies to address this issue. River Forest has just enacted a social-host ordinance to provide new tools to help parents and police address underage parties.

Through the West Cook YMCA, Oak Park has received funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for Pioneering Healthier Communities, an initiative to empower communities with strategies and models for creating and sustaining positive change in support of healthy living. In the same vein the Oak Park Board of Health is participating in projects of the Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity, with similar goals.

The OPRF Shared Services Task Force, with support from Community Bank, Dominican University and the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation, has been working to promote collaborative efforts among nonprofit organizations. Most of these groups are social service agencies that have been finding ways to create a web of support and cross-referrals for clients that can better assist those in the community who turn to them for help.

As an offshoot of this effort, the Oak Park Area Arts Council and local arts groups recently convened a meeting with the same goal of sharing resources and best practices. As a part of this discussion, I was thrilled to see the creativity and generous spirit of local arts organizations.

The recent meeting of newly elected officials to discuss how to collaborate and share services provides a governmental example of working more closely together for the greater good.

Finally, the passage of the District 97 referendum indicates a community spirit and long-term perspective from a majority of voters that good schools remain fundamental to the success of our community.

All of these are hopeful signs in these challenging financial times of a new spirit of cooperation that can only benefit our community and ultimately make it a more vibrant and caring place to live.

Teresa Powell is the Oak Park village clerk.

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