DAVID PIERINI/Contributor YESTERDAY, TODAY, TOMORROW: Rebekah Levin (right), co-president of OPALGA, has been with Sophie Kaluziak since 1989.

The Oak Park Area Lesbian and Gay Association, referred to as OPALGA, has made strides to put itself back on the map. Three years ago, the organization had its own office with a part-time staff and a plethora of different programs to offer the gay and lesbian community of Oak Park. This included an HIV support program that was backed by state and county grants. A dip in fundraising became an issue however, as the OPAL Gala, the group’s annual fundraising event became too pricey to cover the expenses of OPALGA. That contributed to build a debt of about $20,000, forcing the board to make the decision to close their office, lay off their employees and start from the ground up.

“The effect of the former formal state of the Gala came tumbling down when we just weren’t able to raise the funds that we had been able to raise in past years. A lot of which is due to the economy,” said co-president Greg Raub of the sudden collapse.

Since then, OPALGA has completely restructured its fundraising efforts and helped make the idea of contributing more feasible for members. They turned the Gala from a formal sit-down dinner, dance and auction black tie event to more of a cocktail hour. The downsizing of this event made it much more accessible, bringing out many more people and helped the group pay off its sizeable debts in just over a year.

Now, OPALGA is ready to make its first appearance in the Oak Park 4th of July parade since it has resurfaced. They will not be alone either, raising the funds themselves and receiving a little help from the village to bring the Lakeside Pride Marching Band with them, restating their powerful presence in the community.

“We used to participate in the parade every year, but we haven’t in at least three or four years,” said Raub, “As far as I know and as long as I’ve lived here I’ve never seen a band in the Oak Park parade so we’re pretty excited about that.”

Now in his third year as co-president, Raub is also looking to schedule an OPALGA sponsored family picnic this summer. Realizing that most of the events they held were more adult and single oriented, the board is looking to accommodate gay and lesbian families with young kids.

In the upcoming third annual LGBT film festival, OPALGA will be taking a more proactive role with PFLAG (Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) this year by completely hosting one week of the fest. It will be securing the featured film and bringing in a speaker to hold a discussion afterwards.

In terms of where OPALGA goes from here, co-president Bekah Levin would like to see more women become members.

“When we first started OPALGA many years ago in 1989,” she said, “we were a pretty good mix of men and women. Then after I left the organization, the number of women really started dropping. When I came back last year we had the OPALGA Gala and we saw a big imbalance in the number of men and women. One of the goals that I want to take on is to bring more women back.”

Levin will be hosting women’s dances to try to introduce new members to the organization. Many women used to gather at these dances in the organization’s hay day and she hopes to restore that type of support. At the same time, they are glad to be back and providing a service to their community.%uF729

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