How well does your team know our Villages?  Your employees, co-workers, students – have they been properly introduced to our community?

We like to think of our little hamlet as a special place, one that people intentionally seek out to live, work and study.  But people come here for many different reasons.  Creating a shared sense of place and culture requires intentional effort – and explanation.

As employers, we often forget to add “community” to our new hire training checklist.  We hire for skills, attitude and demeanor and then focus training on the internal needs of our unique businesses.  But we forget that flourishing here often requires an understanding of context, a sense of the place.  For example, you cannot succeed in a customer service role at the corner of Lake and Oak Park Avenue if you do not know where Unity Temple is.  Or what it is.  Or why foreign tourists keep pouring off the Green Line asking about it.  As an employer, I learned that the hard way.

West Suburban Medical Center Internal Medicine Residency Program recently addressed the challenge of community immersion and education head-on.

Last week teams of young physicians roamed the downtown districts of Oak Park and River Forest exploring and taking selfies.  These medical residents come from all over to train at West Sub for one to three years, working grueling schedules at the hospital.

To introduce the residents to community, Program Director Scott Yen devised a midday “scavenger hunt.”  Teams canvassed the area looking for examples of housing, transportation, education, and parks. They were tasked with noticing our diverse ethnic restaurants, independently owned businesses, and national chains.  They found nonprofit organizations, health services, historical markers and art. New development and construction also made the list.  The scavenger hunt and resulting selfies posted on their Twitter feed started a conversation about what makes our community unique.

The teams had a fun day cataloging what often we take for granted.  When you are around long enough, eventually you notice these and other characteristics that define our community.  But isn’t it nice to introduce newbies from the get-go with a hearty, proud welcome?

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Cathy Yen

Cathy Yen is the Executive Director of the Oak Park River Forest Chamber of Commerce.  She has lived in Oak Park for 21 years and done business locally, first as a retailer and then as a small business...