*EDITOR’S NOTE: Candidates submitted their own biographies
I am a resident of Oak Park for over 40 years, where with my late husband Dennis, who was the former Township Community Mental Health Board Director, we raised our three children valuing diversity, civic engagement, and inclusiveness to address local issues. Raising a family that promoted social services was essential to instill the core values of human relationships, integrity, service, and hard work to carry our children into adulthood to make a difference in life. As my husband worked at the Township for many years, my knowledge, interest and involvement with Township government grew. I knew that volunteering on Township committees was a good “fit” with my values and beliefs. Giving back to the community though leadership and service is part of modeling what I appreciate about Oak Park Township, and what I wish to do as a Township Trustee.
As an educator I have had a successful career as a high school teacher and administrator in neighboring communities. While raising my family, I earned degrees in higher education to help me face the challenges the communities I served needed. I have designed and spearheaded programs dealing with equity in education for growing Hispanic and African American populations through community partnerships between schools and community services.
Currently a professor at Concordia University Chicago in the Department of Leadership and Teaching, Learning, and Diversity, I teach adults in organizational change, leadership, program development, and education topics. I bring my knowledge and experience to the next generation of learners so that they are committed to leading communities with purpose and integrity, particularly through social services. I am a coach and mentor who models what community engagement means through the Township mission of, “providing locally-governed supportive services to our community.”
I understand the tax burden in Oak Park and the impact on both renters and home owners. My goal is to address the social service needs of our community for residents of all ages, and spend taxpayers’ money with integrity and fairness. Working with other governmental and community groups in Oak Park we need to collaborate, communicate, and address the best use of the revenue we have collectively.
As a current Township Trustee, with experience over the last four year on all the Township committees, I am seeking another term. I am a servant leader who understands the meaning of collaboration, partnerships, and the ability to listen and learn from others, then lead. I want to find ways to create more Township visibility, especially for underserved populations that may not know we exist or ways to access services. Issues of equity and fairness in decision-making are part of my leadership skills that will help the Township board face the challenges ahead and build on past success without the fear of needed change.
Thank you to the Wednesday Journal and the residents of Oak Park who are taking an active role in this election. I appreciate your engagement in local government and ask for your support.
Outside of campaigning to serve as township trustee, what experience do you have working or volunteering with the township?
I was a member of the Township Youth Committee for eight years where I provided leadership in funding and program development in mentoring, drug and alcohol abuse, and multi-literacies for youth. I developed a partnership between Concordia University, District 97, and Fellowship Community Services to create a summer literacy program for those students having difficulties transitioning from middle school to high school, and who needed support to find creative ways through mentoring to develop a positive self-image while reading and aspiring them to go to college. I have visited Oak Park schools where Youth Services funding provides programs in mentoring, after school homework support, supplemental academic tutoring, music and intramural sports. I have led discussions on program evaluation for effectiveness in meeting goals and showing evidence of results. I have supported and discussed youth prevention programming for substance abuse, job readiness skill-building and the expansion of services including the Positive Youth Development initiative, the Youth Interventionists work, and “Girls on the Rise,” which focuses on helping girls improve self-esteem through developing leadership skills.
I have been the liaison to the Township Senior Committee, where I have advocated for older adults’ supportive services, including transportation, the senior lunch program, caregiver support, and the Memory Café. Since I was involved with the Gerontology Center at Concordia, I became familiar with the designation to be a Dementia Friendly community in partnership with the Library and Park District. I have recognized the incredible work of our senior committee in establishing “Celebrating Seniors,” which showcased the many talented seniors that live in our community. I understand issues with “ageism” particularly leading to isolation, which is what Township Senior Services can address through the lunch program, transportation availability, and awareness of affordable and accessible housing as seniors want to move to or remain in Oak Park.
Community Mental Health Board:
Currently, I am a member of the Community Mental Health Board (CMHB), ensuring that persons with mental and developmental disabilities have access to services in partnership with local social service agencies that receive Township funding. I am the liaison to several community mental health agencies who receive Township funding insuring that the quality of care meets the needs of the clients they serve. I have reviewed data that indicates the interventions provided, particularly during the COVID pandemic, are reexamined and adjusted as growing mental health needs emerge. I support and applaud efforts to establish the “Health Connection Hub” so that a referral database that connects community members to the social services they need is accessible in an on-going basis.
Ensuring that the $1 million in financial support for programs and services to approximately 20 agencies a year in Oak Park is the shared decision making role I have provided to this Board. Most recently an agreement with the Park District will increase the presence of mental health services while reducing the stigma associated with it, through the new Health and Wellness Center in the proposed Oak Park Community Recreation Center.
What areas of service provided by the township need expansion and how do you intend to carry that out, while keeping taxation reasonable?
Expansion of services especially as we recover from COVID will require evaluation of what exists for effectiveness and efficiencies. This may mean redirecting funds from programs that are no longer meeting growing community service needs. Our Township Directors in Seniors, Youth Services and Community Mental Health have committees that provide scrutiny and oversite to recommend budgets that are then submitted to the Township Supervisor and Trustees. It is the process of program evaluation, stakeholder input, and agency evaluations that can determine where services are needed in collaboration with Township committees, representative of the community. In the area of Youth this means reviewing data in drug and alcohol surveys to see if more needs are required in these areas. For Seniors, transportation is a growing need as well as, affordable and safe housing. In Mental Health, services in post pandemic stress may cause focus to agencies and expand tele-therapy that is place now.
Social services cut across all aspects of Oak Park government. So, one way to keep taxation reasonable is through collaboration with other governmental bodies to also reexamine their budgets and work for identified common needs that can be supported through shared resources.
How as trustee can you help the township address and overcome the novel challenges of operating mid-pandemic and post-pandemic? What are those challenges?
I see community mental health services as the bridge between serving youth and seniors addressing the challenges of the pandemic. Both groups have social and emotional needs, and due to COVID we have to be prepared to respond to issues of isolation, and physical and psychological health. Through developing a continuum of care that is responsive to the community and the evolving needs of clients, youth, or seniors, Mental Health Township services are areas where mid-pandemic and post-pandemic effects will have need to be examined in relationship to programs that are communicated to all residents of the community. An integrated service delivery model can look at the needs of the “whole child,” and the “whole family” where it is reasonable to assume the pandemic has raised issues the Township can and should address. An example of intergovernmental work is the Township and the Village working collaboratively to help residents get the COVID vaccine. The Township as a call center scheduling appointments, getting residents to clinics, and the Village providing the vaccine is an example of ways we can work together in addressing the challenges that have yet to be defined.
How will you increase community engagement and awareness of township services?
Visibility of Township services, particularly with outreach to those individuals who need help and are often feeling isolated, is challenging. This ranges from seniors who lack transportation or technology to find resources to marginalized youth who need more support than they receive in schools. The Township board needs to be more visible in the community at events and locations, create a more recognizable “brand” through social media, and through forming partnerships with other groups, whether taxing bodies, agencies, churches, or schools. We are looking at ways we can create a more user friendly website and marketing strategies so that all vehicles for increased awareness can appeal to individual preferred methods of communication. Of course, the stories our residents tell when they do engage in Township services are our best testimony to how we can, will, and do work to include “voices” of what works individually, and collectively in meeting needs. This is not sufficient, but it is not to be minimized since the human touch bridges doubt and uncertainty with an awareness that the Township is available to help, not judge those in need.
How can the township increase the equitability of its services, considering the many different facets of equity?
From my educator’s perspective and experience working with diverse students in diverse communities, I define equity as recognizing that everyone needs to have access to the same opportunities and support, regardless of their life experiences, so that fairness is given to all. No one should feel their voice doesn’t matter, nor should they feel marginalized. Our community needs to be inclusive and open to diversity in all forms: race, gender, age, sexual orientation, mental abilities, and religion so that Oak Park is seen as a Village that communicates openness and respect for personal differences. A challenge to serve through an “equity lens” requires an introspective look at Township program development and decision making. We have to start with ourselves to be open and understanding of diverse perspectives and needs. To create an inclusive environment within the Township, we need to listen to all employees and be sure they also listen to others’ needs. We can’t take for granted that we are inclusive. We need to educate ourselves and learn how to celebrate diverse perspectives, creating change and innovative thinking. The needs of the future can’t be solved with solutions from the past.
Several approaches are necessary to understand the different facets of equity by first defining them. Achieving true equity requires looking at the systems perspective from accessibility to services that have been designed at a time that is not represented of today’s Oak Park. It means intentionality to examine proportional representation of all groups on Township committees and Boards to insure that opportunities for access to services is fair to all groups in our Village. We need to look at relationships between all groups so that transparency, trust, and respect for diversity of position and thinking is met with open dialogue that leads to action. We need to be reflective leaders, since as elected officials the community has place their trust in us to look at the good for “all,” and not through a narrow lens that limits and stifles the diversity that Oak Park has been built upon historically and can continue to serve us well, as a model community that is open and welcoming to all.
How can the township improve its reach and grow its service offering without increasing the tax burden on citizens?
The process of budgeting has to be aligned to the core value of assessing the resources we have aligned to the community’s needs. This has to keep in mind the tax burden which is a real concern knowing that the Township is just one of many taxing bodies. To assist in the budgeting process and fiscal planning, I support a systemic approach that utilizes the Financial Advisory Committee’s expertise, which was established in 2018. Composed of residents who know about finance, this committee reviews the budget process and management of all funds with a keen unbiased eye to risk management and internal control practices. Looking to expand this Advisory Committee and working with each Program Director who creates the initial budget in their area of services, the Township Board’s responsibility for financial decisions and approval are thoughtful and have some community voice and oversite. The annual audited budget clarifies that the balance between revenue and expenditures is within our means and is continually reviewed and adjusted as needed when unexpected emergencies arise, such as the pandemic and emergency funds for residents.
Based on information from our Township Assessor, “last year, the Township comprised 2.4% of each person’s property tax bill.” Compared to other taxing bodies such as the Village and the high school and elementary school, this is much lower. The Township’s tax levy, where according to our Assessor, the comparison with other taxing bodies indicates we did not tax the maximum amount of funds available and made this decision to give some relief to the community. Additionally, other sources of revenue have to be explored and are through Youth and Senior Services leadership. Through talented and dedicated township service directors, partnerships with state agencies that may have funds, and through competitive grants, we are on a mission to increase services without more community costs. In collaboration, it is also realistic to seek combined funding with other taxing bodies such as the Village to support the Youth Interventionist program that was inter-governmentally agreed to in the past. The school districts also seek more services from the Township, which they do not provide. For example, restorative justice programs, case management for youth, and professional development through our mental health services for staff and parents require sharing the costs. A portion of these taxing bodies’ revenue can help the Township continue and expand these critical services without burdening taxpayers.