Nonprofits adapted to meet 2020 demands

Hinsdale agencies found ways to survive, thrive during year marked by global pandemic

As the new year begins, The Hinsdalean traditionally reaches out to the leaders of the village’s seven nonprofit agencies, inviting them to offer a recap of the previous year and to share one wish for the new year.

This is the first of two installments. A Jan. 14 article will feature Candor (formerly Robert Crown), HCS Family Services, Hinsdale Historical Society and Wellness House.

Community Memorial Foundation

In 2019, leaders at Community Memorial Foundation chose a theme for the organization’s upcoming 25th anniversary: “Turning Silver into Gold: Building Grantee Resilience.”

Three months into the nonprofit’s milestone year, that theme took on new meaning.

“I keep saying, ‘Who would have ever known that the theme of building resiliency would be so timely and relevant?’ ” said Greg DiDomenico, president and chief executive officer. “Our vision for our anniversary year was focused on our grantees, and what better year, to be honest, to stay focused on our grantees than this past year?”

The foundation was able to carry out many of its original plans for 2020. Forty-six organizations received a $20,000 general operating support grant after submitting a resiliency plan and workshops (offered online) helped grantee partners learn more about strengthening financial resiliency.

The fall celebration, however, required some modifications. Instead of hosting a cocktail party, the foundation held a gratitude drive-by in the parking lot of its offices at 15 Spinning Wheel, presenting grantees with a “treasure box.”

“It was really an envelope that contained a thank you note from one of our board members and a check for $500 to thank their staff for the work they have done and continue to do,” DiDomenico said.

The past year also brought new opportunities for recognizing and thanking individuals. CMF partnered with the Hinsdale Chamber of Commerce, the West Suburban Chamber of Commerce, Amita La Grange and Hinsdale hospitals, and the West Suburban Municipal Conference to celebrate and recognize “Regional Rock Stars,” presenting 30 awards in nine rounds.

“We were hearing the stories of people and organizations that were going above and beyond, and so, as a group, the two chambers, the hospital and the mayors conference really wanted to lift up the folks that were really doing what represents the best in all of us, and that is responding to the needs of our neighbors,” DiDomenico said. “We wanted to recognize those stories in the midst of all that was going on over the last eight months.”

The foundation’s vision has been to make this region the healthiest in the country. The COVID-19 pandemic, rather than fostering discouragement, encouraged the foundation to do more to meet grantees’ needs.

“We listened to our grantees,” he said. “We listened to the needs of the community. We partnered, and we responded. It really inspired us.”

Grantee partners didn’t miss a beat in responding to the pandemic, DiDomenico said.

“They were courageous and creative, and in their dedication to our communities, they inspired us at the foundation,” he said.

During 2020, the foundation was able to expand its youth philanthropy, Young Community Changemakers, to include Hinsdale Central and Riverside-Brookfield high schools. The leadership development program is designed to educate and empower local youth to become the next generation of philanthropists.

“This year we will have four schools — 60 teens — which is double what we had in year one and two,” DiDomenico said. “We’re very excited to be able to have a year three with double the amount of teens participating in the program.”

Since its inception, the foundation has awarded more than $78 million to grantee partners in 27 communities.

Hinsdale Humane Society

While everyone at the Hinsdale Humane Society felt the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, they knew they were not alone.

“It’s hard to complain when everyone else is going through at least the same thing you are if not worse,” said Tom Van Winkle, executive director. “On the good side of things, we were able to take advantage of some of the government loans and financial aid to keep from having to lay anyone off. We were able to keep everyone employed. That means our animals received the full care of all of our staff.”

While a leaner staff could have provided care for all the animals, they would have had less time out of their cages and less physical contact, he noted.

The staff handled the necessary adjustment seamlessly, Van Winkle said. And even with the Tuthill Family Pet Rescue and Resource Center closed to the public for much of the year, adoptions were up.

“We have adopted out over 100 more animals this year than last year,” he said. “That is all really, really good.”

The number of volunteers who could work together at the shelter was restricted, but with fewer events taking place, fewer helpers were needed.

“Our dog walkers and our cat socializers showed up. They were rock stars. They stayed socially distanced,” Van Winkle said.

Fundraising presented more of a challenge.

“Fundraising did come to a screeching halt at first,” he said. “We were able to pivot.”

Some events were presented virtually, and new Facebook live events have given the staff a way to engage with patrons.

Van Winkle offered sincere thanks for previous supporters and new donors who sent in both large checks and small ones.

“I appreciate (the small gift) as much as I do the million-dollar check, because I know it’s a really big challenge,” he said. “If you are struggling, that’s a tough thing to do no matter how much you love the cause.”

While the summer pet walk had to be canceled, the society was able to offer a modified outdoor summer camp and a hybrid fall golf outing, with some virtual components and a few socially distanced golfers.

Giving Tuesday became even more important this year. Van Winkle said its timing — following Black Friday, Shop Local Saturday and Cyber Monday — can leave people cash depleted.

“It’s always challenging,” he said. “We actually did better than we did last year. Our team did a great job and our supporters really stepped forward.”

Organizers are looking forward to holding a virtual gala, Hinsdale Humane Society Unleashed, this year.

“Snuggle up to your dog or your cat or your iguana and whatever you like to snuggle with” while enjoying the event at home, Van Winkle said.

He and the staff are looking forward to the day when the center can welcome the public back.

“As we are given permission to open our doors more and let people come in, we will do that as soon as we are allowed to do so,” he said.

The Community House

Dan Janowick had about six weeks to get used to his new job of executive director before the pandemic hit in March.

“Like everybody else, I think we went through — and I went through — the stages of shock and disbelief of what we saw happening in the world,” he said. “The joy of me stepping into the executive director role, having been here for 15 years, I know the organization inside and out. I think that’s really helpful when you go through a time of crisis.”

That knowledge helped him work with staff to determine which programs to step back from and which to ramp up.

“That really was our goal through that time — how can we best be there for the community during really difficult times?” he said.

So The Community House expanded remote learning support for students at Willowbrook Corners, its counseling department began offering teletherapy and LyArts started offering online daily art projects hosted by Jimmy McDermott.

“We did some distanced, funny photos with the Easter Bunny and some other online activities just to give the community some touchpoints so they would know we were still there when they needed us,” Janowick said.

The Community House was able to resume much of its programming from June to September, although camps had to be modified to allow for social distancing.

“It felt great for us because the community came back in a big way, and they needed that kind of thing,” he said. “We looked at a lot of our programs as an effort toward healing, an effort toward recovery. It is more than a football league or a basketball league or an art program. It’s helping all of us recover from COVID.”

Janowick believes The Community House is uniquely positioned to help meet three vital needs during the pandemic — the need for togetherness and connection, the need for mental health awareness and the need to help others.

“Holistically, those are all things that society saw as priorities. It really made us feel good to know that we were helping in the right ways.”

While the Holiday Ball — the organization’s largest fundraiser — had to be canceled, past attendees were sent a small gift and invited to send in a donation.

“We were able to get really strong support from that fundraising effort,” Janowick said.

The Walk the Walk for Mental Health was converted to a virtual event and another fundraiser, The Community Revue, was held “just in the nick of time,” he said.

He noted two longtime Revue cast members were lost this year, Ly Hotchkin and Dick Johnson. Hotchkin served as executive director at The Community House for more than three decades, and Johnson was a lifetime trustee and co-founder of The Community House Players.

“(It’s) certainly a sad moment in a difficult year to lose two people who had such a big impact on generations of what The Community House does,” Janowick said.

He said he thinks The Community House succeeded in listening and responding to the community’s needs during a challenging year.

“That’s so helpful to us, because we didn’t have a playbook this year and everything was different.”

Author Bio

Author photo

Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean