Hinsdale nonprofits share 2022 recaps

Leaders of historical society, humane society and Wellness House reflect on year

Every January, The Hinsdalean checks in with the leaders of the seven nonprofit agencies in the village, inviting them to share highlights of the previous year and a wish for the new one.

This is the first of two installments. The second on Jan. 12 will feature Candor (formerly Robert Crown), Community Memorial Foundation, HCS Family Services and The Community House.

Hinsdale Historical Society

One woman took center stage at the Hinsdale Historical Society last year.

“Loie Fuller was the poster child for the HHS in 2022,” said HHS Co-President Kristen Laakso, referring to the Fullersburg native who achieved worldwide fame around the turn of the century as a dancer and inventor.

To commemorate the 160th anniversary of Fuller’s birth, the society partnered with the Hinsdale Public Library to host talks by author Liz Heinecke, chronicler of Fuller’s friendship with scientist Marie Curie, and Megan Slayter, producer of the 2010 documentary “Loie Fuller: Dancing in the Light Fantastic.”

Despite Fuller’s humble origins in a pre-Hinsdale settlement, “she went on to change the world of theater and dance and art,” Laakso said.

The summer Good Old-Fashioned Fun gatherings featured 19th-century inspired games and activities, and, of course, a little Loie.

“We had a volunteer dress up as Loie Fuller and local West Suburban ballet dancers did Loie Fuller dances with the kids,” Laakso recounted.

Taking a cue from Fuller’s use of cutting-edge lighting in her performances, for December’s Holly Jolly Trolley event HHS turned the walls of Immanuel Hall into “The Nutcracker” snow scene through projection mapping.

“It was a way for us to re-envision how we use Immanuel Hall and something that relates to Loie Fuller,” said Laakso, crediting Hinsdalean Matt Stockmal with the striking digital visual and musical experience. “All these things came together to honor this woman, and she brought new life to the HHS in a way that’s really exciting and unprecedented.”

A successful Women’s Board luncheon in March and Kitchen Walk in May generated critical revenue for maintaining the agency’s vintage properties, which included exterior and interior painting of Immanuel Hall this year. The organization was also able to upgrade its staff by hiring Katharine Andrew as society manager.

“She’s a genealogist and also a distant cousin of (the late celebrated Hinsdale architect) Harold Zook,” Laakso said of Andrew, who begins work full time this month. “She’s young and very skilled. She knows the whole history behind our Victorian collection at the (Hinsdale History) Museum.

“We’re just grateful that we have the means to pay an employee,” added Laakso, expressing thanks to both donors and volunteers. “We have a good strong team.”

Regarding the museum, it is slated for a facelift next year with painting and woodwork repair, along with replacing the HVAC system.

“That Kitchen Walk money goes very quickly,” Laakso quipped.

With Hinsdale marking 150 years of incorporation in 2023, the society will be right in the middle of the festivities with an exhibit at Immanuel Hall.

“We want to show the public how wonderful and rich this town is that we live in,” she said.

The HHS board continues to consider ways to revitalize the Zook Home and Studio at KLM Park.

“We’re tying to maintain it and look toward what that might become in the future,” Laakso said. “I feel confident that we can have a little more (financial) space to move forward with projects like Zook.”

Hinsdale Humane Society

In 2013, the Hinsdale Humane Society leveraged its 60th anniversary celebration to register a then-record 800 adoptions.

The goal for the 70th will be a little higher, considering the agency processed a stunning 1,852 adoptions in 2022.

“It’s an amazing number,” remarked Jacki Rossi, executive director of the humane society.

The society also performed 3,000 spay and neuter surgeries, another record, and Rossi is especially proud of its 98.4-percent live release rate.

“That measures favorable outcomes for any animal that comes through the shelter,” she explained. “That’s due to our animal care team doing training and enrichment while (the pets) are here. We work really hard on supporting their mental health.”

About 4,600 youth took part in humane education programs, including an inaugural winter camp that launched in December.

“We had 64 spots and they sold out,” she said.

More than 3,100 pets were provided with food and medical assistance, and the shelter welcomed about 1,500 pet therapy visits. To help cover the cost of the historic demand, the society held a first-ever Save Our Shelter (SOS) campaign for several months in the summer and fall. “I cannot tell you how touched we are by the outpouring of support we received,” Rossi said. “We did end up in the black for the first time in a few years.”

She said needing to make the plea for assistance was not something leaders took lightly.

“It was humbling to go to the community and ask for money,” she said. “People not only donated money, but children donated their birthday present money and people brought us food.”

The generosity has furnished the organization with a solid footing from which to springboard into its 70th year.

“It’s up to us to build off what we’ve learned so that we can continue to be around and continue to offer our community all the amazing and much-needed programs,” Rossi stressed. “We need to expand our donor outreach and not expect everyone just to come to us.”

The pet foster program — more than 50 participating households and growing — has helped divert pets from the shelter who are better nurtured in a home setting.

“We’re working really hard to keep animals out of the shelter so that there’s room for the dogs and cats that need it,” Rossi said, noting foster care enables the shelter to have dozens more animals in its inventory than sheer shelter capacity permits.

And being the facility that 14 different communities rely on means that demand likely will not go away.

“That vision of being a vital resource for the Chicagoland area and meeting the need to help people and their pets will never end,” Rossi said.

Wellness House

Lisa Kolavennu, chief executive director of Wellness House, said there’s one word that sums up 2022 for the organization, dedicated to coming alongside those on the cancer journey.

“Resilience just comes to mind — seeing the resilience of those who use our programs in difficult times has been inspiring,” Kolavennu said. “And our staff has been able to adjust to unique challenges and circumstances.”

As with many nonprofit agencies that provide in-person programs, the pandemic posed unprecedented hurdles for the agency. Finally being able to return to in-person programs this past year was especially sweet, Kolavennu said.

“Definitely one of the highlights was opening our doors back up and having people in the building connecting,” she said. “Being a source of support for so many has been a big highlight for us.”

And people were ready to return, compelling the organization to keep pace.

“We did more of just about everything that we do — more support, more nutrition, more exercise classes,” Kolavennu said.

Returning to a restriction-free Wellness Walk in May was extremely gratifying.

“Being able to do an in-person, fully together walk that was a successful event was wonderful,” Kolavennu said.

Online programs remain a vital platform to broaden the agency’s reach. Kolavennu cited a talk in April by Duke professor Kate Bowler about her book, “No Cure for Being Human,” sharing her experience of being diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer diagnosis at age 35.

“We were really fortunate to have her speak with us. Nearly 300 people joined online to listen to her message and talk with her,” she recounted. “That was an exciting and unique event for us.”

People from across the country are able to participate thanks to remote access, Kolavennu said, as well as those who may have trouble traveling to the facility.

“We talk about our deepening commitment to access and increasing access and doing it in an equitable way,” she said. “That’s an important part of what we’re doing strategically, called ‘All people with cancer thrive.’ We want to increase our outreach to the community all throughout the Chicagoland area.”

The Wellness Ball in October proved to be a ringing success, Kolavennu reported.

“Almost 500 members of the community supported the ball this year,” she said. “It was a resounding show of support for the importance of what we’re doing.”

She offered thanks for the volunteer leaders of the organization who give of their time and their talent.

Kolavennu reiterated her gratitude for staff and volunteers who’s commitment through a difficult season has been critical.

“Cancer is relentless, and it has not stopped nor slowed down,” she said. “I’m profoundly grateful for the people who come to work every day at Wellness House.”

One wish

Nonprofit leaders shared their hopes for 2023.

“I hope that we’re able to pique people’s interest in village history and increase enthusiasm around the society throughout Hinsdale’s 150th celebration.” — Kristen Laakso, Hinsdale Historical Society

“Through celebrating our 70th anniversary, we hope to bring more awareness to our shelter and continue to highlight the wonderful work that we’ve done.” — Jacki Rossi, Hinsdale Humane Society

“My wish is for a deepening sense of community and coming together in the year ahead, because the more we can be together, the more people we can serve.” — Lisa Kolavennu, Wellness House

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean