Nonprofit leaders reflect on past year

Increased demand for education, food, mental health services a theme for organizations

In the final article in this annual two-part series, leaders of Hinsdale’s nonprofits take a look back at 2022 and share one wish for 2023.

The Hinsdale Historical Society, Hinsdale Humane Society and Wellness House were featured in the first installment Jan. 5.

Candor Health Education

After offering more than 90 percent of its sex ed and drug eduction courses online in 2021, Candor Health Education is back to putting educators in front of students.

“March picked up and April and May were just crazy,” Executive Director Barb Thayer said of the first half of 2022. “Everyone was trying to make up for programs that weren’t scheduled in the fall or spring semesters. People want this content delivered in person.”

Candor educators are skilled at interacting with students, she said.

“They make these connections with the kids and they make them so comfortable,” Thayer said.

Candor offers in-person programs within 35 miles of Hinsdale and virtual programs outside of that area. New virtual clients in 2023 include some schools in suburban Milwaukee.

Also on the virtual front, Candor’s Pixelton Adventures online game portal is attracting users worldwide, Thayer said. The game allows adolescents ages 12 to 18 to create an avatar and practice making healthy decisions about commonly used drugs. More kids are playing the game and for longer periods of time, she said.

The “Navigating the Middle School Years” pilot is continuing, she said, with plans to roll out the official program this fall.

“We’re letting the schools choose the content areas that are most relevant to them,” Thayer said. “It be might be bullying, it might be cyber safety.”

A new state sex education curriculum guided by National Sex Education Standards is another reason for increased demand. Schools can choose not to teach it, but many continue to.

“It seems more schools are trying to do a better job of providing sex education to their students, so we do see an uptick in programs,” she said.

Fundraising started out slow in 2022 with an Unwined event hosted in small groups but then picked up with a very successful annual summer golf invitational. Grants manager Shelly Nicholson found funds to fill in the gaps where necessary.

“We actually ended up really getting to budget, and that was because of those extra grants,” she said.

After spending almost a decade redeveloping the drug education program, Thayer said there’s nothing new planned for the immediate future.

“It’s all really come together in the last year,” she said. “Now we just want to focus on getting (the programs) in the schools and working with the students.”

Community Memorial Foundation

Last year began with a listening tour of the 61 nonprofit agencies that receive funding from Community Memorial Foundation, said Greg DiDomenico, president and chief executive officers.

“We found — from staff retention to strategic collaboration — they are resilient and continue to be committed to local change and making a difference,” he said. “We were really impressed to continue to see how their mission-driven work comes alive,” he added. “We as a team talked about how grateful we are for all that they do each and every day.”

As was the case in 2021, agencies saw an increased demand for mental health services.

To help meet that need for high schoolers, CMF — along with NAMI Metro Suburban and Pillars Community Health — will open a teen mental health center in Brookfield early this year. The facility will be open 2 to 8 p.m. daily for 13- to 18-year-olds who seek assistance with their mental health journey. Teens have been involved with the planning from the beginning, DiDomenico said.

“It’s going to be a special place,” he said.

Food pantries, including grantee partner HCS Family Services in Hinsdale, also experienced increased demand in 2022, especially with the rising cost of food. More than 60 percent of residents are experiencing food insecurity in four communities in the CMF’s service area, said Beth Murin, program and communication’s officer.

“We continue to work with a number of food pantries locally, DiDomenico said. “We’re continuing to do the mobile pantries on both sides of the county.”

The foundation continues to work with Healthy Communities Foundation to provide community health workers to connect clients with needed services. CMF and its partners are funding workers at five locations, including Aging Care Connections and Beds Plus in La Grange. The program is in its fifth year.

“Oftentimes a barrier to access is a language barrier or trust,” Murin said. “A community health worker is a trusted person in their community that perhaps speaks multiple languages that can help someone who comes in.”

Other ongoing initiatives include the Young Community Changemakers or YC2, which helps teach 61 teens from four high schools (including Hinsdale Central) about philanthropy, and the Crisis Text Line for people experiencing a mental health crisis.

CMF also continues to support leadership development and a shared vision for advancing racial equity for grantee partners and last year offered support learning circles and coaching grants.

Since it started 27 years ago, the foundation has reinvested more than $84 million in the communities it serves.

HCS Family Services

Had one more family been served by HCS Family Services in 2022, they would have hit a round number.

“We’re one shy of 13,000 families,” said Wendy Michalski, executive director. “That’s very exciting for us. That’s a lot of families to come through — and we were able to give them all food.”

The holiday program served a record number — 955 — as well. HCS distributed 150 turkeys at Thanksgiving and fourth-graders at St. Isaac Jogues provided 150 Thanksgiving bags for distribution.

“We couldn’t do any of that without the support of our community,” Michalski said. “It’s just unbelievable the community support that is here. It truly takes a village and the village steps up, every time. We’re so grateful for that.”

The agency continues to receive food donations from individuals and groups and through its rescue program with grocery store partners. School and club donations before the holidays brought in paper goods, 2,500 pounds of food and $2,000 in cash.

“We can buy $8 worth of food for every dollar donated,” Michalski said.

The agency celebrated its 85th birthday in May with special appearances by members of the ’85 Chicago Bears team, who handed shook hands, posed for photos and passed out cookies.

“That was a lot of fun for our neighbors,” she said.

Starting later this year, HCS hopes to be able to serve more clients more efficiently.

“I thing the big news of the year is we have our lease signed with the village, so we are excited,” Michalski said, referring to the planned move to the former home of the Hinsdale Humane Society at 22 N. Elm St.

The next steps are to receive zoning approval and renovate the space.

“The opportunity for partnerships and for us to serve more people are just incredible,” Michalski said.

The 4,000-square-foot space will all be on one floor, eliminating the need to take donations down to the lower level of the Memorial Building for storage and refrigeration and then back up again to distribute it to clients.

“It’s a lot of work for our volunteers and our team,” Michalski said.

The past year included its challenges, including limited access at the Anne M. Jeans pantry when the school parking lot was being resurfaced and the need to relocate from the Memorial Building during early voting before the November election.

“We were able to continue to serve food out of our vans at the (Unitarian Church of Hinsdale) lot,” she said. “We were able to get it done and feed a record-setting number of families.”

The Community House

After the pandemic interrupted in-person programming in 2021, the past year saw many people return to The Community House.

“It reinforced how important being together for individuals and for the community can be, because people have come back in droves,” said Dan Janowick, executive director. “They clearly missed not having it.”

The Community House has always served as a place for people to learn, to play and to come together — the kind of place people needed even more so after the pandemic.

“That’s played an important part in the recovery and healing process,” Janowick said.

While some senior programs still have smaller than pre-pandemic enrollment, youth programs ran full throttle.

Growth has been a theme for the past year, Janowick said, and one of the biggest areas for growth has been in mental health services. The agency has hired additional therapists to work in the Hinsdale location and at Willowbrook Corner, an underserved area just 10 minutes south of Hinsdale.

“Starting with the Holiday Ball in 2021, we started raising funds for expansion of programs in Willowbrook Corner for recreation and day care, adding recreation programs, adding mental health,” he said. “We all really want the same thing for our families, and we’re lucky this community is willing to show the compassion and donate to help mirror those services in Willowbrook Corner.”

Seven out of 10 clients in the counseling department are younger than 24. They are able to receive help on a sliding fee scale, making services more accessible to those with limited resources.

Loren Williams, director of social impact, spent her first full year on the job and has been a strong advocate for mental health.

“We want the community to know mental health services are part of our core mission,” he said.

The agency received a $250,000 grant from the DuPage Community Transformation Partnership to expand its counseling services.

Other fundraisers included The Community Revue, Walk the Walk for Mental Health in May and the Holiday Ball in December.

Janowick reflected on the message offered by Holiday Ball guest speaker Sarah Stukus of Life Insight Therapy Collective. When one person receives services, she explained, it benefits family, friends and the greater community.

“Are we changing the world here at The Community House?” Janowick asked. “Indirectly we’re making better people, better communities, better families, and that’s exciting.”

Author Bio

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean