Nonprofit leaders reflect back on 2023

Year was busy with anniversary celebration, pet adoptions and hospital partnerships

Each January, we talk to the leaders of seven major nonprofit agencies in Hinsdale about their experiences over the previous year and ask them to share one wish for the current year.

The second article in this two-part series — focusing on Candor Health Education, Community Memorial Foundation, HCS Family Services and The Community House — will run Jan. 11.

Hinsdale Historical Society

With the village celebrating its sesquicentennial in 2023, it’s no surprise the past year was a busy one for the Hinsdale Historical Society.

“I think that one of the biggest accomplishments that we’ve done this year is put on the ‘Hinsdale in Lights’ exhibit,” said Katharine Andrew, society manager. “That was an exhibit that was basically unprecedented for a historical society of our size to be able to do.”

The exhibit, which took months and many volunteers to create, highlighted 150 years of village history through items on display and an immersive light show. Some 500 to 600 people visited the exhibit during its run.

“I did the math and saw that we had over 78 hours of running light shows while it was open. It was quite the exhibit,” she said.

The historical society partnered with historian Julia Bachrach and historic preservationist Jean Follett to offer “Finding Grace: The Forgotten Story of Social Reformer Grace Bagley” at the 1894 home Wright designed for Bagley and her husband at 121 S. County Line Road.

“It was a really great exhibit,” Andrew said. “We loaned some items from our collection over there and were able to work with the amazing group of curators.”

Currently on display at history museum at 15 S. Clay St. is a small exhibit about Hinsdale’s train history. It will run through early March, and residents will have multiple opportunities to see it.

“We’re going to start having the museum open at least every other Saturday starting Jan. 6 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.,” Andrew said.

Members of the Junior Board will help staff the museum. And they were invaluable working in the archives over the past year, Andrew said.

“We really wouldn’t have been able to do a lot of the research that we’ve done in the archives without their help,” she said.

The historical society also assisted the village with its “Hinsdale History — Illuminated” light show in August, researched more than 35 homes and presented 17 plaques to homeowners through its historic plaque program, answered 150 inquiries on Hinsdale history and spent more than $70,000 to restore the history museum. Volunteers donated more than 4,300 hours of time at the museum, working in the archives and staffing events.

The Kitchen Walk in May, Chateua du Parc in October and the Holly Jolly Trolley in December helped to raise funds for the Zook home at Katherine Legge Memorial Park, which is in desperate need of weatherizing before it snows.

“The more it sits there, the harder it gets to eventually restore,” Andrew said.

Although 2023 was quite busy, Andrew doesn’t expect things to slow down in 2024.

“This coming year we’re hoping to put more things up on the app, research more houses and award more plaques, do more programs, give more tours and do more all of the wonderful things that we do,” she said.

Hinsdale Humane Society

Workers and volunteers at the shelter continue to feel the impact of COVID, a two-year time period when 1.6 million spay and neuter surgeries were not performed nationwide.

“In animal welfare, we were really, really closing in on getting a handle on the inventory of animals and then COVID hit,” said Jacki Rossi, executive director.

“Because of the animal welfare crisis going on, because there are so many animals everywhere, I actually had to slow intake a little bit this year so we could build up our staff to be able to handle this massive amount of animals.

“Over the summer, we were getting animals dumped here every other day. Cats in the parking lot, dogs left outside tied to trees.”

The shelter was able to return to full staffing last year, Rossi said, and a new animal care team member position will be added in 2024 to offer more flexibility during vacations and time off due to illness.

Caring for 300 animals living at the shelter and in foster care is a huge task, Rossi said, and one that requires more than paid staff. Fortunately the agency added 295 volunteers from January to November.

“We couldn’t do it without volunteers — that is 100 percent for sure,” Rossi said.

Volunteers contributed almost 18,000 hours through the end of November.

“If you think about it, that’s another 15-plus full-time positions,” she said.

The final week of the year was busy with adoptions, she said last week, estimating that the annual total would top 1,700 by the end of the year.

Another big number from 2023 is 2,190 — the number of spay and neuter surgeries performed by Dr. Kristin Tvrdik, the humane society’s medical director.

“We’re not going to be able to adopt our way out of this overpopulation crisis,” Rossi said. “We have to get these animals spayed and neutered so they are not reproducing.

In 2023, the humane society also provided 865 hours of pet therapy, 308 vaccine clinics, 304 training and enrichment sessions, humane education to 570 participants and filled 68 requests through the BJ Chimenti Angel Fund for Veterans and Pets.

A “Save the Shelter” campaign helped the nonprofit end 2022 in the black, and Rossi expects the books will close the same way this year. The society’s largest fundraiser also offered an opportunity to mark a milestone.

“We had a wonderful time celebrating our 70th this year,” Rossi said. “It kind of topped off with our gala in September at The Community House.”

More than 200 guests helped the humane society raise $150,000. Rossi said she is thankful for all of the community support the agency received in 2023.

“It was a year of getting back out in the community,” she said. “We couldn’t do this without them.”

Wellness House

In the business of the year, it can be easy to lose sight of the impact Wellness House has, said Lisa Kolavennu, chief executive officer.

“We’ve been able to help more than 3,000 people this year,” she said. “These are people dealing with cancer, and to know that 3,000 lives have been touched by Wellness House is probably the thing that stands out the most.”

Highlights of the past year included the addition of new staff, including a director of cancer health equity initiatives.

“We’ve done it because we want to meet the growing demand for programs we have,” Kolavennu said.

The new director ties into the agency’s efforts to increase access to programs in places outside of Hinsdale.

“We’ve known for many years that the best way to expand our reach is through partnerships. We have a model where we identify places where there are people with cancer, where there might be an unmet need we can meet,” she said.

Wellness House then works with those partners to determine how best to bring programs and services to that community.

“We all benefit,” Kolavennu said. “Wellness House is able to serve more people. The hospital or clinic is able to provide the services for their patients. Patients have access to life-changing programs.”

Wellness House added two new partners this year — Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center at Loyola Medicine in Maywood.

Wellness House also works with agencies in a collaborative role, perhaps by offering programs on a less regular basis.

“It gives a lot of flexibility then,” she said. “It’s definitely not one-size-fits-all. One hospital might say, ‘We’d like four support groups happening weekly and could we also have yoga and exercise a few times a week?’

“We might work with a library in a neighboring suburb where once a quarter we do a workshop to introduce a topic to people with cancer.”

In 2023 Wellness House also increased opportunities to work with professionals by hosting learning and networking events like “Professional Perk” and “Experience Wellness House.”

“I’m also very interested in growing that in the coming year, so creating space for thought leaders and like-minded organizations to come together and have time to share what we know and what we’re working on,” Kolavennu said.

As the year came to a close, the three women who started The Courtyard, the resale shop that supports Wellness House, retired. The shop raised $5 million during the 32 years they were at the helm.

Like her counterparts at other agencies, Kolavennu expressed her gratitude to the community for its support, especially at the Walk for Wellness and Radiance Ball.

“Those are really shining moments, I would say, resounding examples of how much this community supports the organization,” she said.

One wish

Nonprofit leaders shared their hopes for 2024.

“Contributions for the preservation of Hinsdale’s history, the maintenance of our three properties and the programs and events that we put on for people in Hinsdale.” — Katharine Andrew, Hinsdale Historical Society

“Just to continue to be able to help the community. It’s so cliché but it’s true. We are a huge resource for the suburbs and the Chicagoland community and the animals we help and the people we help. Just continue to grow all of that and be a resource center.” — Jacki Rossi, Hinsdale Humane Society

“My wish is for everyone to experience wellness in all its forms, and I would say that’s mind, body and spirit. There are so many ways to take care of themselves. My wish is that people find those and really tap into them.” — Lisa Kolavennu

Author Bio

Author photo

Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean