As DuPage County (finally!) warms up, so do activities at the DuPage County Board.
Earlier in March, I had the opportunity to tour the Marklund Philip Center & Day School (Bloomingdale, IL) with Member Sam Tornatore, my colleague who also represents District 1.
I was blown away by this amazing resource, found right here in District 1! Marklund Philip Center is both a residential and education facility. The residential facility serves medically fragile infants and children, teens and adults with profound developmental disabilities. Services include a comprehensive active treatment program which provides for the intensive medical, social, emotional and physical needs of the residents. The educational side serves residents of the facility and children from throughout the area who need additional assistance with school or behavioral concerns. So many things impressed me, but a couple items really stuck out:
The residential facility feels warm and home-like, with staff caring for individuals with such compassion and rooms decorated so everyone can feel at home. The staff shared with us the family events they hold so that family members can come and have a fun day with their family members who live at Marklund. While I don’t have children myself, I could only imagine how comforted families must feel when their families find a caring home at Marklund.
The educational side was not only innovative but the facilities for students who do not live at Marklund really showed how collaboration between government agencies and local organizations can help us find the best outcomes. Students from surrounding school districts can go to Marklund for the help they need, and then return to their home districts. I loved that the classrooms and hallways looked just like any other school – desks, posters on the walls, even lockers. We even got to meet a child who was completing her last day at Marklund’s school and was returning to her home district the next day – what a joy to be able to congratulate and encourage her.
I was able to share my experience with the full board on March 26th and encouraged them to reach out for a tour of this facility – we should all be proud that DuPage County has this amazing resource right at home.
In March, the county board also considered the question of whether County Board meetings should begin with an invocation. This discussion and topic was difficult, but I am happy we discussed it. I thought it might be helpful to explain my views on the invocation, why I voted the way I did, and how you can help make our invocations more inclusive.
I am one of the millennial non-religiously affiliated folks that many of our public comment speakers mentioned. I grew up in Wheaton, IL where many of my closest childhood friends, their parents, and adult mentors have a strong faith and I couldn’t respect them more. Truthfully, some of my colleagues who spoke about why the invocation is important to them and their faith, were also very moving and challenged me to think about my position in a different way. I do not doubt any of my colleague’s expressions of their faith or their words about why this agenda item is of value for them, I found it informative and I was grateful for their candor.
Attending a meeting of your County Board should be comfortable and welcoming – there should be no physical or situational barriers to your entry. It’s your meeting after all, we all work for you. Expressions of faith in invocations can be welcoming, but they can have the opposite effect. In DuPage County’s past, they’ve been predominately expressions of one faith and some felt they were too close to religious expression than an open welcome. That is why I oppose invocations – I do not want to create a situation where someone would take time out of their Tuesday mornings to come see their elected officials only to be uncomfortable when a prayer is offered right at the start of the meeting. Much like how my colleagues of faith expressed why these invocations are important for them, I hope they can consider this other reaction to the same event – both are valid reactions, they just depend on your personal world view.
After our vote, the invocation will remain part of our agendas, so we now have to think about how we can achieve the goal of making these invocations more welcoming, diverse, and open to all. One item I think will help is an internal business practice – I offered to help our Chairman by writing language for a welcome letter for our invocation speakers. The purpose of this welcome letter is to thank our speakers for joining us while also reminding them that the room is full of believers and non-believers alike of many faiths, just like our county, and that messages should be welcoming to all. I greatly appreciate the Chairman Cronin’s willingness to explore and implement this small solution.
The other way we can achieve this goal is with some help from YOU – we need more speakers! If you have a faith leader who inspires you with messages of inclusion and community, please send them along to me so I can get them invited to join us (my email is firstname.lastname@example.org). I would also LOVE to have more humanist, agnostic, or atheist speakers so be sure to send them along as well.
Like I said above, this conversation was very difficult and unfortunately, it was not always respectful. This won’t be the only issue that we tackle over the next four years that is difficult, but I hope future conversations can have more respect for our colleagues when we speak. We do our residents a disservice when we make arguments that are personal attacks or in bad faith and it cheapens our positions when we use these tactics. I certainly disagree with my colleagues – from both parties – from time to time, but I work very hard to not let the emotion of disagreement drive my responses, spoken or in writing. It’s not easy, and I am sure I will not always live up to that standard, but I will always try – and I challenge my colleagues, of both parties, to do the same. Our residents deserve nothing less.
In April two items have been my focus: Animal Services and Wood Dale/Route 83. On the April 9th agenda, we had a contract for $45K to review for a fundraising feasibility study for Animal Services. While I am not on the animal services committee, my professional expertise is in philanthropic strategic planning, so I had some questions about this contract. Since then (we pulled it from the agenda to further explore it), I’ve worked with Animal Services to re-evaluate our needs and what resources we already have and we’re working together to see how we can do a study (I am fully supportive of solid planning before taking on a big project like raising money for a capital campaign!) while using the resources of Animal Services most frugally. We have some follow up meetings scheduled and will hopefully have a cost-savings plan to present soon.
I will also be meeting with Aldermen from Wood Dale soon to discuss some concerns with Route 83 – municipality and county cooperation is so important and I look forward to meeting with them to find some solutions.
If you’re celebrating this weekend, I wish you a happy and restful Passover and Easter!