From the President: Champions honored, advocates engaged, new board members welcomed

Written by Dory Rand on May 20, 2014 - 9:13am

Woodstock Institute’s Community Investment Awards event on May 9 brought together about 100 community leaders and Woodstock board members at the beautiful Instituto Cervantes for a festive reception, presentation of awards to local champions, and a film screening and discussion of elder financial abuse.

It was a good combination of celebration and serious dialogue. Thanks to everyone who attended (especially on a Friday night) and to all of our foundation and financial institution funders who generously support our work and our online data portal. A list of our funders is available in our just released annual report for 2012-2013.

The Community Investment Awards recognize the accomplishments of community champions who exemplify what it means to work locally with a national impact. We honored Calvin Holmes and Chicago Community Loan Fund, a community development financial institution (CDFI) that provides financing for community development in low- and moderate-income areas and communities of color. Their financing is critical to the success of affordable housing, job creation, and commercial development in underserved communities.

Crain’s Chicago Business reporters Alby Gallun, Micah Maidenberg, and David Matthews were honored for their excellent five-part interactive series, which documented the effects that vacant properties have on several constituencies in the Chicago area, including businesses, homeowners, investors, and the often overlooked suburbs, and for their track record of reporting on Chicago-area foreclosures, vacant properties, and the housing crisis.

We recognized Illinois State Senator Daniel Biss for his tireless work and effective leadership in advancing the Illinois Secure Choice Savings bill in the Illinois General Assembly, which would expand employment-based retirement savings opportunities for the 2.5 million private sector workers who lack that option now. Support for the program is strong and gaining momentum. Last month, the Senate passed the bill and it is currently under consideration in the House of Representatives.

Following the awards presentations and inspiring comments from the awardees, Gamaliel Foundation leader and National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) consultant Jerry Kellman introduced “Fleeced: Speaking Out Against Senior Financial Abuse,” a film produced by NCRC and WFYI, which reveals what can happen to older adults when they are targeted for scams and abusive financial products. The film, which features some of the partners with whom Woodstock Institute works, also reveals how seniors are fighting back as powerful advocates to improve economic security for older Americans. NCRC has also shared two recent white papers relating to its National Neighbors Silver program and work with older Americans on age-friendly banking and how regulators can take action on senior financial abuse, often committed by family members and caregivers.

After the film, a panel of experts including Ernie Lukasic of Northwest Side Housing Center, Rev. Elaine Bellis of Gamaliel Foundation, and Joseph Pham of the Illinois Attorney General’s office, discussed what they are doing to protect and help older adults and how to file complaints of elder financial abuse with the Attorney General and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In addition, the attendees and others were invited to a forum to get engaged on these issues on June 12, at St. Leonard’s Barlow Center (2120 W. Warren Blvd., Chicago). Contact James Rudyk at jrudyk@nwshc.org or 773-283-3888 for more information.

The event followed a Woodstock Institute Board of Directors meeting in which we thanked outgoing board members Cheryl Devall and Christine Robinson for their service and welcomed new members: Bobbi Ball, executive director of Partners in Community Building; Adrian Esquivel, director of economic development at Enlace Chicago; Thomas P. FitzGibbon, Jr., managing director at Talmer Bank & Trust; Ghian Foreman, executive director of Greater Southwest Development Corporation; and Lori Vallelunga, president and CEO of Bethel New Life. The Board also thanked Megan O’Neil for her service as board chair and approved a new slate of officers including Maria Choca Urban as chair, Natalie Abatemarco as vice chair, Ed Williams as treasurer, and Michael Seng as secretary. They bring a wide range of expertise in community development, workforce justice, grassroots organizing, and banking to our work, I look forward to working with them and with you to advance economic security and community prosperity.