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Joliet area organizations seek solutions to funding woes

City of Joliet Diversity and Community Relations Committee met June 19 to gather input from area nonprofits concerning available funding.

The meeting was held following a recent public meeting where Mayor Bob O’Dekirk suggested the city look toward finding a way to support organizations in the community.

While some organizations reportedly receive state and federal funding to maintain their operations, others do not.

Uncertainty surrounding funds set the narrative for the speakers representing nonprofits at the meeting as they sought answers to their financial woes.

“Ultimately, what kind of story do you want Joliet to tell?” asked Stephanie Castillo, immigration advisor and advocacy specialist for Spanish Community Center. “Is it a story of blight, of suffering, and a bleak landscape? Or will we move towards prioritizing the health of our community towards rejuvenating our community?”

Castillo said the truth is the people who utilize the Spanish Community Center work hard and they seek support, they’re not just looking for a handout. To say anything to the contrary is false, she said.

“This isn’t about not working hard enough, or some trite explanation of the American Dream, this is about survival and this is about basic human rights,” Castillo said. “I’ve reached a certain point in my life where I can say with certainty that we don’t need kind leaders. I need you to be courageous, I need you to pursue rational approaches, I need you to take a stand against historical injustices that include but are not limited to poverty and inequality and marginalization.”

Castillo recognizes the challenges people face in the Joliet area community, and wanted people to know she remains optimistic in supporting the cause.

“My hope is that my position at the Spanish Community Center is rendered obsolete,” she said. “I hope that day is very soon, and we can covert the Spanish Community Center into a museum—a place of celebration—but it must start today.”

Other organizations with representation at the meeting included the Warren-Sharpe Community Center, Harvey Brooks Foundation and Community Lifeline Ministries.

“The Spanish Center should not and cannot go away, just like none of these centers,” said Shawn Marconi, executive director of Will-Grundy Medical Clinic.

Marconi referenced research showing that safety nets, like the Spanish Community Center, reduce poverty and the return on investment is immense.

Marconi wants people to think about lending those who are in need a hand-up, not a handout.

“We have to step away from looking at the impoverished as a drag,” she said. “Believe it or not, the lower-income, working class, lower middle class—that’s the engine of this community… They’re not pocketing millions and thousands of dollars. They’re putting it right back into the community. You own a grocery store. Then, these low-income people are keeping your stores open. You own property. They are paying your bills because they’re paying your rent.”

Several speakers commented on the city’s efforts to rejuvenate the Rialto Square Theatre and criticized the council for letting their inaction to support area nonprofit organizations serve as action.

Councilwoman Jan Quillman took a moment to note the effort the city is putting forth, and wanted it to be clear that Joliet values its nonprofit organizations for all they do.

“I believe at the last council meeting the mayor stated he was going to look into some funding for all the centers that are having difficulties, not just the Spanish Center,” she said.

Councilman Terry Morris suggested that organizations in need submit a proposal for consideration by the council.

“I don’t want to speak for the full council, but I would be willing to sit down and look at something like that—whether it be a loan, or whether it be some type of stipend, to help until the state comes up with something,” he said.

Councilwoman Bettye Gavin said she would support the idea raised by Morris, as well as other potential outcomes.

“I think one of the outcomes of this particular meeting is not only to get the city involved, but to get some of the other governmental agencies involved, as well,” she said.