June 26 8:30 a.m.
Equipped with a new structure, officers and a $21,000 grant, Wilmette Cares celebrated its first anniversary June 24 with plans to continue pushing for greater municipal support for affordable housing and greater public knowledge about its benefits for residents.
â€œBring us your recommendations and your suggestions,â€ new organization president Lorelei McClure told the small gathering of charter members when they met to approve new bylaws and elect a board. â€œWe are all part of this effort, and your input will be invaluable.â€
The group began last year when McClure and a few other residents met to convince Wilmette officials to make affordable housing part of any development that gets built at 611 Green Bay Road.
It gained momentum during its ultimately unsuccessful efforts to prevent Wilmetteâ€™s elected officials from ending the long-running municipal program known as HAP, an assistance program that provided rent and mortgage subsidies for senior and disabled citizens.
Both concepts remain pillars of Wilmette Caresâ€™ mission, and the grant it received from the Madison, Wis.-based Sally Mead Hands Foundation is going to expand on them, members of the groupâ€™s new board said.
Wilmette Cares applied for the award with Winnetka-based Open Communities. McClure said she received word earlier this month that the foundation had granted it.
Carmen Garcia, Wilmette Caresâ€™ first vice-president, said $5,000 of the grant will go toward gathering and measuring public opinion in the village. Wilmette cares will hire a public research opinion consultant to do that.
â€œThe first thing we want to do is assess peopleâ€™s awareness of the need for housing, and then look at what their attitudes toward affordable housing, and what their concerns are about it,â€ Garcia said. â€œThat will help us engage in dialogue with people at open houses as we go forward.â€
The majority of the grant will go toward creating a 15-20 minute long educational documentary video featuring that will feature a brief history of the village, interviews with residents and leaders. That could include personal stories from people who have benefited from the housing assistance program, or people who face fiscal or other challenges in staying in Wilmette.
Creating the video ties in with one section of the groupâ€™s three-part mission, which is to work with religious and civic organizations to educate the community about housing and inclusion needs, McClure said.
During its first year, Wilmette Cares members spoke with village residents, and held an open house in May to assess knowledge of housing needs. They found that many residents werenâ€™t aware of the original Housing Assistance Program, what it did for participants, or how much it cost the village to run, McClure said. Nor did they know how many disabled citizens live in the village.
â€œThe most important thing we can do is raise the awareness level of the needs and the benefits of affordable housing, and itâ€™s especially important for our neighbors to know that there are indeed benefits,â€ she said.
Wilmette Cares also plans to implement two petition campaigns, McClure said. One of them will gather signatures under a request that Wilmette return to fully funding its HAP program, which village trustees voted last year to phase out in favor of a new privately funded charity. The second petition will be to urge Wilmette officials to follow through on affordable housing goals.
To learn more about Wilmette Cares, visit www.wilmettecares.org.