After 22 years as the Executive Director of Open Communities, Gail Schechter is leaving the agency in mid-January to pursue new opportunities to advocate for social justice.
While we are sad that our visionary leader and mentor is moving on, we are so grateful that she has put in place an extraordinary team of housing, economic and social justice professionals who are well prepared to take us into the future with the same passionate dedication she always demonstrates. We’re also delighted that she has agreed to remain our wise counselor and advisor whenever we need her.
The first full time Executive Director in the agency’s 43-year history, Gail has shepherded the organization into a broader sense of mission that recognizes the imperative to advocate for justice in all aspects of community life so that our neighborhoods truly will become more welcoming.
In 2012, Gail led Open Communities in unveiling the organization’s broadened mission, which was reflected in its name change from Interfaith Housing Center of the Northern Suburbs to Open Communities. Since then she has ushered in a new era of grassroots organizing and activism in the suburbs under the banner of The Justice Project: The March Continues. The Justice Project has identified 19 Principles of the Welcoming Community, which give communities a framework to demonstrate that they are taking steps to be more inclusive and give residents the capacity to hold their leaders accountable. The Justice Project, which is facilitated by Open Communities and steered by volunteers, has formed “Justice Teams” in each of the 17 communities the organization services.
- Other highlights of Gail’s tenure include:
- Building Open Communities’ fair housing enforcement capacity, including co-conducting the Chicago region’s HUD-sponsored decennial Housing Discrimination Study 2000 and opening doors to people of color and with disabilities.
- Organizing, educating, and building coalitions with residents and religious leaders in the affluent communities of Northbrook, Park Ridge, Wilmette and Winnetka around affordable housing.
- Organizing tenants living in motels in Morton Grove as they faced displacement, and in the process contributing to changing state Tax Increment Financing law. (1998-2001)
- Working with the Taxicab Organizing Project to save the parking – and therefore housing – rights of mostly Pakistani Muslim and African cab drivers in Skokie. (2007-08)
- Working with Winnetka students to create a monument on the Village Green to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the North Shore Summer Project. (2007)
- Organizing United We Learn, a grassroots coalition of north suburban residents and teachers who recognize that quality education should not depend upon one’s zip code. (2008)
Gail has set the bar high. It is now up to us to uphold it and scale it. Let’s begin!
What’s next for Open Communities? The organization is seeking a new Executive Director and we couldn’t be more excited for what the future has in store for us! In addition to advancing The Justice Project: The March Continues, Open Communities will continue to provide north suburban residents with the following free services: the investigation of fair housing discrimination and landlord/tenant advice, foreclosure counseling and prevention, Homesharing, immigrant leadership development, education justice, fair housing education and advocacy, and grassroots organizing. Our team is dedicated to carry the torch for social, economic and housing justice in our communities.
“It has been a privilege to serve these wonderful communities and to work side by side with so many who wholeheartedly believe that our cities and villages thrive when our neighborhoods are culturally diverse, and everyone has equal access to housing, educational and economic opportunities. As I pursue other ways in which to serve, I will take Open Communities’ vaunted history and promise-filled present with me.”
What’s next for Gail? Gail will remain at the helm of Open Communities through the middle of January 2016 in order to ensure a smooth and successful transition to a new Executive Director, and will continue to be involved in advancing Open Communities’ mission to educate, advocate and organize to promote just and inclusive communities in Chicago’s northern suburbs. She will continue to serve on the State Housing Appeals Board, charged with enforcing the Illinois Affordable Housing Planning and Appeal Act, a law championed by Open Communities. A resident of Skokie, she will also remain active on the Skokie Justice Team.
How can you help? Please help get the word out to potential candidates interested in applying for the new position. The position will soon be posted on our careers page. We also urge you to make a contribution to support our exciting advocacy program, The Justice Project, and all of our free and confidential services. Thank you!