By Kirsten Keller
David Luna came of age in working class Chicago neighborhoods, the son of Mexican-Americans who put the needs of the community in the same bucket as the needs of the family.
And this, the new executive director of Winnetka based Open Communities said, is where he learned to think about the well-being of others.
“My mother and father did a lot to give back to our neighborhood to provide for those who did not have as much,” Luna said on April 5, days after the announcement of his new position. “And again we were very working class, so we certainly were not swimming in resources.”
Luna, a Highland Park resident, will take the helm of the social justice organization on April 25, succeeding Gail Schechter, who served in the position from 1993 until January.
“Gail has done a super job,” Luna said. “The icing on the cake was Gail’s vision of expanding Open Communities’ vision beyond its core expertise in housing to other areas in the social justice and welcoming communities field.”
While Luna said it was too early to talk about specific plans he has for the organization, his first priority will be to carry out a strategic planning process that will identify how Open Communities should best move forward.
“We’re going to be looking for the key opportunities: Where might we make our next best contribution?” Luna said.
The organization may bring in a consulting firm to advise where Open Communities may have the most impact given the resources it has, and how to avoid redundancy and overlapping with partner organizations’ missions.
“We don’t need to recreate, or duplicate, any of their initiatives,” Luna said. “Rather, we need to find those places we are actually needed.”
Open Communities’ partner organizations include area religious organizations, the League of Women Voters of Winnetka-Northfield-Kenilworth and others.
Luna, who has lived in Highland Park for less than a year, knows he needs to get acquainted with the people of the communities he will serve, which include southern Lake County and northern Cook County, and municipalities like Northfield and Winnetka.
“A large part of my early time with Open Communities is going to be spent listening to people,” Luna said. “Listening to people, partners, colleagues, member organizations, people out in the community. I really need to come up to speed with what is most important to them.”
With regard to affordable housing ventures, Luna acknowledged the challenges they have faced in Winnetka and more recently, in Wilmette. And like his prior claim, Luna noted it’s important to listen to communities’ diversity of viewpoints.
“I think it’s critically important to not simply label people as resistant, but to rather understand the reasons behind their objections and the reasons they’re making challenges,” Luna said.
But Luna hopes people understand what he calls the “complex picture” of welcoming communities. In 2012, the organization changed its name from Interfaith Housing Center of the Northern Suburbs to Open Communities, which allowed it to expand its mission to include foreclosure prevention, landlord and tenant advice, homesharing and immigrant integration — programs beyond fair and affordable housing that help make communities inclusive.
“My primary concern is that folks understand what an interrelated web is and the necessity of working on many of those things in tandem and not looking for the magic bullet,” Luna said.
Prior to coming to Open Communities, Luna was the principal of teammates for Health Equity, a consulting and coaching practice in Chicago and Grand Rapids, Mich., that develops strategic plans for health justice organizations. He previously worked with the Latino Institute in Chicago and early on worked as an attorney for Business and Professional People for the Public Interest, which helped to expand housing options for low-income Latinos.
This article originally appeared in the Winnetka Current