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Blue Kids on display for child abuse prevention

At the beginning of the month, silhouettes of blue children surrounded by pinwheels began popping up around Kankakee and Iroquois counties. These are the “Blue Kids” of Child Network and are on display to raise awareness for Child Abuse Prevention Month.

Since 2009, Child Network — whose mission is to improve the response to child abuse and to advocate for the best interest of children who have been placed into the foster care system — has been setting up the displays around the area.

Executive director Kristin Jackson explained that it’s a reminder to the community that child abuse can and does exist around us and it’s important to be aware.

“I think a lot of times people don’t realize the prevalence of child abuse,” she said. “You hear about it, but you don’t realize that it’s right here where you live.”

Jackson said that the blue silhouettes are displayed to represent children who have suffered as a result of abuse or neglect. The pinwheels that often accompany the displays are an uplifting symbol of the bright futures that all children deserve.

There are less Blue Kids on display this year due to COVID decreasing the number of volunteers available to set them up. However, there are typically anywhere between 25 to 50 signs on display throughout the area.

Child Network will be presenting at Mental Health Network’s virtual roundtable at 8 a.m. April 16. It will also be co-sponsoring a training session on April 23 called “Child Abuse: Signs and Effects” presented by Riverside Medical Center. The event is open to the community.

Child Network is an umbrella for two national programs — the Child Advocacy Center and the CASA program which is volunteer-driven. Jackson shared that they are always looking for volunteers and those interested can visit the organization’s website at childnetwork.org to complete a volunteer application.

“As a community it’s our responsibility to recognize abuse and neglect and to know the proper steps to take and to report suspected child abuse,” said Jackson. “If anybody suspects child abuse, please report it.”

The Illinois DCFS hotline is 1-800-25-ABUSE. Child Network is located at 171 N. West Ave. Ste. #1, Bradley, and have a satellite office in Watseka.

Fortitude assists family, individual into apartments

KANKAKEE — This past weekend, Fortitude Community Outreach helped an individual and a family move into apartments. With the help of volunteers and community donations, both apartments were completely furnished and supplied.

Dawn Broers, executive director for the nonprofit, put out a sign-up sheet for requested items for the residents and requests were quickly filled by the community. Items included bedding, cookware, cleaning supplies and furniture such as end tables and lamps.

“Pretty much every sign up that we put up, if our guests need anything, it’ll be primarily filled within 12 hours,” said Broers.

The individual who moved into one of the apartments is a Kankakee local who had been staying off and on with Fortitude for this whole shelter season. Broers said that the man was living in his van and, last fall, he was attacked and his van with all of his possessions were stolen. He was taken by ambulance to the emergency room and lost the little housing that he had.

The man stayed between Fortitude and another shelter, and when he left staying with Fortitude he had a steady income.

“And that’s really what they need in order for us to help them actually get a place — either a full-time job or a steady income, say with disability or something like that,” explained Broers.

Because of that steady income, Broers was able to help him find a place for rent on Facebook Marketplace. Throughout the next week, they and the landlord were texting back and forth in the hopes that the man would be the one out of 300 applicants to get the apartment.

“Our guest really impressed [the landlord] and we were advocating for him, the landlord chose to allow our shelter guest to rent the place,” said Broers, who explained that Fortitude assisted with rental income, which is one of the biggest barriers in a guest acquiring their own residence. Fortitude helps make sure the guest has enough money for the deposit and first month’s rent upfront along with everything they might need to buy with a new place.

The second residence Fortitude helped set up over the weekend was for a family of four. Michelle Nagozruk, the head of the family, had saved her stimulus checks and had the money available for a new apartment. She found the place on her own, but she and her family had no possessions to furnish it. Fortitude helped the family move in and helped them obtain requested items from donors.

Nagozruk shared that everything went well during move-in and that she and her family were settling in fine.

Broers explained the criteria for assisting someone with moving into a place of their own is not only based on steady income and deposit, but also the need to sustain the rental payment each month. She expressed that getting an eviction on one’s record can be really destructive to them down the road.

The two bigger shelter agencies in town — Salvation Army and KCCSI — receive federal funds to help with housing assistance, which can help go toward the first month’s rent and deposit for a resident. Where Fortitude comes in is to help supply needed items for the apartment.

That was a gap Fortitude began to fill years ago. When a guest would get into an apartment, maybe the Salvation Army helps with rental assistance and then Fortitude would help furnish and supply the place. She said that the community is “very, very happy” to donate items.

“This isn’t about Fortitude really, we just see ourselves as a link between the community that wants to help people and the people that need the help,” said Broers. “So a simple thing like creating a sign-up and a place for people to bring the items so that they can be delivered, we’re just the connector there.

“For me the celebration really is that we have a community that’s so willing to help out,” she continued. “It’s just that community coming together in little ways to make a really big impact for some of these lives.”

School board residency referendum narrowly fails in Momence

MOMENCE — A referendum that would have relaxed residency restrictions for school board members in Momence fell five votes short of passing Tuesday.

Voters also turned down the measure during the November 2020 election, when the same referendum fell two votes short of passing.

The referendum has failed several times in past years as well, including as far back as 1996.

Approximately 64.7 percent of overall votes were in favor of the referendum in Tuesday’s election. It needed 66 percent to pass.

A simple majority vote of over 50 percent in each township also would have done the trick.

In total, there were 233 “yes” votes and 127 “no” votes.

The referendum asked voters to allow members of the Momence CUSD1 School Board to be elected at-large and without restriction by area of residence within the school district.

In other words, any resident within the school district’s boundaries could run for any open board seat without restrictions to the number of members coming from the different townships and fractional areas.

Board President Sandra Illum said the board has been one member short for over a year and working with six members instead of seven since a previous member decided not to run for re-election.

No candidates have emerged to attempt to fill the open board seat, which under current regulations must be filled by a resident of a fractional area within the school district, she said.

“It’s a very small population of people to pull from,” Illum said.

With only six members, an issue could potentially divide board votes 50/50, she noted.

“We’re still doing our normal business as we can,” she said. “We would just like to have a full board.”

The regulations also mean top vote getters are not necessarily the ones elected, and an interested candidate may be ineligible to run because of where they live within the school district.

Illum said the board attempted to clarify what the referendum was asking for with the public because it failed by such a slim margin last time.

“People might think we’re asking for money [with the referendum], which we’re not,” she said.

Illum said that while she was disappointed the referendum still did not pass, the board would continue to function as usual and contact the regional office of education about possible next steps toward getting a full board.

“It’s kind of one of those thankless jobs,” she added. “I did it because I wanted to have a say in my children’s education.”

Payton defeats Miles in Pembroke supervisor race

PEMBROKE TOWNSHIP — Sam Payton defeated current Pembroke Township Supervisor Brenda Miles in Tuesday’s municipal election.

Payton received 133 votes to Miles’ 102, while Genova Singleton garnered 69 and Pamela Ward Basu 63.

Payton is no stranger to elected office. He currently is a member of the Kankakee County Board, representing the Fourth District. He also served as mayor of Hopkins Park from 2007 to 2011.

“I’m ready to get going,” Payton said Wednesday.

There will also be a change in the board of trustees as Cathy Vanderdyz, Ida Thurman, Lille Collins Spencer and Herbert Lillard Jr. claimed the four seats up for election.

“Together we can make things happen,” Payton said, adding he is a proponent of the current project working to bring a natural gas pipeline to the Pembroke area.

He added he is ready to work with Hopkins Park Mayor Mark Hodge to bring jobs, business and improved infrastructure to the area. He named two sites that he said would be key components of possible future development. One is the former Nestlé factory and the other is the 137 acres where a state women’s prison was being built nearly 20 years ago.

Funding for the prison came from former Gov. George Ryan before his term ended. His successor, Democrat Rod Blagojevich, pulled the funding.

Payton’s plan for moving the community forward includes putting together a 10-person committee of young and older township residents. The committee will give suggestions to help the township, he said.

During his tenure as mayor of Hopkins Park, Payton helped secure grants to repair sewer and roads, as well as rehab existing homes and the town’s water tower and secure emergency weather sirens.

A retired Chicago Public Schools business teacher, Payton moved to Pembroke 15 years ago. At that time he was visiting the area and happened upon the celebration of Pembroke Day.

“I fell in love with the community. I had so much fun,” Payton said.

Since moving to the area, working for the residents has been Payton’s goal.

“The total purpose to come here was to give back to the people,” he said.