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Local
Chamber hosts an evening of awards and reflection

The Kankakee County Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner & 2021 Awards Night proved to be an emotional evening for some as the organization bestowed honors on some of its members and reflected on what’s been a tough year for most.

In addition to tending to some end-of-the-year business and a wrap-up of this year’s successes, the Chamber presented awards to individuals, organizations and businesses during the Wednesday evening event at the Knights of Columbus in downtown Kankakee.

The following awards were given during the event:

SMALL BUSINESS OF THE YEAR

Jimmy Jo’s BBQ, in Bourbonnais. Jim Johanek and Mishelle Denault, owners. Johanek noted that while 2021 was a challenging year for many, Jimmy Jo’s, which opened in Bourbonnais in 2008, experienced its best year in sales.

LARGE BUSINESS OF THE YEAR

SERVPRO of Kankakee County. The Manteno-based company is owned by Bobby Nichols. The company specializes in property cleanup following disasters, big or small. In addition to cleaning and restoring properties, the company is focused on community involvement as it participates and sponsors many local events.

NEW BUSINESS OF THE YEAR

Brandon Casey’s Comfort Crew. Owned by Brandon Casey. The Bourbonnais-based business originated in 2018 when Casey decided to utilize his extensive knowledge, industry education and 17 years of heating and air conditioning experience for his own business.

NONPROFIT OF THE YEAR

Still I Rise. Operated by Tocarra Eldridge-Robinson, executive director, and Aaron Robinson, operations manager. This Kankakee-based organization founded in October 2014 helps to empower low-income and underprivileged youth and young adults to create a positive and healthy change in society.

BUSINESS OF THE YEAR IN INNOVATION & TECHNOLOGY

Converging Networks Group. Jerry Kuntz, chief executive officer, and Brad Kuntz, chief technology officer. Founded in 2003, the telecommunications service provider in downtown Kankakee designs and implements complete communications systems to meet the specifications of any organization or business.

MANUFACTURER OF THE YEAR

Johnsonville Foods in Momence. The sausage-producing plant not only maintained production levels in these difficult business times through such practices as pay raises and “pandemic pay,” but the company also stepped up and helped wherever needed. The company gave more than $25,000 to local organizations such as Fortitude Community Outreach, Choices Youth and Still I Rise. Johnsonville also donated hundreds of brats to local community organizations, including the Kankakee County Chamber of Commerce and to school fundraisers.

AMBASSADOR OF THE YEAR

Amber Turner, account manager, Agente Staffing/People Etc. Overwhelmed by the award, Turner had difficulty maintaining her composure when accepting the award. “It’s so nice to be honored,” she said. The chamber noted Turner attended nearly every event, from ribbon cuttings to Business Before/Business After Hours. She worked extensively on the chamber’s golf outing, one of its chief fundraisers.

SPECIAL RECOGNITION

Scott Smith, the president of the chamber prior to John Keigher’s current term, was honored with a special recognition award. Smith has long been involved in the chamber and was a key figure in the interview and selection process of the organization’s executive directors.

PRESIDENT’S AWARD

Brian Creek, accounting partner with Kankakee-based firm, Borschnack, Pelletier & Co. Creek serves as the chamber’s treasurer. New chamber executive director Ashley Villarreal explained that Creek has been one of her go-to people as she has worked to find her way within the organization since her hiring earlier this spring. She noted Creek is often the first phone call she makes when working through a problem. “He is literally the voice of reason when I need it,” she said.


Coronavirus-local
Kankakee County sees increase in post-Thanksgiving COVID numbers

KANKAKEE — Over the last seven days, Kankakee County has recorded 561 COVID-19 cases, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

There have been 312 new cases over the past four days, the Kankakee County Health Department reported as of Tuesday evening. The county now has 20,277 confirmed cases and 296 total COVID-related deaths.

Health department administrator John Bevis said people traveling and gathering for Thanksgiving, possibly without practicing masking and social distancing, has contributed to the uptick in cases locally and across the state.

“It would appear that when you look at all of the regions in the state, Region 1, which is the northwest corner of the state, and Region 7, which includes Will and Kankakee counties, we are the two regions experiencing the highest positivity rate right now,” he said.

Kankakee County’s seven-day rolling average positivity rate was 6.5 percent on Thanksgiving day, according to IDPH, and was 11.44 percent on Tuesday.

However, it looks like the increase might be starting to plateau according to recent data, Bevis said.

“Even if the numbers begin to go down, I’m deeply concerned for the next few weeks as we segue into Christmas and school and college breaks where a lot of these individuals from all over will be traveling home and with the colder weather, spending time inside, and if they’re unvaccinated, possibly transmitting more COVID to each other,“ Bevis said.

The ICU hospital availability for Region 7 dropped from 13 percent on Nov. 30 to 7 percent on Dec. 5, according to IDPH. That means 10 beds are available of 133 and 47 ventilators are available of 112 in the region currently. Many factors play into bed availability.

“We’re very concerned about the positivity rate and rising rate of hospitalizations for COVID-19 in our community and the identification today of the omicron variant in Illinois,” Dr. Kalisha Hill, regional chief medical officer for AMITA Health St. Mary’s Hospital Kankakee, said Tuesday.

The omicron variant was identified in a Chicago resident. Bevis said he is watching for reports on its transmissibility, symptoms and virulence.

St. Mary’s was treating 27 COVID inpatients on Tuesday, while two weeks ago, they were treating 19, according to Hill.

When the virus surged into its worst local peak a year ago, Bevis said Kankakee County had 200 cases a day, and now there are 80-100 with a vaccine available.

“It’s frustrating that we still have so many people not vaccinated who cry and pine for getting back to normal but aren’t willing to take the responsibility of helping us help them by getting vaccinated or wanting to wear masks,” Bevis said.

One example, he said, is school boards recently choosing to make masks optional.

“Now their teachers and students will be even more exposed to what’s being transmitted locally, presently,” Bevis said, “which makes no sense to me because we’re in a surge and they’re taking away one of the protections.”

After a nearly yearlong vaccination effort, the county is now 45.81 percent fully vaccinated. The youngest and newest eligible group in the population, 5- to 11-year-olds, is 7.65 percent vaccinated, and 34.41 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds are vaccinated. Boosters have been administered 13,857 times.

“We’re doing all we can to care for our community,” Hill said. “The best way to help us and protect yourself is to get vaccinated, if you haven’t already, and to get the recommended booster when eligible. We’re in this together and need to do all we can to protect one another.”


Crime
2 shooting victims remain hospitalized from Nov. 20 shooting

KANKAKEE — Closing in on a month since a drive-by shooting outside the International Lounge in Kankakee, two victims remain hospitalized, according to Kankakee Police Chief Robin Passwater.

A total of four injuries — three with gunshot wounds — were reported following the Nov. 20 incident at the 698 N. Schuyler Ave. establishment.

“Our investigators are continuing to actively investigate the information we have and await evidence testing results from the [Illinois State Police] lab,” Passwater said.

On Nov. 20, an evening when the bar closed early, people were exiting the building when multiple shooters in a passing vehicle opened fire on them.

Officers at the scene believe that more than 50 rounds were fired from several different weapons. Investigators recovered one weapon at the scene, police said.

Witnesses were uncooperative following the shooting, officials said.


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