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Herscher returns once more to pandemic dance venue of bus garage

HERSCHER — Dresses and ties billowed in the wind as Herscher High School students made their way into prom Saturday night.

Instead of arriving at a banquet hall or country club, students parked along the outskirts of Seebach Stadium and entered into the school’s bus garage, also known as the bus barn, where strings of lights, decorations, backdrops and a DJ greeted them for the second year in a row.

The venue was last year’s solution to holding prom during a pandemic. After the 2020 year-end dance was canceled due to COVID-19, students were determined to make prom happen for 2021.

Enter the bus barn.

With about a dozen large overhead doors that allow increased airflow and the option to mingle outdoors or indoors, the bus barn fit the bill.

After limited venues were available following the lifting of mask mandates in late February this year, the bus barn turned out to be the best choice for 2022, principal Brad Elliot said.

Maintenance staff once again deep-cleaned the floors and went to work transforming the bus barn into a prom venue, with some help from the prom committee.

“Our maintenance guys do everything I ask them to do and go above and beyond,” teacher and prom committee sponsor Michelle Roberts said. “I can’t ask for a better team to throw my ideas at. They turned this bus garage into a great venue. Again.”

At $50 per ticket, which included dinner, dessert, photos and a DJ, Roberts, who took over sponsoring the committee for the 2019-20 school year, said the on-campus event makes attending the dance affordable for every student.

Although several other area schools are returning to their traditional rented venues and upscale meals, prom committee member Norah Meyer said she feels like students still get the same prom experience having the dance on school grounds.

“It’s definitely different, but it’s still fun to be with your classmates,” Meyer said.

Fellow prom committee member Emma Brosseau agreed.

“Bigger schools go to bigger, fancier places, but this just works for us,” Brosseau said. “It’s very Herscher.”

While the Tigers’ principal Elliot does hope for a return to the full prom experience next year, longtime Herscher teacher and guidance counselor Michelle Marcukaitis said she, and many teachers, were just happy to see the kids enjoying themselves.

“They’d dance all night whether it was at a country club or here in the bus garage,” she said. “That’s what it’s about.”

Momence High School to host mental health speaker, open house

MOMENCE — Jamie Tworkowski, renowned public speaker on mental health and founder of the nonprofit To Write Love On Her Arms, is coming to speak at a Kankakee County school for the second time this year.

Tworkowski, who founded TWLOHA in 2006 and is now a New York Times bestselling author, will give a presentation on mental health awareness at 6:15 p.m. May 10 in the auditorium of Momence Community High School, 101 N. Franklin St., Momence.

The event is free and open to the public.

Doors will open for the event at 5:15 p.m. Local resource providers will be on hand for families and individuals to learn about a variety of nonprofit and private practice mental health and wellness organizations.

Harbor House, the Samuel R. Myers Foundation, Riverside Behavioral Health, and more will be present for the open house.

Tworkowski will also speak to sixth- through eighth-grade students at Momence Junior High and to students at the high school earlier in the day on May 10.

Tworkowski also gave a community presentation in February at Bradley West Elementary School.

His visit to Momence is being funded through a Community Partnership Grant provided by the Illinois State Board of Education.

Momence CUSD 1 was one of 136 entities to be awarded the $635,000 grant.

According to school officials, the district plans to use the grant to expand relationships with community organizations including Riverside Behavioral Health, Harbor House and Clove Alliance as well as form new partnerships.

The district also plans to use the funding to implement new initiatives, such as professional development opportunities, training, and voluntary certifications in aspects of mental health, peer counseling, and trauma-responsive practices.

Additionally, the district plans to address the increased need for mental health services from the pandemic by contracting with social workers, therapists and other specialists to provide services to students during the school day.

The first half of the grant funding will be expendable through September 2023, and the second half will be expendable through September 2024.

Illinois set to fund police co-responder program with $10 million

A $10 million pilot program could soon start that will require social service providers and police officers in certain jurisdictions to work together to better handle certain situations when responding to a 911 call.

House Bill 4736 creates the Co-Responders Pilot Program to have police in certain parts of the state begin a joint effort with multiple social service agencies. Peoria, Springfield, East St. Louis, and Waukegan will all be participating in the pilot program. The measure passed the legislature last month but has yet to be sent to the governor.

“The general idea is for law enforcement agencies to collaborate with local social service agencies to respond together to certain mental health or domestic cases,” Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police Executive Director Ed Wojcicki said.

The social workers in the program will attend calls alongside a police officer with the hopes that that social worker will be able to spot mental health-related issues and determine if the person is having a mental health crisis.

Wojcicki said the pilot program will provide more options for police officers and for someone who may be dealing with mental health issues.

“It’s about bringing a sort of humane type of assistance to the people they see on the street,” Wojcicki said. “A lot of times when police go to a scene and someone needs to be taken somewhere, really the only option they have is the hospital or jail.”

With the pilot program, those individuals can now be taken to a mental health facility to better serve their needs.

The Co-Responders Pilot Program does not require any extra certifications for the social workers or officers, however, Wojcicki said both parties and the local communities will all need training on how to handle these situations.

“It will require training for everybody, for the police, for social workers, and the people of these communities,” Wojcicki said. “Police have mental health first aid that they will need to take. They also have crisis intervention training so the police will be getting more training on how to respond to those people.”

The state’s budget the governor approved last month allocates $10 million of taxpayer funds for the implementation of the pilot program. The fiscal year begins July 1. The test cities’ part of the program will have up to six months to establish programs within their communities.