JOLIET – Several social service agency representatives called on the city for help on Monday, but it’s not clear what Joliet could do.
The meeting with social service providers was set up after Mayor Bob O’Dekirk said in April that the city needs to consider stepping in to help nonprofits struggling amid state funding shortfalls.
But only one of the five agencies represented at the meeting of the Joliet City Council Diversity and Community Relations Committee uses state funding – the Spanish Community Center.
“We’re on the last lifeline, and it’s not because we don’t work hard enough,” said Angel Contreras, representing the Spanish Community Center. “The reality is we need the city’s help. We need to be creative to help our center.”
Contreras later told The Herald-News that the lack of a state budget could lead to the elimination of some services in July, although he was not specific about what could go.
Most of the speakers did not specify what services could be lost, and it was not apparent that any of the other agencies would actually cut services since they do not receive state funding now.
But Kay Bolden, executive director of the Warren-Sharpe Community Center, said the community centers, most of which provide services to people on the East Side, need more than money.
“The money is so important,” Bolden said. “It’s the lifeblood to keeping us alive. But underneath that is your seeing these people as taxpayers and as important as the population on the Wast Side.”
Speakers at times were critical of the city’s priorities, especially pointing to Joliet’s funding for the Rialto Square Theatre.
Stephanie Castillo, an immigration adviser and advocacy specialist at the Spanish Community Center, said clients at the agency faced the loss of services if the city does not provide funding.
“I can’t tell them the city has prioritized the Rialto building, but unfortunately there are no funds for you,” Castillo said.
Councilman Terry Morris said that the council members on the committee have served on boards for nonprofit agencies and understand the funding issues they face.
“We get it,” Morris said. “I’m anxious to help where we can, but we need a plan.”
Morris said “centers at a dead end” because of state budget issues should bring a formal proposal. Morris said he would consider a stipend to help until state funding comes through.
Committee Chairwoman Bettye Gavin said the meeting was the first of many that she planned to hold on the issue.
“We respect the work that you do. Let me say that again and again,” Gavin said. “Your services are so valuable to our community, so what we need going forward is a solution that will make all of you whole.”