HOPKINS PARK, ILL. – Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich today announced Team Illinois, an unprecedented state initiative that pools resources to address the needs of the state’s poorest communities. The governor, joined here by Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn, several state agency directors and the Reverend Jesse Jackson, made the announcement at an Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) road repair site in Hopkins Park, the first community of four to receive Team Illinois assistance.
The goal of Team Illinois is to work with residents, elected officials, local business leaders, and community stakeholders to help resolve the community’s challenges and issues. For these communities, Team Illinois will help build needed infrastructure, achieve economic turnaround, and nurture a foundation for future growth. Never before have the resources of virtually every Illinois agency been pooled and concentrated in an intensive effort to turn around communities facing tough challenges. Team Illinois will not only concentrate state resources, it will create public-private partnerships and empower community stakeholders.
“Pembroke at the beginning of the 21st century is a place where homes still are without running water. Where paved streets are few. Where there is no grocery store, no gas station, no laundry facility, no ATM machines. Where industry does not exist -- and we all know where there are no jobs there is no hope,” Blagojevich said. “We developed Team Illinois because we as a society can no longer turn our backs on communities like Pembroke. We can no longer pretend that places like Pembroke don’t exist. And I am pleased to be joined by Rev. Jesse Jackson who has been an important voice in reminding the nation that we must leave no community behind.”
The governor has directed the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS) to manage the Team Illinois project. As the lead agency, DHS identified the state’s poorest communities to focus on -- Pembroke Township, Savanna, Aurora (East Side) and Alexander County.
Hopkins Park, which is located in Pembroke Township, is a rural community in Kankakee County. Many of the 3,000 township residents struggle to get by without the basic utilities and everyday necessities, such as no running water, no gas station, and no grocery store.
State officials have been in Pembroke Township for weeks attending forums and workshops with local citizens, elected officials and stakeholders in each community. Many improvements to Pembroke’s infrastructure are already underway, and several promising public-private partnerships have evolved to address the town’s socio-economic challenges.
Improvements underway at Hopkins Park include:
· IDOT’s road repair and maintenance; Paratransit vehicles; road signs; and trench digging
· DHS’s new Technology Learning Center at Pembroke Township Hall;
· Public-private partnerships to build affordable housing;
· Illinois Environmental Protection Agency removal and clean-up of tire dumps; and
· Illinois Department of Public Health will provide health screenings and childhood immunizations.
As a part of Team Illinois, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO), in partnership with Kankakee Community College and the Local Workforce Investment Board, is forming a consortium of employers from the Kankakee area to develop customized training to meet their hiring needs.
DCEO will work with the consortium of employers through Kankakee Community College, the local administrator of the Workforce Investment Act, a federal employment and training program, to identify available jobs along with the skills, knowledge and abilities required to be hired and be successful in those jobs, and to customize training as necessary to meet those hiring requirements. The college will recruit eligible residents from Pembroke and surrounding communities to participate in the WIA employment and training program and ensure their job readiness for positions identified by members of the employer consortium. Additionally, DCEO will incorporate job seekers from Pembroke to help them access jobs created through regional workforce and economic development efforts.
This match of employer needs with local residents’ abilities upon training completion will result in a skilled workforce for area employers, a paycheck for area residents, and a stronger economy for the local area.
Employers who have joined the consortium include Aventis, Armstrong, Bunge, Momence Packaging/Johnsonville Sausage, Rohm & Haas, Micro Inks, Roehl Transportation, Falcon Transportation, Kmart Distribution Center and Reynolds Food Packaging in Grant Park
Other agencies that will service participate include the Illinois Department of Public Aid, the Illinois Department of Public Health, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, the Illinois Department on Aging, the Illinois Department of Agriculture, and the Illnois Department of Corrections.
In addition, the Lieutenant Governor's Office has been meeting with several credit unions to provide desperately needed financial services and credit to the residents of Pembroke as part of the Team Illinois effort. The Illinois Department of Financial Institutions has agreed to expand the scope Credit Union One so that they can start service in Pembroke. Through this new partnership, Credit Union One has not only agreed to open up an office in the George Washington Carver School in Pembroke, but also train and hire local residents to staff this credit union.
Pembroke residents will now be able to open up basic checking and savings account for free instead of relying on currency exchanges that charge exorbitant fees. Residents will as well, be able to take out small loans without falling into the economic traps of pay day loan operations. Soon they will also be able to get fair mortgage and home improvement loans as well as college loans. Credit Union One will promote and provide counseling for the earned income tax credit, as well as take the deposit for residents.
“The people of Pembroke have been an inspiration to all of us from state government who have spent the past few weeks getting to know them in workshops and informal gatherings,” said Carol Adams, DHS secretary. “There is a great deal of untapped human potential here and we in state government are in a position to help revitalize this community. Just like a good old-fashioned barn raising, if we pool our energies and resources we can create a permanent infrastructure for change.”
Team Illinois will combine the services and resources of virtually every state agency to direct comprehensive and ongoing assistance to the selected communities. “Team Illinois is about coordinating our resources and putting government to work for the people who need help the most,” Blagojevich said. The needs and progress of the communities will be monitored by the agencies on an ongoing basis. Assessments will be done of what additional or new resources are required to meet the needs of Pembroke and other Team Illinois sites.
“We are committed to making sure the resources put in place today by Team Illinois will be long-term. Our efforts are not demonstrations or pilot projects. They are long-term investments in communities that need help and have been ignored for far too long,” the governor said. “We are in these communities for the long haul. The state hasn’t done a good job for these communities in the past. Team Illinois will reverse this trend and put state resources and partnerships in place that will make a difference in the quality of life of these communities.”