Congregation Etz Chaim of DuPage County

DuPage United

Mental Health Team

English as a Second Language

DuPage Water Commission

Who is DuPage United?

Founded in 2003, DuPage United is a non-partisan organization made up of organizations including church, synagogue, and mosque congregations, education associations, and civic organizations. Also eligible for membership are business associations, parent-teacher and student organizations, labor unions, health care and educational institutions and other community organizations.

Why was DuPage United formed?

DuPage United‘s “purpose is creation of a broad-based, non-partisan, civic organization with sufficient relational power to take collective action for social and economic changes that will benefit the people of DuPage County.” Translated: DuPage United’s member organizations work together to influence decision-makers in DuPage County to improve the social and economic situation for DuPage County residents. Member institutions highlight issues and concerns to the steering team which decides which issues to pursue.

A Few DuPage United Highlights from 2014 to the Present:

Mental Health Organizing 

At our 2014 DuPage United Fall Delegate Assembly leaders participated in small group discussions on transportation, jobs, mental health and affordable housing. The largest interest was in mental health. In the fall of 2014, DuPage United had already begun  research actions on mental health with the DuPage Health Department, Sheriff’s Correctional Office, NAMI DuPage, and DuPage PADS. In 2015, DuPage United has conducted close to 50 research actions and dozens of small group listening session in about 8 institutions. These have been  focused on addressing the lack of treatment and housing for those who are mentally ill.  

As you may know, it cost 5 times more to house people in jail than it does to provide treatment and affordable housing. Those with limited resources are have been hit the hardest, often cycling through the criminal justice system over and over again. The second default destination for those  lacking treatment is the emergency room.

In February, Judge Leifman, an associate administrative judge for the Miami-Dade County Court Criminal Division and chairman of the Florida Supreme Court Task Force on Substance Abuse and Mental Health Issues in the Court, spoke at Etz Chaim and the next day at a Chicago church which is a member of United Power an AIF affiliate. He spoke about the Criminal Mental Health Project in Miami-Dade County which he helped start. It is a program that began in 2000 when the recidivism rate for low-level misdemeanor offenders with mental illness was 72%. The Miami-Dade plan, which included training thousands of police officers on how to deal with people who have mental illness (Crisis Intervention Training or CIT), cut the local jail population nearly in half and allowed the county to close one of its facilities. In 2011, 3,500 trained officers responded to 16,000 mental health-related crisis calls. The result: more than 3,500 pre-booking diversions and a mere 45 arrests. Those who listened to Judge Leifman wanted to learn more and understand how his methods might be applied locally.

Metro IAF (Industrial Areas Foundation) affiliates in the Chicago land region, which includes DuPage United, have been working to bring the issue of treating mental illness out of the shadows and have written a white paper about the findings. In it they say “Conversations with over 800 individuals impacted by this issue have helped shape and focus our efforts.

Since 1965 state hospitals and asylums have been closing and insufficiently replaced with community based mental health facilities. From 2009 to 2012, Illinois cut mental health funding by 31.7% -- the fourth steepest cut in the nation, according to a study by the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

The delay in seeking treatment due to stigma, lack of awareness, reduction of treatment options, and the scarcity of supportive housing -- has meant that jails and prisons have become the default destination for those with mental illness. On average, one-third of those in county jails and state prisons are mentally ill.

The white paper ends with:


I. Reduce the flow of people with mental illness towards the criminal justice system, which would initially include:

a) Every police and sheriff department trained (one on every shift) in Critical Intervention Training (CIT)– the proven and primary way police prepare for de-escalation tactics in dealing with a person with mental illness.

b) Improving access to crisis stabilization – the other component of diverting people with mental illness from the criminal justice system and towards appropriate treatment and services rather than emergency rooms.

II. Increase affordable, supportive housing

a) Since 2012, Metro IAF in Illinois has led campaigns generating 211 units of permanent affordable and accessible housing throughout the northeast Illinois region. We will continue this work. We will also focus on organizing private sources of funding to spearhead development in focus areas. Such funds would enable us to leverage additional, increasingly scarce public funds. In the next three –five years, our goal is to double the number of housing units created through IL IAF campaigns and approach 500 units total since 2012.


1) Build community support.

2) Increase awareness and support among elected officials on the needs as well as the impact and cost of not addressing this issue.

3) Align key players to leverage needed resources to address training and crisis centers.

Contact Len Gesinski the team leader for the Etz Chaim Mental Health Team for more information.

Tenant and Parent Organizing to Diversify Our Membership

Working at an affordable housing complex with over 400 tenants (Villagebrook Apartments in Carol Stream), a strong group of women was able to make significant changes to this almost entirely African American community. Seven new leaders were trained and over 50 residents participated in community listening sessions. The predominant concerns were education, family, apartment complex rules that prohibit them from building relationships with others, and participating in the community. The leaders created a new parking system that will allow residents to have guests and support family members in crisis. The previous system did not allow residents to have any guests or family members over on the weekends, causing tension and some unrest. They dismantled a rule that held residents responsible for illegal activity of any guest within 30 miles of their residence. They also built a relationship with the local elementary school principal, resulting in quarterly meetings with parent leaders on how the school can better relate to the African-American parents, increase participation in school activities, and educate their children better.

Villagebrook Apartments became a dues-paying member of DuPage United in 2015.                        

A community walk at Hinsdale Lake Terrace in Willowbrook took place in May. DuPage United leaders from member institutions (MECCA, Congregation Etz Chaim, the Downers Grove Society of Friends, Church of the Holy Nativity, Union UCC, and North Central College) walked around the apartment complex and knocked on 330 doors to met their neighbors living in low income housing. The goal was to listen to issues that concern them, to find leaders eager to address the issues and to connect ourselves to the surrounding community. The conversations continued at a follow up meeting with those who were interested. In October a group of DuPage United leaders will knock on the remaining doors of residents in the large complex to engage more people. There will be follow up meetings with residents.

Attainable Housing Organizing

DuPage County formed a task force to review ways to repurpose the 40 acres currently leased to the County Fair. County Board Chairman Cronin specifically invited DuPage United to provide input. DuPage United drafted a proposal in partnership with DuPage Pads for a mixed income housing model that would benefit a range of people in need of attainable housing and submitted it to the task force. Once the task force submits its report, the DuPage United Housing Team will meet to strategize next steps and reach out to board members to gather support for this housing model proposal. 

Connecting People to Good Jobs - Workforce Organizing

In March 2014, the DuPage County Board supported our 4 years of work to place good people in good jobs with $200,000 of seed money to launch the collective of the Metro West Manufacturing Workforce Collaborative which includes Career Connect Metro West (CCMW), Jane Addams Resource Corporation (JARC) and Alliance for Illinois Manufactures (AIM) ). Career Connect Metro West, a new non profit launched by DuPage United, hired a lead coordinator and in December the first student finished training and was placed in a job! 

Career Connect has recruited a total of 300 people and Jane Addams Resource Corporation (JARC), the training provider, qualified 50 of those candidates for welding and CNC programs. Currently, 16 of the individuals have graduated and found jobs often with the help of AIM.  Many individuals are currently being trained and some are  still waiting for funding from WorkNet DuPage. Other candidates are being tutored in math before they begin training.

STEM partnership Introduction

The DuPage United/Career Connect Metro West STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) Initiative came about after research into advanced manufacturing showed how misinformed students, parents, community members and educational professionals are about advanced manufacturing and mid-skill work. Other STEM initiatives focus on jobs requiring college or advanced degrees but there are many STEM jobs requiring only high school or some additional training.

The mid-skill occupations that require hands-on education or training after high school, including advanced/technical manufacturing careers, are not being discussed. The Stem Team found teachers who are quite concerned about  their students’ lack of information about options for further education other than a four-year degree immediately after high school. With the help of those teachers, a pilot program was started during spring semester 2015, to get manufacturing employees in front of students at their schools. It was very successful.

Now the team is ready to launch similar high school and manufacturing company connections across DuPage County. To do so, they need additional people to communicate first with the interested high school teachers and the interested manufacturers and then meet with them together to plan at least an annual presentation to students, repeated each class period for an entire day. The team is looking for volunteers interested in facilitating this. Contact Ruth Pordes, a member of the team and Etz Chaim, for more information or to volunteer.

While the current focus is on getting more DuPage County manufacturers connected into more DuPage County high schools, those involved are also looking into ways to engage teachers, parents and community members to encourage school boards and superintendents to formally implement additional mid-skill career-awareness for students. 

Congregational and Institutional Development

Over the past year, DuPage United supported congregational and institutional development campaigns in several member institutions. St. Paul Lutheran Church in Wheaton did several rounds of listening sessions in the spring, talking to a total of 100 people, leading towards more congregational cohesion on future goals of the parish, including how to move forward on goals of reaching out to younger families. The West Chicago Teachers Association met with about 60 primarily Latino parents and hopes to engage them on how to build stronger parent participation in their school, which is facing many challenges ahead.

For more information about DuPage United and those involved at Etz Chaim contact Harriet Rose, DuPage United Steering Team member from Etz Chaim or Mary Hason, DuPage United Executive Team member from Etz Chaim.