As I started thinking about my column this month, I was reminded of all the positive activities and events going on in Peoria. Of course, it is all about community: the shared experiences, environment, dreams and challenges we face together as we strive for civic improvement, social and economic advancement, and educational achievement. Upon further thought, there’s no finer reflection of our mutual identity than the publications and events provided by Peoria Magazines. iBi, art & society, Peoria Progress and the celebrations of accomplishment embodied by 40 Leaders Under Forty, Local Legends and Women of Influence offer ongoing motivation and encouragement to the entire community.
With that in mind, I’d like to spend a few moments examining why we, the greater community, conduct such events, especially in the not-for-profit sector. Sure, there are some causes near and dear to my heart, such as Peoria Promise, St. Jude and a new one, The Mayor’s Celebrity Roast for Charity—which I’ll get to in a moment. But all of these events are simply a means to a greater end… the larger goals of community strength, decency, opportunity, improvement, security, growth and comfort.
I believe there are six primary reasons we have an abundance of such events. First, there are critical, unmet human needs—some as basic as food, shelter, healthcare and clothing. Secondly, we want to create and sustain awareness of the host organization and why it was created in the first place. In this hyper-technological age, we are bombarded constantly with information, demands on our time and a frenetic pace of life; sustaining awareness has become an ongoing necessity for organizational survival.
Thirdly, as a practical matter, we need financial and other resources to operate programs of assistance, outreach, education, support and guidance. Fourth, events help us stay connected with those who share our passion for a particular cause. The fifth reason is to instill motivation and build momentum for those governing the group, as well as those receiving services and support. Let’s face it: developing motivation and personal and organizational momentum doesn’t just happen in a vacuum. And finally, events are conducted for enjoyment and fun… recognizing personal achievement and organizational performance in a relaxed, lighthearted environment.
And so it is that in just a few days—October 15, 2016—we will host the eighth annual Peoria Promise Gala at the Peoria Civic Center. While all of our galas have been special, there is much to celebrate this year, as Peoria Promise has invested $3.5 million in ICC scholarships for Peoria kids graduating from high school. In the last eight years, about 2,000 young men and women have benefited from the program—and they are, in turn, benefiting the community.
Here are a few spectacular stats: 95 percent of scholarship recipients have jobs; 90 percent are working (and stayed) in the area; 46 percent were the first in their family to attend college; and two thirds wouldn’t have gone to college without Peoria Promise scholarships. We know this because Peoria Promise President Marylean Abney and the Board of Directors are focused on providing these important metrics to our investors. In addition, the program has moved to a reimbursement model, so all students now have “skin in the game.” My thanks to Marylean and the entire board for doing a great job providing educational options for our future leaders.
And Peoria Promise continues to evolve to meet the realities of today’s educational and community environment. Recent months witnessed the organization becoming a United Way agency, which should open a lot of new doors for potential investors. The list of eligible high schools was expanded to include Peoria Notre Dame and Peoria Christian, so the graduates of these two fine schools will be eligible to enroll in Peoria Promise starting in fall 2017. And finally, Peoria Promise moved to base scholarship support, ranging from 50 to 100 percent, on family income. Not only does this help stretch our dollars—more bang for the buck, so to speak—it recognizes the growing visibility and attraction of Peoria Promise as a critical element in the city’s educational dynamic.
Now, I mentioned that one of the reasons we have events is to have some fun. Well, this year’s co-chairmen of the Peoria Promise Gala—Andrew Rand and Sid Ruckriegel—have lined up an exciting Motown revue, “Souled Out,” featuring 12 high-energy musicians and singers who will get you out of your chair and onto the dance floor! Many thanks to Andrew and Sid for their hard work and leadership.
And if you’re not worn out after October 15th, allow me to mention another event, a benefit for Dream Center Peoria. We’re calling it the “Mayor’s Roast,” and it will take place on Thursday, November 10th at the Peoria Civic Center. This inaugural year will feature Ray LaHood as the “roastee,” and I’m sure there will be plenty to talk about, as the event takes place two days after the election. I will be joined by a select cadre of “roasters,” and there’s no question it will be good, decent, tongue-in cheek-fun (This won’t be a Gridiron-type of event.). Sincere thanks to Secretary LaHood for agreeing to be our “roastee” and for selecting Dream Center Peoria as the recipient of proceeds from the evening.
Dream Center Peoria is indeed a dream come true for hundreds of families living in poverty or similar circumstances, as it provides emergency shelter, transitional housing, many necessary resources and referrals, and a range of special programs. It was the brainchild of John King, senior pastor of Riverside Community Church, based on a similar program he witnessed in Los Angeles. Thank you, Pastor King, for your grace, love and kindness.
Yes, there’s a lot going on in Peoria: for good reasons, good causes and the greater good. And as always, it’s all about community. Please join us and thank those whose generosity makes promises and dreams come true! iBi