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THUMBS UP: Providing for homeless a vital mission regardless of weather

THUMBS UP TO… consistent caring. Last week’s stretch of brutally cold temperatures naturally turned focus toward people who don’t have reliable housing, but the truth is the people who work hard to help local folks without homes are doing that important work day in and day out, regardless of the wind chill. Ottawa’s Public Action to Deliver Shelter facility, a division of Illinois Valley PADS, has been on the job since mid-August, when organizers made the decision to open early to accommodate families at the start of the school year. And way back then, it was clear staff and volunteers would be in for a busy fall, winter and spring regardless of conditions.

“For this particular season, we have been full and overfull for quite a while,” Ottawa PADS program director Marissa Melau told us last week. “We’ve been pulling out cots even when the weather was cooperating. So it doesn’t seem to be correlated with the weather.”

One-time fundraisers like the Polar Plunge or a major school fundraiser get deserved attention for their spectacle and singularity. But we also owe deep gratitude to those who keep a vital mission like PADS afloat week after week because they know homelessness is a persistent problem, and that the first step to helping people return to self sufficiency is providing a basic stability. For more information on volunteering or donating, call 815-433-1292 or visit ivpads.com.

THUMBS DOWN TO… missing the cut. Streator High School administrators and board members had high hopes for being able to abate more than half a million dollars in property taxes, but learned last week the district missed the cut for a tax relief grant. According to Superintendent Matt Seaton, the grant formula ranked public school districts in Illinois based on tax rates and the overall property value base. Initially it seemed there would be $50 million in state grants split up among 36 districts with the highest taxes and lowest values, but in the end only 28 districts were included, and SHS’ numbers had it ranked 38th.

The district's plan was to abate $571,330 in taxes, which works out to between $80 and $100 on homes valued at $100,000. In return, the district would have collected $556,704 more in its general state aid payments, meaning the district would have to sacrifice $14,626 in tax funds. The state also promised to maintain its general state aid payments so no district awarded the grant gets any less in the next year. The good news is the district won’t have to increase its tax rate to get through the next fiscal year, and there are hopes of qualifying should the state offer the same deal again. Fingers are crossed for sure, but regardless of outcome we thank the administration for keeping the public informed about the attempt and its long-term planning.

THUMBS UP TO… making beauty from pain. The multimedia artwork on display at Open Space Art Gallery and Studios in downtown Ottawa is stunning, but an extra layer of significance awaits anyone interested in hearing the stories of inspiration behind each piece. Artist Rachel Brisbois partnered with gallery owner Amanda Weygand, to host a Jan. 26 fundraiser at the gallery to support people afflicted with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Brisbois’ own mother was unable to attend, having died of COPD complications on Jan. 24.

The works are on display through Feb. 22. Participating artists include a tattooist, sculptors, painters and fiber crafters, with each piece in its own way telling the story of suffering through COPD, a lung disease that inhibits airflow and makes breathing difficult. These artists have taken the very real pain of COPD and used it to give everyone a way to consider its social and environmental implications, which both connects us to our fellow humans and underscores the importance and power of public art, all while raising thousands of dollars for a good cause. Bravo to all involved.

THUMBS DOWN TO… inaccessible information. Last week the new acting director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture addressed the major issues facing one of our most vital industries, and although we’re well into the 21st century the top item on the list was shoddy access to adequate internet. Former state Sen. John Sullivan, whose family farms in West Central Illinois, said in his personal experience and talking to farmers and others around Illinois “broadband out in the rural areas of the state was just an issue that came up over and over and over again … Trying to get high-speed internet is very frustrating out in the rural areas of the state, and it is absolutely a hindrance to trying to do business.”

Those of us who stick close to population centers might not think twice about how hard it can be to compete in a modern economy while waiting for an email or download to come through, and the nonfarmers of the world perhaps don’t realize how much the modern ag industry relies on detailed, real-time data in order to remain competitive. One of Sullivan’s other concerns, increasing ag education opportunities, also relies on viable online access. Here’s hoping that naming the problem leads to solutions, but we know farmers already have been beating this drum loudly for years to no avail.

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