By: Kathy Routliffe | kroutliffe@pioneerlocal | @pioneer_kathy February 07, 2014 10:02 p.m.
Open Communities, which lobbies for housing, economic and social justice issues throughout the North Shore, is asking area residents to nominate people who exemplify dedication to those issues for two separate awards.
One of the awards, the Jean R. Cleland Social Action Award, is new this year, created to honor the legacy and philosophy of Open Communities co-founder Jean Cleland.
The Wilmette resident died in September at the age of 89.
“Jean’s entire life was dedicated to justice and inspired by her deep religious faith,” Open Communities Executive Director Gail Schechter said, when the new accolade was announce. “Her credo was, ‘To those whom much is given, much is expected,’ and we seek to recognize individuals who continue to carry out that credo by reaching out to their neighbors and making the northern suburbs a place that is welcoming to all, regardless of race, religion or income level.”
The Winnetka-based organization has also expanded the scope of its existing Rayna and Marvin Miller award, moving it beyond a focus on housing issues and renaming it the Rayna and Marvin Miller Social Justice Award.
In both cases, the group will be honoring people who exemplify the spirit of social justice through their actions, Open Communities Outreach Director Jes Scheinpflug said Feb. 7.
Nominations are due by the end of Feb. 15; the winners will be lauded at a June 10 celebration.
Scheinpflug said the awards mirror the changing mission of Open Communities, which was founded in 1972 as the Interfaith Housing Center of the Northern Suburbs through the efforts of Cleland, the Millers and others.
While the community activists who helped create Open Communities focused sharply on opening North Shore housing, their work was predicated on dedication to civil rights and social justice needs beyond housing, she said.
“This reflects our own name change in 2012,” Scheinpflug said. “Housing is just one piece of what we do, and these awards should echo that.”
Open Communities now not only investigates fair housing discrimination and landlord/tenant complaints, but provides counseling and education on foreclosure and predatory lending, as well as advocacy on home-sharing, immigrant leadership development and grassroots organizing, among other services.
The Cleland award will honor individuals who reach out personally to effect change on behalf of individuals and families.
Cleland’s daughter Trena Cleland said Feb. 7 that her family is thrilled the award commemorates her beliefs and work, calling it “a beautiful, apt addition to her significant legacy as a citizen-activist.”
Her mother led by example, Trena Cleland said, standing by her convictions and refusing to stop calling for fairness and kindness to others.
“Her life touched many people and, through this award, will continue to do so.”
She also praised the Millers, saying they were friends, kindred spirits and fellow organizers with her mother and father Bob Cleland: “They all took seriously the responsibility of being citizens in a democratic society – especially in an area as affluent as the northern suburbs.”
The broadened Miller Social Justice Award honors people or groups who work toward larger scale goals, but are not limited to people whose efforts have concluded, or even those that have been considered traditionally successful, Scheinpflug said.
“Winners might not have gotten what they hoped for, but they could be people or groups who speak out and work on issues, and continue to do so, despite challenges,” she said.
Schechter agreed, saying that the Millers were active in multiple areas, including local politics, religious causes as well as women’s and environmental rights issues.
Nominees for the awards must be individuals or groups whose achievement is in a volunteer capacity.
They will be considered on the basis of activities that advance the cause of housing, economic, or social justice through creative and courageous actions.
Nominees also must be from, or residents of, the following communities: Deerfield, Evanston, Glencoe, Glenview, Highland Park, Highwood, Kenilworth, Lincolnwood, Morton Grove, Niles, Northbrook, Northfield, Park Ridge, Skokie, Wilmette, or Winnetka.