WILMETTE – The Ouilmette Foundation for the Parks has selected George Rafeedie as the next president of the nonprofit organization, which is dedicated to enriching the parks and community life in Wilmette.
“I wanted to get involved personally because I love the parks and I know the joy it has brought me and my family,” Rafeedie, told DailyNorthShore. “It is a way to do a little more for the community that I love and I am raising my children in.”
Rafeedie, who has lived in Wilmette for the past 10 years with his wife and two young children, first got involved with the Ouilmette Foundation when it was restarted three years ago. The organization was originally founded in 1983 to raise funds to restore the Wallace Bowl, and it was revived in 2014.
When Rafeedie heard that the Park District was considering reviving the foundation, he expressed interest and ultimately joined the board.
Over the past three years the Ouilmette Foundation, led by Tom Nathan as board president, donated $40,000 to the Family Scholarship Fund, which provides financial assistance to families to participate in Park District programs, as well as nearly $60,000 to create a bird habitat in Gillson Park. The nonprofit also organized more than 360 volunteers to help plant the bird habitat.
“We’ve done some good things and we plan to do more good things for the community,” Rafeedie explained.
The next big project the Ouilmette Foundation will focus its fundraising efforts on is restoration of the Keay Nature Center, a 4.8 acre park near Skokie Boulevard and Hibbard Road that was purchased in 1974 by the Park District with the aid of a federal grant. While the site was originally slated to become a playground, the Park District decided to create a handicap-accessible open space after receiving input from the community. The park, named after Stephen R. Keay, the late director of the Northern Suburban Special Recreation Association, features six-foot wide paths, a shallow pond, foot bridge and man-made waterfall.
Besides being a natural oasis in a suburban setting, the Keay Nature Center also is unique because it was built to accommodate the special needs of the disabled well before the American Disabilities Act was passed in 1990.
Rafeedie said the Ouilmette Foundation’s goal is not only to raise money toward the restoration, but also to ensure there is as much community awareness and involvement as there was in the 1970s when the park was designed.
“We are going to continue with that legacy,” Rafeedie explained. He hopes to seize this opportunity to make residents aware of this gem.
“A lot of people don’t know about the Keay Nature Center. It was ahead of its time as far as disability accessibility. It is a beautiful five acres and we should be enjoying it more,” he said.
Moving forward, the Ouilmette Foundation has set a fundraising goal of $50,000 for 2017, and a portion of that will go toward the Keay Nature Center. Rafeedie said he expects the restoration will be a multi-year effort. “It needs some TLC so that it can be enjoyed to the fullest,” he said.
The Ouilmette Foundation will also continue to donate money to the Family Scholarship Fund and other programs. The group’s biggest fundraiser has traditionally been the Coneflower Classic, an all-day golf event held at the Wilmette Golf Club. Instead, this year the Ouilmette Foundation is changing the format to a “Nine, Wine & Dine” golf outing at the Wilmette Golf Club on June 23 that will include a 9-hole game starting at 3 p.m., followed by an evening of wine tasting, food and entertainment.
Rafeedie’s enthusiasm for the Ouilmette Foundation and the Park District is contagious. “When I hear Park District I see my kids having fun, whether it is on the soccer field, on the beaches, at Howard Park, Vattman Park or at the playground. Part of why we are doing this is to spread that joy,” he said.
For more information about the Ouilmette Foundation and fundraising events planned for 2017, go to www.ouilmettefoundation.org.