WINNETKA – Since taking over the reigns of the Winnetka Community House four months ago, Robert Thomas remains focused on ensuring that the 106-year-old nonprofit remains relevant.
“We are a house that happens to be three and one-half acres big. I want people to feel welcome and energized and want to come here,” Thomas told DailyNorthShore.
Founded in 1911, the mission of the Community House is to enrich the lives of North Shore residents. The nonprofit does this by providing educational, cultural, social and recreational programming and events. The Community House includes state-of-the-art fitness equipment, extensive arts and theatre programming, classes for all ages, as well as numerous events.
In many ways the Community House is the heartbeat of Winnetka. It is a place where people of all ages gather to socialize, work out at the fitness center or take classes.
“I love the history of it. It is the center of the community,” Thomas explained.
Thomas said he has met many residents whose families have been coming to the Community House spanning more than four generations, which he views as one of the organization’s greatest strengths.
“There are deep roots in the families,” he said.
Under his leadership, Thomas plans to steer the organization back toward its roots, with more programming that includes social service. For instance the Community House is partnering with The Floured Apron, a local nonprofit that helps women from underserved communities get back on track with culinary experience, by marketing a product that helps abused women.
Thomas also plans to add babysitter lessons and first aid classes to the Community House’s list of programming, as well as potentially classes for au pairs who are required to take six credit hours to maintain their residency. He noted that historically, the Community House offered language classes to emigrants who worked for local families.
Thomas also envisions the Community House as a place where people can organize to assist in large humanitarian efforts, such as the disaster relief for the recent hurricanes that hit Texas and Puerto Rico.
“There are so many things we can be doing and lives we can touch,” Thomas noted.
Giving back is a core value to Thomas, who left the corporate world for nonprofits after his wife died from brain cancer. At that time, Thomas re-evaluated his life and decided he wanted to do something more meaningful.
“My way of giving back was to take a huge pay cut, but pay it forward in the nonprofit world,” he said.
According to Thomas, running a nonprofit is similar to running a corporation, but with fewer resources. The Community House does not receive any tax dollars but is a nonprofit organization. Its largest fundraiser is the Antiques + Modernism Show.
Thomas will be using his skills from the corporate world, as well as those he’s developed running nonprofits, to create a strategic plan, remodel the facilities as necessary, and meet the people who will help the Community House reach its goals.
“It all boils down to people. It is people that make it a house and it is people who contribute their energy,” Thomas said.
For more information about the Winnetka Community House visit www.winnetkacommunityhouse.org.