It’s been a crazy day for The Community House’s executive director Jeni Fabian and it’sonly 11:30 a.m. With The Community House serving as a polling place on Election Day, special preparations being made for their December 6 Holiday Ball, and the typical day-to-day happenings in a busy center that serves Hinsdale and many other surrounding communities—lunch at CiNe is the first time Jeni has had to catch her breath since her day started. But she’s not complaining.
Having just celebrated her third year at the helm of The Community House, Jeni’s 20 plus years in not-for-profit prepared her well for what she sees as the culmination of her professional goals and personal passions. “It struck me immediately how much people care about The Community House,” Jeni says, being only the third director in the center’s history. “There’s such an incredible spirit moving us forward.”
For 73 years, The Community House has been building community by providing inspiring opportunities for learning, social support, and recreation. Through athletics, theater, volunteer activities, education and therapeutic services, they make a difference in the lives of thousands of people each year. Because The Community House is privately funded, they don’t have restrictions on how far their programs can reach. For example, their senior programs often draw from more than 40 different towns.
“Everyday I learn two or three new things about our history and the difference we make for families. We touch so many different parts of people’s lives. There are only a few community houses like ours in the country, and even fewer that offer social services the way we do. It really sets us apart.”
It takes the effort and energy of many people to carry out The Community House’s programs—25 year-round staff and nearly 600 volunteers. “This group is so engaged.
My goal is to be a resource for them and help support them in any way I can,” Jeni says.
The Community House is a wonderful place for multiple generations within a family to come and volunteer. In November, the center honored high school student Luke Koznarek for the service he’s given to the organization, stretching back to his days as a preschooler. “Luke is an extraordinary young man and a terrific example of how families can get involved. It seems that once we get someone in our doors and they understand what we do, they keep coming back for more,” Jeni says with a smile. It’s for this reason that Jeni finds herself spending most days educating newly interested people and organizations about how they can become involved and or partner with The Community House.
Having just celebrated her third year with the organization, Jeni believes it’s important to continue to build on programs that are at the center’s core offerings—recreation, senior, and volunteer services. “Over time, different expressions of the community’s passions and interests have come through in wonderful ways and become part of our outreach services. We will always be a place where people can come to us with a need and we’ll figure out how we can attempt to meet it,” she explains.
As The Community House approaches its 75th anniversary in 2016, there will be a new focus on arts and cultural programs. “We’ve put together an advisory group to see how we can strengthen our programs and take advantage of facility we have. This is definitely something new on the horizon for us.”
With the holidays just around the corner, Jeni modestly offers short wish list for The Community House. “We’ve been given a generous matching fund grant to support recreation scholarships for local children going through hardship. We’ll receive $50,000 if we can raise as much on our own. We’re very close to this goal and it would mean so much to The Community House if we met it.”
Secondly, with the robustness of the youth programs, The Community House is in need of a new or gently used 15-seat passenger van. “It’s a good problem to have—to have so many children participating in our programs.work at this remarkable place.”
To learn more about The Community House or to volunteer, visit thecommunityhouse.org.
– Ann Marie Scheidler // Illustration by Kirsten Ulve