Legislators and staff representing the Voluntary Action Center of Northern Illinois (VAC) service area gathered this week to learn about programs and facilities that address the basic needs of older adults.
VAC Chief Executive Officer Nate Kloster welcomed the legislators to a tour of VAC facilities at 1606 Bethany Road in Sycamore, and then offered a presentation on the challenges and opportunities facing the non-profit agency.
The luncheon was the result of strategic planning by VAC administration. In October of 2022, VAC CEO Nate Kloster met with Representative Jeff Keicher and DeKalb County Administrator, Brian Gregory to discuss needs specific to our DeKalb County Transportation Program. Representative Keicher suggested that VAC management personally contact all appropriate state representatives to share the agency’s needs and opportunities. “After sharing this recommendation with the VAC Board, the idea of a luncheon seemed like a good way to share our story and unify the message,” Kloster commented.
VAC currently receives funding from a variety of sources to manage the operation of the two complementary programs of nutrition and transportation.
The legislative luncheon gave legislators the opportunity to tour the VAC kitchen which prepares 228,000 meals each year, and the transit garage which is the hub for more than 58,000 rides yearly. The Sycamore kitchen facility is just one of five kitchens, and the transit garage is one of two operated by this multicounty agency.
After a tour and lunch, Kloster shared a 20-minute presentation to outline the scope of services offered by VAC and the unique funding challenges and opportunities in each program.
“The services we provide at VAC are dependent on legislation that occurs at the state and federal level. Today is my goal to plant seeds with you,” Kloster said. “We are a non-profit organization that will be celebrating our 50th anniversary next year. We provide transportation and nutrition services primarily to seniors and those with disabilities.,” he continued.
“There is a non-financial value that money can’t buy that VAC brings to the table,” Kloster said. “It is one thing to award services to the lowest bidder when you are talking about roads, bridges, and vehicles. It is another thing when you are serving people, and particularly people whose mental health need is as equally important as their physical need. What differentiates us from the pack is that we lead with our heart.”
During the presentation, Kloster outlined the gaps that are occurring with the loss of CARES funding, the increase in costs due to inflation, particularly for labor and vehicle expenses, supply chain issues in replacing vehicles and working through the complex federal and state procurement process.
Guests included, 74th District State Representative Brad Fritts, 76th District State Representative Lance Yednock, and representatives from the offices of 38th District State Senator Sue Rezin, 70th District State Representative Jeff Keicher, 75th District State Representative Jed Davis, and 45th District State Senator Andrew Chesney. Also attending were several local municipal leaders, including Brian Gregory, DeKalb County Administrator; Suzanne Willis, DeKalb County Board Chair; Robert Miller, DeKalb County Comptroller; Steve Braser, Mayor of Sycamore; and Cohen Barnes, Mayor of the City of DeKalb. “I am humbled at the outpouring of support at the state and local level that is represented in this room today,” said Kloster as he began the presentation. Guests were seated with Board members and management staff of VAC.
At the end of the program, several attendees stayed to discuss the issues affecting VAC. Representative Yednock commented, “I see that other non-profit agencies working alongside you in social services are also looking for funding for space and are addressing similar issues. I would suggest we try to work together to find solutions.” Yednock also identified some opportunities that would specifically assist in the LaSalle County portion of VAC’s service region, adding, “I hope we can all work together to improve access to these services for the people we serve.”
Cohen Barnes, Mayor of DeKalb Illinois, also commented that he hopes that VAC will continue to bring their needs to the attention of lawmakers at a more frequent level. “I would recommend a summary of needs coming to the City of DeKalb more often. We need to see this and know your funding needs, having this information in front of us often as we are making decisions for our communities. We really do not want to miss important details like this when we are voting on issues that affect our communities,” he added.
Kloster concluded his presentation to the legislators asking for continued discussions into building efficiencies in the governmental grant requests and continued support for funding to support programs for older adults. “I anticipate that this will be a journey of conversations beyond today, and I am open to any and all ideas for dealing with funding imbalances.”
Voluntary Action Center of Northern Illinois receives Title 3 Older Americans Act and State of Illinois General Revenue funds through the Northern Illinois Area Agency on Aging and Western Illinois Area Agency on Aging. VAC is a United Way Partner Agency. Since 1974, VAC has served the transportation and nutrition needs of our community through our Community Transit, Meals on Wheels, and Senior Nutrition. Our mission includes a five-county network of caring staff. We invite you to join our team!
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