During property tax season, one woman traverses through close to a dozen communities educating them on how to petition and challenge their assessments. For her tireless work to help the community as they sift through their frustrating property tax bills, Thornton Township Assessor Cassandra W. Holbert-Elston has been awarded Township Officials of Illinois Elected Official of the Year.
“Cassandra has always put serving the community as her most important priority. People contact her at all hours of the night and she serves with pleasure and I am happy that people are finally recognizing what we already know. She is incredible,” said Frank M. Zuccarelli, Thornton Township supervisor.
Elston, who has served as township assessor since 2013, represents our 17 distinct municipalities with a population of more than 168,000. The role requires a combination of intelligent, diligent work, years of experience and a heart as a community advocate. One of her key initiatives is hosting live, and this year virtual, property tax assessment workshops. She gives a presentation, answers residents’ questions and her team looks through resident tax assessment bills. She works with elected officials, clergy and homeowner associations.
Her office and staff have been available virtually to the public throughout the pandemic. She has hosted over 15 seminars yearly, even during the Covid-19 pandemic. The seminars are not just limited to property tax, exemptions and the appeal process. Information is also shared on property after death, property fraud and first-time home buyer programs. Even property redemption, for those who have lost homes, is among the topics discussed. More than 500 individual households have been helped by the assessor’s staff since mid-July.
Elston’s purpose in this effort has been to assist, educate and help taxpayers, new homeowners and especially senior citizens who have benefitted the most from her timely and compassionate guidance and assistance.
“I’m completely stunned by receiving this award. When you look to serve the community, especially if you are doing it for the right reasons, you certainly don’t do it for attention or awards,” said Elston. “But I am honored by the award and I will continue serving the community in any way it needs.”
Elston received recognition for youth mentoring from the late Alderman Bennett M. Stewart of the 21st Ward in Chicago. She was awarded the key to the City of Chicago for outstanding leadership and community involvement under the late Mayor Harold Washington. She was recognized for outstanding achievement in organizing block clubs and community organizations in the 6th Ward under the late Mayor Eugene Sawyer. She was also honored as “Woman of the Year” by the Society of Mannequins in 2017.
“I just feel so blessed to be able to help individuals and whole communities in need,” said Elston.
The Thornton Township Senior Luncheon program continues to serve seniors in the Township, but it has moved its popular program from dine-in and carry out to drive-thru to accommodate the orders due to COVID-19.
The Thornton Township Senior Luncheon program is just one of many senior services provided by the township, which includes 17 municipalities throughout the South Suburbs.
The program was originally designed to provide food and social interaction for seniors in the township. For those who could not dine-in, there was also a carry out option and seniors paid a nominal fee.
Seniors, aged 60 or older, who reside in the township, are entitled to one luncheon a week at the site located in their part of the township.
Calumet Bakery provided the senior luncheon program with pastries as part of the meal. It gives the seniors something extra and it allows Calumet Bakery to keep their staff working.
Marcia Brown manages the Thornton Senior Luncheon Program. She said even in the midst of COVID-19, the senior luncheon program didn’t stop because the Township felt it was a service that was necessary and popular.
Brown said in addition to the number of sites where lunches were hosted, the number of seniors who dine-in had to be reduced. There also had to be a reduction in the number of seniors who were allowed to come and socialize. Brown added the changes were made to adhere to the social distancing guidelines from the Illinois Department of Public Health. “We adapted a drive-thru service, which was totally new for us,” Brown said, adding while it was a new experience for the township, the drive-thru was very well received by the senior residents.
The lunches are hosted on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at The Thornton Township Senior Center in Calumet City located at 1420 Huntington Drive. The Thornton Township Riverdale Senior Youth and Family Services Center, located at 14323 S. Halsted St., hosts luncheons on Wednesdays and Thursdays. The drive-thru services take place from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
“Our seniors never have to leave their car, they just drive-thru [and] pick up their lunch. [Seniors can pick up their meal] as long as they’re a resident of Thornton Township and possess a Thornton Township ID,” she said. “They just drive right through, just like at a McDonald’s or one of your fast food restaurants.”
Brown said before COVID-19, the average number of lunches served was between 600-700 lunches per week and this included both dine-in and carry out meals throughout the 10 sites. She said now, at the Riverdale location, the average number of meals served per week is between 100-110. At the Calumet City location, the average is 700 per week. The Riverdale location is a smaller location and the Calumet City location is for seniors only, explained Brown.
“On the east end of town, you have the larger towns, which you don’t have to live in a specific town to attend or pick up lunches from either site, but on the east end of town, Calumet City, you have your larger municipalities, Lansing, Dolton, huge municipalities. On the west end of town, you have your smaller municipalities, Dixmoor, Riverdale [and] Harvey,” she said. “You can live in any of the 17 municipalities and you’re invited to have lunch at either location,” she added.
Brown said that seniors are creatures of habit and they continue to do what they are used to doing. She said while the seniors miss the social interaction of the dine-in luncheon program, they appreciate that the township has continued the luncheon program in a drive-thru format.
Calling it a “100 percent positive response,” Brown said the program has received “nothing but accolades.” She added the seniors love being able to drive-up to receive their meals, without having to leave their vehicles.
For more information about the Thornton Township Senior Luncheon Program, visit https://bit.ly/3gTZLCp, or call 708-596-6040, Ext. 3170
First and foremost, we hope you and your family are safe and in good health.
Please Continue the Good Fight
The message we send is straightforward but carries enormous life and death consequences. The news is this: As we continue to fight the good fight against the deadly COVID-19 virus to keep ourselves, our family, and our neighbors safe, we will not succeed unless we arm ourselves with as much trustworthy and reliable scientific information as possible. Having trustworthy and reliable COVID-19 information is especially important for Township residents currently participating in protest marches related to the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. To avoid increasing the number of COVID-19 infections and deaths in the Township, these residents must be very mindful of practicing good COVID-19 safety hygiene upon returning from these and other large gatherings where people were not practicing social distancing. We are asking that all residents, seniors and youth, to always keep COVID-19 top of mind in all that you do.
For this crucial reason, our Institute has joined hands with the Youth and Family Services Center and the Parent STEM/STEAM Advisory Team (PSSAT) to create this Township COVID-19 Safety and Wellness support resources webpage. Two COVID-19 realities have also inspired this initiative. The first is the many acts of human dignity, decency, generosity, compassion, kindness, and courage shown by essential workers, neighbors, and even strangers during this crisis have been simply amazing. We witnessed brave and caring people from the many colors and cultures that make our resilient human family around the world, the nation, and throughout the Township, joining hands to contain and defeat this unseen and powerful enemy. Their selfless act is undeniable proof that we are indeed Stronger Together!
COVID-19 Public Health Crisis: Local Communities
This COVID-19 safety/wellness support resource webpage is also motivated by alarming reports from scientists, governors, and mayors that COVID-19 is hitting low-resource Black and Brown communities of color especially hard. Some states and big cities like Chicago report that 60-70 percent of the people who have died from the virus are African American (African Americans are only 29% of Chicago’s population). In our state of Illinois, African Americans are 14.6% of the state population, but about 30% of the COVID-19 deaths. There are other reports that the Latinx community in Illinois is testing positive for COVID-19 at higher rates than other groups in Illinois (nearly 60%). Public health researchers tell us that among other social and psychological issues, systemic racism, and entrenched inequalities in health care resources are mostly responsible for these sorrowful conditions. We see this also as a moment of truth. A test is given to all of us to see if we understand that we are truly our brothers and sisters keeper. Now is the time for all members of the Township human family to join hands. Blacks, Whites, Latinx, Asians, and other members of the Township must now come together in true brotherhood to solve these problems and work together to build stronger and more economically prosperous communities for all children and families.
The American political system is created to ensure federal, state, and local governments all play specific roles in creating and implementing solutions to these and other COVID-19 challenges. However, most experts agree that until a vaccine is discovered (perhaps 12-18 months away), engaged and empowered local communities and their local government units are most important to containing and eventually defeating the coronavirus. Although late in arriving, we agree with and applaud this revelation. Some of you probably know that community engagement and empowerment is the mission of our educational organization. As such, there is absolutely no doubt in our minds that when future stories of how the war against COVID-19 was won, they will tell of how resilient and empowered local communities came together to create a new future, realizing that they were indeed, Stronger Together. However, as the matter stands right now, too many vulnerable local communities of color do not receive reliable and trustworthy scientific information they need to keep themselves, their families, and their communities safe. At the Institute, we call this problem the COVID-19 knowledge gap.
COVID-19 Knowledge Gap: Misinformation, Myths, and Conspiracy Theories
Researchers at our Institute are examining what we are calling the COVID-19 knowledge gap, occurring in Illinois and other parts of the nation between more affluent White communities and low-income communities of color. We are concerned that trustworthy and reliable COVID-19 information does not reach communities of color at the same speed and quality as middle and upper-class White communities in the state and nation. While the latter communities are actively and intellectually engaged in high-level conversation on such life and death issues as reopening the economy, and what levels of COVID-19 testing, isolation, contact tracing, and quarantine is required, vulnerable local communities of color are still working frantically to put out COVID-19 wildfires started by inequalities in public health services, and inflamed by COVID-19 misinformation, myths, and conspiracy theories. Perhaps the most devastating myth is that because Blacks have melanin in their skin, they cannot become infected with COVID-19.
Stronger Together – COVID-19 Safety and Wellness Support Resources Webpage
These facts and many others clearly show the dire need to begin laying foundational COVID-19 public health bricks to support the delivery of trustworthy, reliable, and culturally sensitive COVID-19 information and knowledge to communities of color. To this end, our Stronger Together COVID-19 safety and wellness resources webpage offer Township residents the following:
Thornton Township COVID-19 Safety and Wellness Resources
In his epic battles for freedom, justice, and equality, one of Dr. King’s most powerful phrases was the “Urgency of Now.” The simple message behind this phrase was, “we cannot afford to waste any time.” The life and death decisions COVID-19 are bringing to us each day also mean we cannot afford to waste any time. Please be clear on thisvital point: your immediate and consistent COVID-19 safety and wellness feedback (mainly by surveys) is key to our success. The goal is to customize this safety and wellness webpage to your actual COVID-19 safety and wellness needs in real-time (e.g., masks, gloves, food, mental health assistance, testing, quarantine, employment opportunities, prek-12 remote learning technologies, etc.). The COVID-19 urgency of now safety and wellness survey will also solicit your ideas and opinions on reopening and reimagining the new economy.
Finally, many thanks for taking the time from your busy day to engage this message. In times like this that we need to have each other’s back. As your good neighbor, please do not hesitate to make full use of any and all the provisions we have to keep you and your family safe.
With the theme “Awakening to Greatness,” and a call for leadership to begin, Thornton Township hosted its annual Martin Luther King event. Taking place at South Suburban College Kindig Performing Arts Center and sponsored by the Thornton Township Human Relations Commission, more than 500 people heard the uplifting words of powerful speakers and performances by School District #205 students.
“Love everyone, don’t hate, fairness, nonviolence, and equality were a few morals and principles Dr. King implemented in his lifetime,” said Linda Wyley, of Chicago, who attended the event. “He set a great example for the young people. MLK was just a great role model.”
This event was a great way to bring several people from many different backgrounds together in one place. With special appearances from District 205 and 150 band and mixed choir, Jada Johnson, Dyimond Moore, Zion Hurndon, Kayode Adebogun and keynote speaker Dr. Chandra Gill.
The keynote speaker Dr. Chandra Gill CEO of “Blackademically Speaking,” went through several themes during her speech that touched personal moments for everyone who attended.
She preached, educated and shared some life stories. Some of the wise words from her included “You are not going to give a beggar $50 because they asked for it, so America isn’t going to give you freedom because you asked for it. You have to fight for it.”
Dr. Gill made that message clear and she said it is as easy as ABC.
“A is for attitude. I need you to stop apologizing for those who can’t see our greatness. Don’t lose your greatness for people who don’t understand your greatness. Lose those who don’t get your greatness. B is for behavior. Your behavior has to be alignment with your character. Dignity and integrity still matter. C is for champions break chains. I need us to know and understand we left the plantation, but the plantation aint left us. Break the chains of fear and failure,” said Gill.
Dr. King was an African American Christian minister and activist who lead the Civil Rights movement from 1955 until his assassination in 1968. Some would say they know him from his “I Have A Dream” speech; however, Dr. King was more than just one speech. He risked his life daily to lead, fight, and speak for a large sum of the American population. He championed people being treated equally and having basic human rights. Dr. King led the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the march on Washington, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. He was by far one of America’s most selfless leaders in American history. It is only right to have a day out of the year to celebrate and remember all that he accomplished in his short 39 years of life.
Dr. King once said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” With all Dr. King did for his people, he stood tall by this sentiment.
Thornton Township would like to thank everyone who helped with the event and everyone who came out to the event. Please join us at our future events and next year when we host the next Martin Luther King Day Celebration.
Thornton Township once again was a winner at the annual Township Officials of Illinois Conference in Springfield. The township won two awards, which adds up to 10 awards in the past four years.
Thornton Township Supervisor Frank M. Zuccarelli was the recipient of the 2019 Robert Turner Award, presented by Sherrill Knorr, Reed Township supervisor. The Robert Turner award is given by the president of the Township Supervisors of Illinois to the supervisor who displays an extraordinary dedication to township government in their role.
Named after the late Bob Turner (1932-2008), the person who receives the award embodies the characteristic work ethic and attitude that Turner, who received the first award in 2006.
Thornton Township also received the 2019 Best Township Innovative Program, presented by Illinois Township Association of General Assistance Caseworkers President Mary Jo Imperato. Thornton Township was given this award because of its Emergency Financial Assistance program.