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Forest Park’s informal environmental group will soon become an official village commission, with the aim of also certifying a local branch of Keep America Beautiful, a nonprofit that aims to end littering, improve recycling and beautify communities.

“These are all things that fit within where we want to go forward,” said Karen Rozmus, president of Keep Illinois Beautiful.

Rozmus, a Forest Park resident who started the village’s recycling program, is the former manager of the Oak Park Public Works Department’s waste reduction program, she also launched Keep Oak Park Beautiful in 2000. Starting a local chapter of Keep Forest Park Beautiful, she said, will provide additional resources and support when undertaking sustainability initiatives, like installing cigarette butt holders along Madison Street, implementing a “special event refuse enforcement officer,” holding informational meetings on composting, and more. 

“Resources, handbooks, networking, you could name any program you might want to start in Forest Park and I would have 10 examples nationwide about how they did it and how we could copy them,” Rozmus said. “It’s a great sharing organization.”  

About a year ago, Rozmus ran into Mayor Anthony Calderone at an official dinner down in Springfield, and the two started talking about creating a village sustainability commission. She told Calderone about her work for Keep Illinois Beautiful and Calderone “seemed open and excited” about starting something official from a village standpoint in Forest Park.

When she returned to Forest Park, she met with the village’s informal environmental group, Go Green Forest Park, and talked to members about next steps, asking whether they’d like to create a formal village commission or become an arm of Keep Illinois Beautiful. The group decided to do both — create a commission that will act as a board for the national affiliate.  

“So it will have both a little nonprofit organization feeling to network throughout Illinois — at schools, churches, etc. — but also have the backing and support of the village position,” Rozmus said.

When she informed Calderone, he said the village lawyer would write a new ordinance officially creating the commission. But as they paged through a binder full of village ordinances, Rozmus said they discovered a village “environmental control commission” already on the books that hadn’t been active since the 1970s. Calderone will simply appoint members to that commission, who will apply and, once certified, act as the board for Keep Forest Park Beautiful

Rozmus said “it’s not easy” to become certified through Keep America Beautiful and, depending on the town, can take 2-6 months. She said the Forest Park arm will seek involvement from other local entities, including the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce, schools, library, park district and others. “I’ve already been talking to people about coalescing in these efforts,” she said.

Rozmus hopes the village commission is formed before Calderone leaves office since, “he’s been there all along … he should be the instigator.” As for the next mayor, she hopes he “will take the ball and run with it.”