Gary Arnold is leaving his post as the program director of the Progress Center for Independent Living.
Finishing his almost six years in that role, he looked back at what might be called the won/lost record of his team at the nonprofit whose offices are in two locations—one in Blue Island and the other at 7521 Madison St. here in Forest Park.
At the organization’s annual meeting June 22, stakeholders in the organization celebrated the passage of SB121, the Home Modification Funding Program, which went into effect this year. As its name implies the act provides money for adding modifications like grab bars, lifts and ramps to make homes more accessible.
“The funding this program provides,” Arnold said, “allows people to stay in their homes longer. For a long time we’ve been working with limited resources. We did have one grant, but it was limited to Proviso Township and did not cover the full cost of modifications.”
The group’s service area is technically all of Suburban Cook County.
A second win was the passage this year of Source of Income legislation which was added to the Illinois Human Rights Act. According to the Chicago Association of Realtors, “The new law bans discrimination in housing based on source of income, including housing choice vouchers.”
Arnold said the work done to attain passage of the legislation in the Illinois legislature was done in partnership with other agencies like Action Illinois. “Partnering with other nonprofits is the way we do much of our advocacy work,” he said and added, “passing legislation isn’t the whole battle. Making sure that it is implemented and enforced is another part of our advocacy work.
A third action Arnold placed in the win column was the communication the nonprofit did in the disability community during COVID regarding how to obtain PPE and at times the actual distributing of protective gear.
The group led a coalition which was able to convince legislators in Springfield to pass legislation about a year ago that created a Functional Needs Advisory Committee which gives guidance to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, the state version of FEMA, on disaster preparedness for people with disabilities.
“We also had a staff person,” he said, “who took the initiative in a statewide effort to let people with disabilities know about vaccines and protective equipment like masks. At one point when masks were in short supply, we created a coalition which collected and distributed things like masks to thousands and thousands of people. I’m particularly proud of that.”
An action which might produce even more wins in the future was the addition of another staff person as a community organizer who has been working to increase the nonprofits footprint in the northern suburbs of Cook County.
Another development which can be chalked up as a win for people with disabilities is the work the group has done for the state regarding the accessibility of emergency housing assistance centers.
A final source of pride for Arnold is the creation of a support group started early in 2020 as the community was adjusting to the isolation caused by the pandemic. Concerned about the reduction in social connection, the Progress Center began hosting a Zoom check in which is still functioning today.
In the loss column, Arnold placed actions which he described as good tries which did not get the desired results.
One such loss was the attempt his organization made with yet another coalition to improve protocols in congregate settings like prisons and nursing homes to increase social distancing and provide PPE. Along with that effort was the Progress Center’s participation in the Institutional Rescue and Recovery Coalition which attempted to reduce the density of populations in congregate settings by moving residents into hotels.
Those kinds of programs require money which isn’t always there, and sometimes moving people into a better place isn’t enough. They might also require help in the form of training or personal assistants.
The new chapter in Arnold’s career will involve doing training and event work with a state agency called the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities. He and his family will continue to live in Oak Park.
When asked why he is making the transition, he replied that it has nothing to do with negative experiences at the Progress Center. “I like disability work,” he said. “I am happy with the work I did here, but now I’m looking for different opportunities and projects.”
“One of the things that makes me sad,” he said, “is leaving the community that is Forest Park.