Each year I am asked to speak at the DuPage County Prayer Breakfast. Each year I am asked for a copy of my remarks, so I am happy to post them here and wish everyone Happy Holidays!
DuPage County Prayer Breakfast - Dec. 13, 2018
Chairman Dan Cronin
Thanks to Barbara Chang and the breakfast committee, for inviting me each year to share some time with you. As always, I’m grateful for this opportunity to pause and reflect on the gifts this year has brought us.
The stories I want to share are actually very simple. But first, I have to make a confession. When it comes to Christmas, I’m a bit of a Grinch – at least that’s what my wife tells me. Don’t get me wrong, we make sure there are plenty of packages under the tree each year. But as I get older, I find it more important to keep my focus and my family’s focus on the gathering, the stories we trade, the laughter and frankly, on the gratitude we should feel just for our ability to come together.
When the holidays approach, I think the focus should be less on the presents and more on the gifts we’ve been given.
I want to take a moment to tell you about two experiences I’ve had recently in my role as DuPage County Chairman that illustrate this idea.
The first story centers on a young caseworker in our Community Services Department who hadn’t heard from one of her clients enrolled in a County social service program for a while. She called his home in unincorporated DuPage. No answer. She stopped by once, knocked on the door, knocked on the basement window. No response. She noted the lack of response and went back to the office. This caseworker, Michelle Singer, read through the file. The client had no family involved. He couldn’t really get around well and was pretty much limited to one room in his home. Michelle couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong.
The next day, she went back to the home, knocked again to no response. When she noticed the man’s mail hadn’t been taken in, she called the Sheriff and asked the deputy for a well-being check on her client. Sure enough, when they entered the home, they found the client had fallen and broken his shoulder and couldn’t get up. He was barely conscious, dehydrated. Without Michelle listening to the voice telling her to keep going back, that client would surely have died. Today, he is recovering in the hospital and the county is working on arrangements so his long term medical, social and housing needs can be met.
I know this story because I recently met with Michelle to thank her for such faithful service. What struck me about our meeting was that Michelle came armed with letters about the value of the program she works for…one that ensures seniors and the disabled receive the care they need. She didn’t want the focus to be on her or her actions, but on the good the program does for the community’s neediest residents. Michelle Singer is a true gift to DuPage County and the type of person we don’t recognize often enough.
About a week ago, I joined 16 other public officials as together we were inaugurated into office. This is my third term as Chairman. It was gratifying to raise my right hand and take the oath of office with my wife, Juli, next to me. But, one of the high points of the evening was the few minutes I had reserved to meet with Jesse Hernandez, ahead of the ceremony. Jesse is the first person who worked as an intern in a new program we started between DuPage County and Turning Pointe Autism Foundation in Naperville. Turning Pointe helps people with autism develop job skills so they can be employed.
Earlier this year, we partnered with Turning Pointe to provide internships for people like Jesse who needed work experience. Well, it turns out, the internship has gone wonderfully and Jesse has joined County as a member of our housekeeping staff. It’s a small step in a program that we hope will grow by leaps and bounds.
Having Jesse as an employee is a gift because it reminds me, that in my role as Chairman, I can help create connections between people in need and opportunity. It’s hard for me to describe how important a job is to a family who’s not sure what the future holds for their beloved son or daughter. I can guarantee you, no matter what’s under the tree this year, connecting people with disabilities to jobs in their community is one of the gifts I treasure in my role as a public servant.
This breakfast was created out of the notion that we office holders need your prayers and support to help us do our jobs well. Together, we create strong communities. That notion is not new. Ecclesiastes celebrates partnerships saying, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
Our collective faith – no matter the religion – makes up those powerful strands.
That strength is of note this week. Six years ago, tomorrow, is the anniversary of a day that changed the lives of 26 families in Newtown, Connecticut.
I was moved by a book called, “Choosing Hope” written by a Sandy Hook Elementary School teacher who pulled her first-grade students into a tiny bathroom, no larger than a closet, to protect them from a gunman on December 14, 2012. On a day when 26 people died, Kaitlin Roig saved her 16 first-graders and herself. Despite a terrible journey through years of anger, despair, pain and sadness, Kaitlin writes that she’s chosen a path of hope. In her book, Kaitlin quotes Desmond Tutu who said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness.”
Six years later, Augie Siriano, a custodian, was cleaning another restroom at the Tree of Life synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood in Pittsburgh, when the shots from another gunman rang out last month. Just three weeks later, he told the Associated Press, his heart was filled with both sadness and gratitude.
He explained, those who died were like brothers to him. But he recognized the enormous gift he’d been given – his first Thanksgiving with his newborn grandson. Those in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood report countless acts of kindness demonstrated following the act of violence. A sign in the window of a Squirrel Hill business thanks people for acts of “Tikum Olam,” the Jewish concept of repairing the world.
We won’t see Augie Siriano, Kaitlin Roig, Jesse Hernandez or Michelle Singer’s names in the headlines anytime soon. But I hope you’ll hold them in your heart. Their stories remind us to focus on the gifts in our lives. They remind us to celebrate the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.
We, as public servants, must reflect on and strive to embody these qualities in our work. How? Mother Theresa left us step by step instructions in a prayer she created. She said, in part, “The biggest men, and women with the biggest ideas, can be shot down by the smallest men, and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.
People really need help but may attack you, if you do help them. Help people anyway.
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.”
I think Mother Theresa knew the ways of the political world as well as she knew the streets of Calcutta.
May her words inspire us all, this holiday season, as we focus on the gifts, not the presents. This breakfast and your faith is a gift which inspires me every year.
I thank you for that faith and your friendship. From the DuPage County Board, Dan, Juli and all the Cronins, please accept our best wishes for a joyful holiday season. Thanks again for this marvelous invitation to speak. God bless.