Monday, April 18, 2016

Connecting Community: A Civic Engagement Event at Cantigny Park

by Cindy Matre, Wheaton, Illinois resident

foreword by Diane Gutenkauf, Director, Robert R. McCormick Museum

The McCormick Museum was looking for ways to engage local residents in conversations on timely issues affecting its surrounding community. In developing a program, we entered into conversations with the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Institute for Policy and Civic Engagement (IPCE). Together we decided to screen “The Line,” a film exploring the nature and implications of poverty and we invited the Peoples Resource Center (PRC) to participate. The Wheaton-based PRC provides critical services, such as adult literacy, food, and emergency financial assistance to help low income people in their move to self-sufficiency. Both organizations have received support from the McCormick Foundation.

We followed the screening with guided conversations about the movie and shared ideas on how participants can engage in the issue. After the event, one participant shared her thoughts about the experience. We’d like to share them with you.

On Sunday, April 3, I attended a free screening of the documentary film “The Line,” hosted by the Robert R. McCormick Museum at Cantigny Park, Peoples Resource Center and the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Institute for Policy and Civic Engagement. The film profiled three individuals: a suddenly unemployed dad from DuPage County, a Chicago woman and mother who lost her job after a life threatening accident, and a Louisiana fisherman who lost his livelihood after the BP gulf oil disaster. 

Each story captured in a very sensitive way, how suddenly a person’s life can change from one of financial stability to living at or below the poverty line, where overnight you go from a life of relative comfort to constant worry about whether you will have enough to sustain yourself and your family. After the film, we broke into small groups to discuss our reactions, and to think about questions such as, "What is the difference between being poor and being impoverished and, what can be done to eliminate poverty?"  

My immediate reaction to the film was a sense of vulnerability-the feeling that what happened to the individuals profiled could happen to anyone of us if faced with similar circumstances. While we did not have immediate answers to the questions raised, we agreed that increasing public awareness of poverty in our communities is critical to finding solutions and that poverty is not just someone else’s problem, its ours. We noted that everyone can do a little bit more to help those in need through a small donation or getting involved in one of the many churches and organizations that are dedicated to helping the poor. But what I noticed most was that in a mere two hours, the film and post screening discussion connected people in our community in a new way. I commend the McCormick Museum, Peoples Resource Center and UIC for hosting such a substantive event and thank the McCormick Museum specifically for providing an excellent forum for the exchange of ideas on an important social issue.

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