Thornton Township received the Illinois Township of the Year award recently at the annual Township of Illinois Annual Educational Conference in Springfield. The township received the award previously in 2004 and 2008.
The largest township in Illinois, Thornton Township is made up of all or part of 17 south suburban communities. The township provides a general assistance program offering financial relief for qualified residents. In addition, the township registers voters, helps with homeowners and senior citizen homestead exemptions, food assistance program, free family counseling, after school homework tutoring and weekly senior programs.
Also this year, the township provided property tax refund checks to more than 15,000 residents worth more than $1 million total. Township voters also passed three November referendums giving officials an opportunity to expand mental health, youth programs and homelessness outreach in the future.
“We are very proud of the hard work our staff does to provide the highest quality of service to our community,” said Frank M. Zuccarelli, Thornton Township supervisor. “Our motto is ‘people working with people’ and we truly believe that township government is at the ground floor of providing the necessary programs that communities need. We are honored and humbled by this award and that the Township of Illinois recognizes the hard work we have put in this year to help our local residents.”
Thornton Township received the award for many of the programs that continue to run and expand during the past year. Many state run Meals on Wheels programs have cut down the number of days they offer food, with many seniors on a long waiting list for services.
But at Thornton Township’s Food Assistance Center, they currently serve more than 3,000 families per month with more than 350 boxes of nourishing food delivered each week directly to the homes of senior residents who are shut-ins. The food assistance team continuously talks to residents and asks them about the type of foods they need.
Because of state funding many organizations can no longer offer transportation services for seniors. Just this year, Senior Services Plus, which was a bus transportation for seniors, shut down for the first time in 43 years. Some of the Catholic Charities USA around the Chicagoland area had to cut or alter their senior transportation services.
However, the township has filled that void by a record number of rides to medical appointments and grocery stores. The Senior Transportation Department provides trips for the people of the Township that are 60-years of age and older. That population, the “Baby Boomers” over 60, is growing every day. For the last three consecutive years, Senior Transportation has broken records for completed trips every year. The township averages picking up more than 160 seniors each weekday.
In addition, with employment higher than the national average in south suburban cities and towns, the township has helped match unemployed residents with purposeful, long-term job opportunities. During the past eighteen months, 87 township residents have found meaningful, long-term positions and are no longer on General Assistance.
Understanding that in times of budget crunches, collaboration becomes even more important, this aggressive effort is being done in collaboration with South Suburban College, which provides skills-building workshops to help participants develop and present better job interview capabilities. The township also runs GED programs where students can receive more personal attention because of its focus on smaller class sizes.
The township also has a robust youth and adult program that features free family counseling and after school tutoring and programs in Dolton and Riverdale.
“We understand the importance of working together for a common goal,” added Zuccarelli. “We are here to serve the people and make sure that we build each other up and we build our communities up. We are able to accomplish this because we have a strong board of trustees who care about the community and a strong management team in all areas working to make sure we provide the best services possible.”