Erie House Hosts On the Table Dinner and Conversation

May 25, 2016 | Chicago, IL

On the Table

The Community Renewal Society's Lori Radder shares during the the On the Table event hosted by Erie House on Tuesday, May 10. FILE PHOTO

Erie Neighborhood House partnered with the Presbytery of Chicago to host an On the Table dinner and conversation on Tuesday, May 10, at the agency’s historic settlement house location in West Town.

The gathering was held in conjunction with a broad initiative sponsored by the Chicago Community Trust to promote civic dialogue. According to the Chicago Community Trust, approximately 55,000 people gathered at more than 3,500 similar events across Chicagoland in the third annual convening of the On the Table series.

Erie House participated in numerous other On the Table events in addition to the one it co-hosted, including conversations hosted by Rush University Medical Center, Erie Family Health Center, Chicago Housing Authority and the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

“This year we made a concerted effort to both host an event as well as join other conversations during On the Table,” says Erie House executive director Kirstin Chernawsky, praising the Chicago Community Trust for providing the framework for dialogue to take place.

At its own event, Erie House engaged attendees in dialogue around strengthening partnerships between faith groups and nonprofit organizations while sharing a meal catered by LYFE Kitchen.

It was a great opportunity to come together and discuss the potential for increased collaboration between faith groups and nonprofit organizations,” says Chernawsky. “We were grateful to be able to host this conversation and look forward to translating some of the ideas that emerged into action.”

The setting for the dialogue seemed appropriate enough. Erie House traces its roots back to 1870, when it first opened its doors in Chicago’s industrial West Town neighborhood as Holland Presbyterian Church. By 1915 the organization had incorporated, but a Presbyterian minister served as director and a church congregation continued to meet on-site well into the second half of the twentieth century.

Today that relationship is not nearly as visible but nevertheless important. The Presbytery of Chicago still owns the deed to the land at 1347 W Erie St, and a handful of area congregations partner with Erie House through volunteer activities, monetary donations and the agency’s annual Holidays with Heart gift drive and distribution to families in need.

The majority of the evening’s conversation focused on ways to strengthen some of these partnerships, both at Erie House as well as on a broader scale.

Lori Radder, congregational organizer at Community Renewal Society, asserted that faith groups and nonprofit organizations can influence social change when they work together.

Radder’s faith-based organization strives to equip individuals and communities with the resources they need to address racism and poverty, and she noted that in her experience this is most successful when individuals are engaged in what she described as “transformational” work.

“If we want to see justice happen, we need to get to the root of [injustice],” she said during the conversation.

Longtime Erie House stakeholder and former board member Nancy Vincent was also present for the dialogue. She observed that the relationship between a faith community and a nonprofit organization is mutually beneficial more often than not, particularly when the faith group is responsive to the vision of its members.

“Lay leadership can drive investment in communities and projects,” explained Vincent, reflecting on her own experiences at Union Church in Hinsdale, Ill. She also pointed out that her grandchildren have become involved at Erie House through rewarding volunteer work and suggested these sorts of partnerships can help engage younger individuals in building stronger, healthier communities.

Chernawsky is excited about the possibilities emerging from the conversation that took place. “Our staff felt energized by the On the Table event,” she says, “and we’re determined to explore how we can partner with faith groups in increasingly meaningful ways. It feels like a win-win scenario.”


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