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Safe Schools Alliance advances PHIMC partnership [UPDATE]
by Matt Simonette
2019-10-30

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Illinois Safe Schools Alliance ( the Alliance ) has been putting the finishing touches on a merger with the Public Health Institute of Metropolitan Chicago ( PHIMC ).

The Alliance has long advocated on behalf of LGBT students in Illinois schools, contributing to anti-bullying efforts and participating in legislative pushes such as the one that recently made LGBT history a mandatory part of the state's curriculum. PHIMC has more often than not been a behind-the-scenes player in public health initiatives.

"Our primary focus is to collaborate with public health and healthcare systems to promote equity and access to care," said Executive Director Karen Reitan, emphasizing that PHIMC does not provide direct services to clients. " … We work with government and non-government public health and healthcare organizations to improve the quality of services that people get."

PHIMC has 26 people on staff and has a budget of about $13 million, which is composed of city, state and federal money and a variety of private grants from local organizations, Reitan added.

In May 2017, the Alliance lost a key grant and faced serious questions about its long-term sustainability, said Mary Morten, the Alliance's co-founder and former board chair, who is now a PHIMC board member.

The Alliance was looking to "concentrate more on programs, and less time on back-office [tasks]," added Morten. "That was our focus: How could we find a strategic partner with whom we had some commonality that we would become partners with?"

Morten said that the Alliance looked at about six local organizations as potential partners, but said that there was the most commonality between it and PHIMC, especially since PHIMC has done extensive work on school health issues. The merger was completed in July 2019.

"It was really an unexpected and fortuitous match," Morten said.

"There is a wealth of experience and expertise within PHIMC, added Nat Duran, the Alliance's youth engagement manager. "I've been involved with the Alliance for a pretty long time, both on the staff and as a board member. We are a small but mighty and scrappy group, so one thing that got me excited about going into the merger process was that we would be moving into an organization with such a strong leadership team."

Among the projects coming up for the Alliance is its ongoing collaboration with the Legacy Project and Equality Illinois on the LGBT history curriculum coming soon to Illinois schools. Now that the curriculum has become law, the next step is actually figuring out the logistics of how the history will be taught and which materials should be used.

Morten emphasized that stakeholders are most interested in infusing the existing history curriculum with relevant information about LGBT persons.

"We really want to make sure that people understand that this in no way about anything more than saying, "Sally Ride was an extraordinary astronaut and Sally Ride was a lesbian. It is adding to that person's identity, so that young folks sitting in a classroom know that LGBTQ people made contributions."

UPDATE: A symposium planned for Nov. 9 will be rescheduled to fall 2020.

See ILSafeSchools.org/safe-schools-symposium.

For information and to register for the symposium, visit ILSafeSchools.org/safe-schools-symposium .

Related: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/IL-Safe-Schools-Alliance-Public-Health-Institute-of-Metropolitan-Chicago-merge-/66785.html .


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