The Public Square

WILL - The Public Square - February 04, 2011

Lillian Driver on the 5th & Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign and Ameren toxic waste at the site

Hello. My name is Lillian Driver and I am a resident of the 5th and Hill neighborhood in Champaign, where the Ameren toxic site is located.

During the past three years, my family and I have been a part of the 5th & Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign. With the help of the Champaign County Health Care Consumers, we have been working to make sure that Ameren cleans up all of the toxic waste that has spread into our neighborhood from their former manufactured gas plant. Toxic chemicals from Amerens property, like cancer-causing benzene, have been found in the soil and groundwater in our neighborhood.

Right now, Ameren is cleaning up their toxic property but the Illinois EPA, is only making Ameren clean up the soil on their property, not the toxic groundwater.

Ameren does not have to clean up the toxic groundwater because the City of Champaign passed a city-wide groundwater restriction ordinance in 2007, and under the Illinois EPAs rules, Ameren can use this ordinance to get off the hook for having to clean up the toxic groundwater.

Residents of the City of Champaign and surrounding communities need to know that this groundwater ordinance is bad environmental policy, and it doesnt just apply to Ameren. It opens the door for any polluter, such as gas stations, laundry cleaners, factories and others to contaminate our groundwater with toxic waste, and never have to clean it up.

This ordinance is based on the faulty logic that toxic contaminated groundwater is not harmful to human health as long as people are prohibited from drinking it. However, as a resident of the 5th & Hill neighborhood, I know that toxic groundwater can flood our homes and create vapors that enter our homes, and put our health at risk.

The only purpose of this groundwater ordinance is to save polluters money. But it comes at the expense of the health of the city's residents and it compromises an important natural resource our groundwater.

Fortunately, on Tuesday, February 8th, the Champaign City Council will be holding a Study Session to consider amending or repealing this harmful groundwater ordinance.

Please come and stand with the residents of the 5th & Hill Neighborhood in calling for the repeal of this harmful groundwater ordinance at the Study Session on Tuesday, February 8 at 7 p.m. at the Champaign City Building.

For more information, call Champaign County Health Care Consumers at (217) 352-6533. I hope to see you on Tuesday!

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WILL - The Public Square - November 05, 2010

Beth Kirchgesner on Public Engagement programs offered by the University of Illinois

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has a rich tradition of commitment to public engagement. Our faculty, staff, and students engage with the community to help address the needs of society and to advance discovery and the application of knowledge. Public engagement plays an integral part of the University's mission to "transform lives and serve society."

The Universitys goal is to apply the knowledge and expertise of faculty and staff members to issues of societal importance for the public good. By engaging the community, teaching and research are often enriched or led in new directions. But how do we reach the community? How do we communicate the programs we offer and how does the community find information to address their needs?

The Public Engagement Portal, found at, is designed to be the most comprehensive source for information about public engagement programs and events offered by the Urbana-Champaign campus.

You will find descriptions and contact information for a variety of University-related programs and events that are intended for the public, including workshops, seminars, summer camps, and festivals.

Two years ago we started with a vision of a single site that could help connect the Universitys resources with the publics needs. Now we manage a tool that shares about 1,000 ongoing and upcoming programs, with thousands of residents searching the information each month. Weve worked hard to make both searching for and entering information easier, with an emphasis on accessibility.

And now were working to make it more visible. Do you know what programs and events the University offers? Is your information represented? Visit to find out.

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WILL - The Public Square - October 29, 2010

Shirbie Faulkner a Medicare Enrollment Workshop, November 3rd at the Champaign Public Library

Hello, my name is Shirbie Faulkner and I am a Medicare beneficiary from Champaign. I want to tell anyone who has Medicare, or who is caring for someone with Medicare, about a great event coming up next week.

It is a workshop on Medicare and Part D Open Enrollment, and new changes to Medicare under national health reform. The workshop will be on Wednesday, November 3rd at 10:30 a.m. at the Champaign Public Library.

There are some excellent new benefits that were created by national health reform that all seniors and people with disabilities who have Medicare should be aware of. For instance, starting in January, all preventive care, such as annual check-ups, mammograms, and colonoscopies will be covered without a co-pay or deductible. This will save seniors a lot of money and make important preventive care more accessible.

A lot of seniors also have questions right now because the confusing time of the year known as Open Enrollment begins on November 15th. Open Enrollment is the only time of the year when Medicare beneficiaries can look at their current Part D prescription drug plan and Medicare Advantage plan to see if it is working for them and change it if necessary.

We are flooded with information on the different plans and changes for next year and many of us dont know where to turn for help to sort it all out.

That is why the Champaign County Health Care Consumers will be holding a workshop to help us navigate through this hectic and confusing time of year.

The workshop is called Help for Medicare Beneficiaries: New Medicare Benefits and Tips for Part D Open Enrollment. It will be held at the Champaign Public Library on Wednesday, November 3rd at 10:30 a.m.

Bryan Padget from the Senior Health Insurance Program, will take some time to explain the new benefits for seniors that have been created by national health reform and when we can expect to see them.

Andrea Butler from Family Service Senior Resource Center will then speak about changes in the coming year for Medicare Part D and helpful state programs such as IL Cares Rx.

Finally, members of Health Care Consumers Medicare Task Force will also speak about how everyone can get involved in our local efforts fix Part D and protect Medicare beneficiaries rights.

This workshop will be free and open to the public and I would encourage anyone who has Medicare or is taking care of someone with Medicare to join us.

If you would like more information, or to RSVP, call CCHCC at (217) 352-6533. Thank you.

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WILL - The Public Square - October 15, 2010

Durl Kruse on the 10th Anniversary of the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center

Hello. My name is Durl Kruse. This year, an all-too unrecognized local institution is celebrating its 10th anniversary. That institution is the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center, usually referred to simply as the IMC.

The IMC's mission is to use media production and distribution as tools for promoting social and economic justice in the Champaign County area. It accomplishes this mission through the creation and distribution of media, art and narratives emphasizing underrepresented voices and perspectives while promoting empowerment and expression through media and arts education.

In 2005, five years after its founding, supporters raised funds to acquire the historic Post Office building in downtown Urbana and have put their investment to good use for the community ever since.

During the IMC's first ten years, a number of significant organizations have developed under its broad non-profit umbrella: a monthly newspaper named The Public I, providing an outlet for local voices on social issues; a low-watt radio station, WRFU found at FM 104.5, doing the same but with music and culture thrown into the mix; the Books-to-Prisoners program bringing literacy, learning and personal growth to inmates throughout Illinois; the Bike Project; and many others. It should be noted that the Books-to-Prisoners program won a Governors Hometown Service Award in 2009. Information about these and many more of the IMC's programs can be found on its website

Tomorrow evening, October 16, from 7:00-9:00 in the Post Office Building at the corner of Broadway and Elm in Urbana, the IMC is hosting an Open House in celebration of its 10th anniversary to offer the public an opportunity to see its facilities, learn about its programs and meet its staff and volunteers.

In addition, dedicated IMC members will announce creation of a Sustaining Fund to insure the financial viability and stability of this vital community institution for years to come. Contributions will be used to pay down the mortgage, underwrite annual physical operations, and provide for emergency expenditures. People are encouraged to consider contributing to the Sustaining Fund and showing their support for the IMC.

Please consider taking some time tomorrow evening to come by and learn more about the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center. Thank you.

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WILL - The Public Square - October 01, 2010

Mel Lacy on Ameren’s toxic waste in a Champaign residential neighborhood

Hello. My name is Mel Lacy and I am a resident of the 5th and Hill neighborhood in Champaign, where the Ameren toxic site is located.

I live right across the street from Amerens toxic site, and my wife and I are working with our fellow neighbors as part of the 5th and Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign. The 5th & Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign is organized by Champaign County Health Care Consumers, along with 5th & Hill residents. We are working to make sure the Ameren toxic site is cleaned up all the way and that the rights, and the health, of residents and former residents are protected.

I would like to invite everyone to a very special community meeting on Monday, October 4 at 6 p.m. at Provena Covenant Medical Center, to meet with expert environmental consultants who will talk about the 5th & Hill toxic site and the residents concerns.

The Campaign is fortunate to be working with the law firms of Kennedy & Madonna, and Weitz & Luxenberg, and their environmental engineers, Bob Bowcock and Mark Zeko to investigate the toxic site.

Both men have worked on some of our nations most tragic environmental disasters including the recent BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and we are glad to have them working for us.

Mr. Bowcock and Mr. Zeko have begun to conduct tests for toxic vapors in the homes of several neighborhood residents, including my own, to see if the contamination from the site could be spreading to homes, and posing a threat to residents who live in the neighborhood.

The results from their preliminary tests, including those from my own home, show that there is a reasonable concern that the toxic contamination can pose a threat to the health of neighborhood residents. The October 4 meeting is a special opportunity for residents and concerned community members to hear from these national experts about the 5th & Hill toxic site and what it means for groundwater in the area, and for the health and safety of residents.

The experts will discuss the research and testing they have already conducted in the neighborhood, what they are asking of the IL EPA on behalf of the residents, and their experiences working on other sites.

I encourage all neighborhood residents, as well as any concerned members of our community, wherever you live, to come out to get more information and ask questions.

Again, I invite you to join us on Monday, October 4 at 6 p.m. in Provena Hospitals first floor conference room to learn more about the 5th and Hill toxic site and what it means for our community.

For more information, call Champaign County Health Care Consumers at (217) 352-6533. Thank You.

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WILL - The Public Square - September 24, 2010

Cheryl Precious on the 2010 Hunger Symposium, sponsored by Illinois Public Media and the Eastern Ill

Cheryl Precious on the 2010 Hunger Symposium, sponsored by Illinois Public Media and the Eastern Illinois Foodbank
Cheryl Precious on the 2010 Hunger Symposium, sponsored by Illinois Public Media and the Eastern Illinois Foodbank

Right now in eastern Illinois, one in six kids is wondering if there will be food at home tonight.

If you really stop and think about that, its hard to believe. Imagine six kids you know. Who could be your one in six?

Though its often hidden from view in our community, hunger is very real for thousands of children living right here in eastern Illinois. It takes many forms, from a boy getting in trouble for rushing the lunch line at school, to a mom quietly skipping a meal so her daughter can eat.

Indeed, in the fourteen counties that make up the Eastern Illinois Foodbanks service area, more than nineteen thousand kids live in poverty. Many more than that are believed to live in food insecure households.

Meanwhile, there are a number of programs and services, both public and private, that are working to eradicate childhood hunger. There are government-subsidized programs like WIC, the Emergency Food Program, SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), and the national school lunch and breakfast programs. Then, there are the collective efforts of a vast network of private nonprofits like food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, after school programs, and dozens of other agencies serving kids.

Is this just redundancy? Or is it a strategic, multi-lateral approach to a problem thats bigger than any singular solution? The answer may be a little of both. But over the years it has become painfully apparent that getting kids fed is going to require the collaborative efforts of many.

We invite you to engage in a conversation about this big and troubling issue. At the end of this month, Illinois Public Media and the Eastern Illinois Foodbank are once again teaming up to bring you the 2010 Hunger Symposium, this year with a focus on childhood hunger. Five expert panelists will discuss the impact of childhood hunger on our kids and our communities, and will help us identify our best potential solutions.

The Symposium will be held at Illinois Terminal on Monday, September twenty-seventh at six thirty pm. All are invited and welcome to attend.

For more information, please visit the Eastern Illinois Foodbanks website at

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WILL - The Public Square - September 17, 2010

Gary Storm on Initiatives of Change International, an NGO promoting peace between Israel and Palesti

Gary Storm on Initiatives of Change International, an NGO promoting peace between Israel and Palestine
Gary Storm on Initiatives of Change International, an NGO promoting peace between Israel and Palestine

My name is Gary Storm. I am a resident of Urbana and a member of the Urbana-Champaign Peace Initiative.

Over the past summer, Rajmohan Ghandi, a human rights and peace activist and Research Professor at the Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies here at UIUC, traveled to the West Bank and Israel. He did so as President of Initiatives of Change International, an NGO in Special Consultative Status with the United Nations. His purpose was to learn more about local efforts to employ non-violent means for achieving peace in the area and to promote such approaches among both Palestinians and Israelis. As the grandson of Mahatma Ghandi and a life long student of non-violence, Rajmohan seemed just the right person for these tasks.

When the Urbana-Champaign Peace Initiative, a new group promoting community education, learned of Professor Ghandis trip, it approached him about sharing his experiences with the UC community upon his return. He agreed to do so, and a program has been scheduled this coming Sunday afternoon at 2:30 in the Champaign Public Library. It is being called, The Role of Non-Violence in Palestinian-Israeli Relations: A Conversation with Rajmohan Ghandi.

As it turns out, the timing of this Conversation could not have been more fortuitous. Not only are diplomatic efforts currently underway to promote direct negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis, but the United Nations annual International Day of Peace is September 21, two days after the Library program. As a result, the UC Peace Initiative hopes to build upon energy and ideas generated by the conversation with Professor Ghandi and host a second meeting on Peace Day where proposals for follow-up activities can identified and later pursued. Details about this follow-up meeting will be given at the close of the Library session.

In an article in the New York Times last spring just before Professor Ghandis trip, Ethan Bronner wrote, Something is stirring in the West Bank. With both diplomacy and armed struggle out of favor for failing to end the Israeli occupation, a third way was emerging, one that was avoiding violence. Please come to the Champaign Public Library this Sunday at 2:30 to learn more about and to discuss the potential of this third, non-violent, way of working toward peace in the Middle East. Thank you.

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WILL - The Public Square - June 18, 2010

Renee Matthews on donating umbilical cord blood

Becoming a mother is an amazing thing. It's a joyous event that is shared by you, your family, and your friends. But your joy and love can reach much farther than that. Because thousands of people with life-threatening diseases like leukemia could be helped with the right cord blood match.

My name is Dr. Renee Matthews, and as a professional educator for Illinois' local cord blood bank, ITXM Clinical Services, I have seen how cord blood gives patients and families hope. Mothers like Jenifer Crespo of Chicago who celebrates being a mom every day, thanks to another mother's decision to donate her baby's umbilical cord blood. Jenifer calls her daughter Makayla her small miracle. Makayla was born 24 weeks premature, only to be diagnosed with leukemia shortly after. But thanks to a cord blood transplant, Jenifer has been able to watch her small miracle grow into an energetic third grader.

Makayla's donor was anonymous, so Jenifer was never able to thank the woman and her child for their life-saving gift, a gift that too few expectant mothers know they have the option of giving.

In the past, umbilical cords were thrown away. But today, blood from the umbilical cord can be collected after your baby's birth and donated to a public cord blood bank. More cord blood from the people in our community means more patients - like Makayla - will get the transplant they need.

Donating is simple. There is no cost to you, and labor, delivery, and the health of your baby are not affected. After donation, the cord blood units are listed on the Be The Match Registry for any patient searching for a match.

I only wish that more expectant parents knew about this simple opportunity to give others hope. I urge you to talk to your doctor and ask how you can donate - or contact Chicago's local cord blood bank, ITxM Clinical Services at, or 1-877-GIV-CORD. More information is also available at Again, that's

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WILL - The Public Square - May 21, 2010

Allison Jones on Gender Discrimination in Health Care

My name is Allison Jones, and I work for Champaign County Health Care Consumers, a local non-profit, health care advocacy organization. Although I work for health care justice every day through my job, I am a victim of gender discrimination by my health insurance company. Through my position at CCHCC, I am provided with health insurance coverage through Personal Care, one of the main insurers in our county. Over the last three years, the cost of monthly premiums has increased for all staff approximately 30% annually. These sorts of rate hikes drastically hurt small businesses and non-profit organizations struggling in a tough economy. But if the rate hikes alone weren't enough, Personal Care also charges drastically higher rates for female employees versus male employees - a process called "gender rating" in the insurance world. Gender rating is simply a fancy term for discrimination based on gender.

I am a 26 year old healthy female who doesn't smoke and exercises regularly. Each month, CCHCC pays $470.91 for my health insurance. A male in my age group, however, is charged only $190.75 - a nearly 150% difference. In fact, in our plan, any man younger than 50 years old is charged less in premiums than any woman over 25 years old. CCHCC is a small organization, with a staff of only six, five of whom are female. If CCHCC could pay the male premium rates for all it's employees, the organization would save nearly $12,000 this year alone.

Unfortunately in Illinois, there are no laws protecting women against the use of gender rating as a factor in the small group or individual insurance markets. Thankfully, the practice of gender discrimination will be outlawed thanks to the new health reform law passed by Congress. In 2014, health insurance companies will no longer be able to base premiums on gender, and for that, I'm extremely thankful.

If you would like to learn more about the new national health care reform law and what it means for you, please join me at the Community Meeting on Health Reform on Wednesday, May 26, 2010 at 6:00pm at the Champaign Public Library. At the meeting we will discuss different health reform provisions, when they take effect, local resources and programs, and the need for continued advocacy. If you have any questions or would like to attend the meeting, call CCHCC at (217) 352-6533 or visit us on the web at

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WILL - The Public Square - April 16, 2010

Barbara Kessel on “Pages for Pennies,” a book sale to benefit Books to Prisoners happening Friday, A

Barbara Kessel on "Pages for Pennies," a book sale to benefit Books to Prisoners happening Friday, April 16 through Sunday, April 18.
Barbara Kessel on "Pages for Pennies," a book sale to benefit Books to Prisoners happening Friday, April 16 through Sunday, April 18.

My name is Barbara Kessel and I am a volunteer with Books to Prisoners, an organization that collects donated books from the community and ships them to individual inmates at the 28 state prisons for adults + five federal penitentiaries in Illinois. We have always imagined that our efforts supplemented the prison libraries However, we discovered recently that the state budget crisis began to affect the prisons seven years ago, long before it has hit us in schools and social services. In these seven years, the prison libraries have not had any budget to purchase anything, - books, newspapers, magazines or scotch tape. Many of them are shut down for lack of a librarian.

We would like to call your attention as taxpayers to the fact that recidivism for 2009 in the state of Illinois was 51%, that is, over half of the prisoners released, return for another incarceration. Research has shown that any kind of educational factor while in prison - such as access to reading material - reduces recidivism by as much as one third. If the recidivism were reduced by 1/3 in Illinois that could save us $17 million, not to mention the human savings of making families whole again.

Our own efforts here in Champaign-Urbana make a modest but significant difference to thousands of prisoners. You can be part of that by coming to our book sale where we make the money to pay postage. The Book Sale, "Pages for Pennies" is going on today, Friday from 4 to 8, tomorrow 8 to 5 and Sunday 10 to 2 at the old Post Office in Urbana, Broadway and Elm.

However, it is impossible for us to replace the prison libraries. Thus, we urge you to help us with your ideas for how to keep open access to books in prison, to talk to your state legislator, or to join us in a campaign of working with the Illinois Department of Corrections to maintain the prisoners' right to read, so they can take the smart way out and never return., website of Books to Prisoners.

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