Multicultural Task Force nurtures diversity in Lincolnwood parks programs
Beryl Herman, Multicultural Task Force chair, and Jan Springer, superintendent of Recreation, pose for a photograph at Lincolnwood Village Hall on Oct. 8. | Michael Jarecki~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 10, 2012 1:57AM
LINCOLNWOOD — Catering to the varied needs of diverse populations sometimes proves difficult but the Lincolnwood Parks and Recreation Department is up to the challenge.
With the help of a newly formed Multicultural Task Force, the department aims to reach families and children of different ethnic backgrounds to learn what recreation looks like in their cultures in order to strengthen its programming options.
“Lincolnwood is very unique because of the variety of culture,” said Director of Parks and Recreation Jan Hincapie. “We really want people to know they are welcome.”
The task force is a by-product of the department’s comprehensive master plan, which the village board approved in May 2011.
The group first met the past spring and reconvened most recently on Oct. 9.
Heading the Multicultural Task Force are Superintendent of Recreation Jan Springer and longtime community-service volunteer Beryl Herman.
Herman began volunteering with Lincolnwood School District 74 while her children were in school. The district later hired her to assist with an influx of English-language learners, a position she would hold for three decades.
“The numbers came in and the administration became aware it was a challenge that had to be faced,” she said. “The administration has always been sensitive to the needs of these kids.”
Upon retirement eight years ago Herman spearheaded the creation of an after-school program to assist ELL students with homework and offer additional time to practice English.
She now supervises roughly a dozen teachers who meet with students about three times per week for small-group instruction.
“It’s a much-needed program,” she said.
Herman said student-demographics data collected by schools is a good indicator of the town’s diversity.
In 2011 District 74 reported that 72 percent, or 900 students, in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade spoke at least two languages. District-wide, children spoke a combined 43 foreign languages. The number of limited-English-proficient pupils was 220.
Local high schools reflect the same figures. At Niles Township High School District 219, which includes Lincolnwood, Skokie, and parts of Morton Grove and Niles, six out of every 10 students reported speaking a language other than English at home, according to community-relations director Jim Szczepaniak.
About 20-percent of the district’s current 4,900-student body was born outside the United States, he added.
In Lincolnwood, the small suburb is home to a sizable population of residents from Pakistan, India, Korea and China, Herman said.
Urdu and Hindi are the most prevalent foreign languages, she said, followed by Assyrian.
“We are a highly diverse community considering our size,” Herman said.
Herman is volunteering her time with the Parks and Recreation Department to recruit community members who could suggest program ideas that would appeal to many of the village’s ethnic groups.
Cultural values and norms are some of the factors the department considers when developing programs and services.
Hincapie has noticed, for example, that family-friendly events are sometimes better-attended than individual activities, and that music may be one way for the department to draw more people from different backgrounds.
Concert series are often appropriate for all ages, Hincapie said, thus allowing a family to leisure together.
Involving residents with tight ties to their religious communities is a struggle, Herman said.
She said women’s-only swimming is one issue in particular that repeatedly comes up.
Because it doesn’t own an indoor pool the department hasn’t found a way to offer the activity in a manner that patrons would find comfortable, she said.
Herman expects the Multicultural Task Force would help find strategies for increasing the department’s reach.
If nothing else she hopes its members would spread the word that the village’s Parks and Recreation Department is open all.
“If (residents) have an inclination to mix and mingle, they can,” Herman said.
On a village level Lincolnwood encourages inclusiveness through the work of its Human Relations Commission.
The commission was created “to encourage understanding and respect amongst residents of Lincolnwood with various racial, ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds.”
One of its most visible contributions is the sea of flags from 55 countries that line Lincoln Avenue every summer.
For more information about Multicultural Task Force contact Beryl Herman at email@example.com or (847) 745-4707.