Honorees at TASC 2018 Leadership Awards Luncheon: This is Just the Beginning

(Chicago) –  TASC’s 2018 Leadership Award recipients—action-driven change agents forging new pathways within their professions—humbly echoed similar themes as they accepted their awards at the agency’s annual luncheon in Chicago on December 12: Thank you, but this is just the beginning. There is much work to be done.

Bringing 250-plus guests to their feet at the Westin Michigan Avenue after their remarks, Dixon City Manager and former Police Chief Danny Langloss, Mundelein Police Chief Eric Guenther, and Chicago Beyond Leader in Residence Dr. Nneka Tapia each offered inspiring perspectives on bringing about a healthier, more just society.

Justice Leadership Awards

“Addiction and mental illness are two of the most critical issues facing every community,” said Langloss, who initiated the Safe Passage law enforcement deflection program in Dixon and Lee counties.

Pointing out that 50,000 people in the US lost their lives to overdose in 2016, and 72,000 more died in 2017, he urged, “This is unacceptable. This is a public health epidemic that we cannot arrest our way out of. Behind every death, there is a family. There is a son or a daughter. There is a husband or a wife. There is a mom or a dad. And I’ll tell you—if you’ve never done a death notification, where you go out and tell somebody for the first time that their loved one has died—it is something you’d never want to do. I’ve done this more than 50 times. This is being done across our country 72,000 times a year. It has to change.”

In presenting TASC’s Justice Leadership Awards, TASC President Pam Rodriguez praised Langloss and Guenther for taking action to stop cycles of addiction, arrest, and incarceration. “They didn’t close their eyes to the realities in front of them. Nor did they fall back on traditional law enforcement responses to drug use. Instead, they pioneered new pathways to recovery. A better way. Rather than arresting people who have overdosed or have a drug problem, they are deflecting people to treatment.”

“Substance use disorder grabs people,” said Langloss. “This is a chronic, relapsing disease. The pathway to recovery is a process; it is not an event… As we reshape this war on drugs—this failed war on drugs—we have to take a community-based approach,” he said, invoking the need for public health officials, doctors, police, faith-based partners, and people in recovery to collaborate in deflection initiatives. “This is a smart-on-crime approach. This is one of the greatest, proactive crime-fighting opportunities that we have.”

Justice Award honoree Guenther, who co-created Lake County’s A Way Out program and is an instrumental partner in the Lake County Opioid Initiative, also lauded the value of deflection. “This is actually a smart approach to crime reduction. If we can identify portions of our population that chronically commit crimes that are associated with a number of behavioral health issues—and work at helping them with those behavioral health issues—then we are actually addressing the root cause and the true origin of crime.”

Over 23 years in law enforcement, Guenther noted that in interviewing hundreds of candidates, the response to ‘Why do you want to be a police officer?’ is invariably a version of, ‘Because I want to help people.’

“Deflection makes sense for a number of reasons,” Guenther continued. “Decreasing crime, incarceration, and recidivism rates, saving taxpayer dollars, lessening the burden on the criminal justice system. But probably most important, it reinforces for thousands of us why we said we wanted to be police officers: because we wanted to help people. Not some people. All people.”

He implored attendees to hold public officials accountable for looking at their professions and figuring out better ways to be successful. “Is that not my job?” he asked. “Reform to me is an opportunity for me to change my profession and to give back to the people that I swore I would help.”

Together with TASC, Chiefs Guenther and Langloss spearheaded Senate Bill 3023, which authorizes and encourages the implementation of pre-arrest diversion programs across Illinois. The first bill of its kind in the country, it was signed into law in August.

Public Voice Leadership Award

“When it comes to understanding the impact of addiction and trauma on families, and the need for comprehensive responses, few people have the depth of understanding and compassion that our Public Voice Leadership honoree has,” Rodriguez said in introducing TASC’s 2018 Public Voice Leadership Award. “Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia is a true role model when it comes to cross-systems collaboration.”

As executive director at the Cook County Department of Corrections, Tapia and her team were critical partners in bringing the Supportive Release Center into being. Her singular expertise as both a psychologist and corrections executive has made her a recognized and passionate advocate for mental wellness, criminal justice reform, and interventions for youth. Today she is working with Chicago Beyond to advance trauma-informed care for young people impacted by violence and parental incarceration, in order to help them achieve their full potential.

“When I first learned that I was receiving the Public Voice Leadership Award, I started to think about the thousands of Chicago voices that are muted, the thousands of Chicago voices that we don’t allow ourselves to hear,” offered Tapia as she accepted her award. “These are the mothers and the fathers and the sons and daughters that end up in our criminal justice system, that end up in our emergency rooms, and that end up on a 911 call. And then I started to think, what would it look like—what would Chicago look like—if we heard those voices before they ended up in our criminal justice system, before they ended up in our emergency rooms, and before they ended up on our 911 calls? Can you imagine what Chicago would look like? Our emergency rooms would be less crowded, our jails would have more beds than people, our kids would be able to play without having to hear gunshots. That’s the world that we look forward to.”

During Tapia’s tenure at the Cook County Jail, she was instrumental in creating programs that supported pathways to health in the community and reduced recidivism. “At one point in my career, Cook County Jail had 10,000 inmates. When I left, we had less than 6,000,” she said. Now as a leader in residence at Chicago Beyond, “and with the support of wonderful organizations like TASC and so many others, we can bring this cycle of incarceration to an end,” Tapia said. “When our youth are healed, our community will be healed. But until that happens, it is our collective responsibility to raise our voice.”

Special Announcements and Acknowledgments

The formal luncheon program concluded with the surprise announcement of a major gift from 2016 Public Voice honoree John Greene and his wife, Jean Greene. Moved by TASC’s work and by their affection for Peter Palanca, who retired in 2017 as TASC’s executive vice president and COO, they were on hand to hear Rodriguez make the announcement:  “I am thrilled and grateful to announce the creation of the Peter Palanca Endowment Fund at TASC.”

Thanking TASC’s supporters, partners, board members, and staff, Rodriguez also welcomed four past TASC Leadership Award Recipients in attendance: TASC founder Melody Heaps (2010), retired WGN news anchor Robert Jordan (2013), State Senator Mattie Hunter (2014); and Greene. In addition to Hunter, other elected officials at the luncheon included State Senator Melinda Bush, State Rep. LaShawn Ford, and Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Nerheim.

TASC Board Chair Michelle Montgomery opened the program with gratitude for TASC’s supporters, including the event’s elite sponsor, Alkermes; select sponsors Gateway Foundation and William Blair; and Friend of TASC sponsors First Midwest Bank, Healthcare Alternative Systems, Inc., Indivior, Inc., Janssen Neuroscience, and Rosecrance. She also thanked John Zielinski, chair of TASC’s event committee and vice chair of TASC’s board of directors, along with event committee members Glenn Blackmon, Robin Fandrei, DeAnna Jones, and Tracy Thompson.

Emphasizing the importance of TASC’s mission, she said, “Incarceration affects not just the individual, but it severely disrupts whole families and multiple generations, devastating entire communities. As I speak, we are seeing this both in Illinois and across the nation. That’s why I believe so strongly in TASC’s work in disrupting these cycles.

2018 TASC Leadership Awards Luncheon (l. to r.): Dr. Nneka Tapia, Public Voice Award honoree; Pam Rodriguez, TASC president; Chief Eric Guenther, Justice Award honoree; Danny Langloss, Justice Award honoree. Photo by Uk Studio, Inc.

Sheriff Tom Dart, Bill O’Donnell Receive TASC Leadership Awards; Access to Healthcare and Recovery Highlighted at Annual Event

(Chicago) – TASC held its 2015 Leadership Awards Luncheon on December 10, honoring Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and entrepreneur Bill O’Donnell for their advocacy on behalf of people with mental health and substance use disorders.

“Sheriff Dart has called national attention to the injustice of using county jails to house people with mental health conditions,” said TASC President Pam Rodriguez in presenting TASC’s Justice Leadership Award. “He has supported Medicaid enrollment and other activities to ensure continuity of care for people detained at the Cook County Jail.”

To the applause of more than 300 guests at the Westin Michigan Avenue in Chicago, Dart reported that 12,000 people have successfully signed up for insurance at the jail via the Affordable Care Act (ACA). “People who never had insurance now have insurance,” he said. “It is absolutely amazing what this collective work has done.”

Since 2013, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, working with TASC and the Cook County Health and Hospitals System, has enabled individuals detained at the jail to apply for health insurance. Prior to the expansion of Medicaid under the ACA, the vast majority of people entering U.S. jails lacked insurance, hindering their access to treatment for chronic substance use and mental health conditions that often contribute to rearrest.

The prevalence of these conditions in the justice system is not new, Dart observed. “These are issues that have been around for a while. And it’s with partnerships, working with TASC, that we’ve been able to make incredible change.”

TASC Public Voice Award Recipient Bill O’Donnell noted that he might well have gone to jail for his behavior while he was in the throes of addiction. Coming from a family driven to “achieve, achieve, achieve,” O’Donnell was a successful businessman who became addicted to alcohol and cocaine in the 1970s.

“It wasn’t until I got into treatment the second or third time… that I ever asked myself the question, ‘Why is it that I even need the marijuana, the booze, the coke, to change the way I felt?’” O’Donnell recalled. “Recovery and life and awareness is an inside job. You get can get help, you can get direction, you can get love, you can get guidance—but it’s an inside job.”

O’Donnell went on to found Sierra Tucson in 1983, an internationally-recognized treatment center that was among the first to involve family members in the recovery process.

TASC Executive Vice President Peter Palanca praised O’Donnell for his openness and high-profile voice for recovery. “Twenty-three million are in long-term recovery in this country and it’s still the most stigmatized illness,” said Palanca. “Bill was one of the first corporate leaders to speak openly about his addiction. He is a powerful voice for recovery.”

The value of helping one another was highlighted in two videos accompanying speakers’ remarks. Dart introduced a video depicting personal stories of people who now have health insurance thanks to enrollment efforts at the jail, and Rodriguez presented a video featuring participants in Winners’ Circles, which are peer-led recovery support groups for people who have been involved in the justice system.

TASC has been engaged in initiatives at the intersection of health and social justice since 1976, explained TASC Board Chair Cecil Curtwright. “I believe that our highest human calling is to help others—directly, if possible, and if not possible, to support those who do, with whatever means and talents available to us,” said Curtwright, who is the associate vice provost for academic and enrollment services at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Among other dignitaries attending TASC’s event were previous honorees, including Gino DiVito, retired appellate court justice; Melody Heaps, TASC founder and president emeritus; and Toni Preckwinkle, president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners.

Chairing TASC’s 2015 event committee was John Zielinski, vice president and financial advisor at William Blair, who, along with other volunteers and generous donors, guided TASC’s most successful fundraising campaign to date. Zielinski extended special thanks to Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, the presenting sponsor of the event, along with numerous other generous sponsors and raffle prize donors.

“TASC is successful because we work together,” said Rodriguez. “Thanks to science and treatment parity, thanks to the Affordable Care Act and the efforts of TASC and our community partners, and especially thanks to all of you, more and more men and women are finding the treatment, the support, and the hope and tenacity needed to build and strengthen those delicate roots into lifetimes of recovery.”

TASC 2015 Leadership Awards Luncheon. Left to right: TASC Board Chair Cecil Curtwright, Justice Leadership Award Honoree Tom Dart, Public Voice Leadership Award Honoree Bill O'Donnell, TASC President Pam Rodriguez. Photo by Uk Studio.

TASC 2015 Leadership Awards Luncheon in Chicago. Left to right: TASC Board Chair Cecil Curtwright, Justice Leadership Honoree Tom Dart, Public Voice Leadership Honoree Bill O’Donnell, TASC President Pam Rodriguez.

Supporters filled the Westin Michigan Avenue ballroom for TASC's 2015 Leadership Awards Luncheon. Photo by Uk Studio.

Supporters filled the Westin Michigan Avenue ballroom for TASC’s 2015 Leadership Awards Luncheon. Photos by Uk Studio.

TASC’s 2010 Luncheon Celebrates Vision and Leadership, with Thanks to Donors

(Chicago) – TASC Board Chairman Rev. Calvin Morris and TASC President Pamela Rodriguez greeted more than 250 donors, volunteers, colleagues, board members, and staff who gathered at the Westin Michigan Avenue on December 1 to honor the work of two extraordinary leaders, Melody M. Heaps and Hon. George W. Timberlake.

TASC President Pamela Rodriguez (left) with 2010 Leadership Award Honorees Judge George Timberlake and Melody Heaps

TASC’s 2010 Leadership Awards Luncheon was a celebration, Ms. Rodriguez said, of “our leaders of vision, those we honor today and countless others, who see the challenges in families and communities across the state and are not content to sit complacently by, but rather push themselves and others to create and implement new ideas that are based on collaboration, research, proven practice, and fiscal responsibility.”

TASC President Pam Rodriguez (left) and Rev. Calvin Morris (right) present TASC's 2010 Public Voice Award to Judge George Timberlake

Judge Timberlake, chair of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission and retired chief judge of the Second Judicial Circuit, received TASC’s Public Voice Leadership Award. A resident of Mt. Carmel, Illinois, he was recognized for his commitment to addressing the distinct challenges facing adolescents.

“His leadership and vision are evident in many successful youth initiatives today,” said Ms. Rodriguez, “from the Mission Possible substance abuse prevention coalition in Jefferson County to a wing at the Franklin County Detention Center where young people’s health and social needs are evaluated to be addressed locally, rather than in the more costly confines of state prisons.”

Melody Heaps (2nd from right) receives TASC 2010 Justice Leadership Award from TASC President Pam Rodriguez, Congressman Danny Davis, and Rev. Calvin Morris

Ms. Heaps, founder of Illinois TASC and the agency’s president from 1976 to 2009, received TASC’s Justice Leadership Award.  Congressman Danny K. Davis (D-Chicago) praised TASC’s leadership team and introduced Ms. Heaps as “one of the most visionary persons I have ever encountered.”  In accepting the award, Ms. Heaps conveyed her passion for building systems that address addiction as a public health issue and public policies that confront the disproportionate incarceration of people of color.

TASC Executive Vice President Peter Palanca (left) thanks Antanya Knapp for her words of inspiration and courage.

Speaking from personal experience, TASC case manager Antanya Knapp  said she’d known years ago that she wanted to work for TASC one day, since it was TASC that had helped turn her mother’s life around. Ms. Knapp described the confusing and frightening experiences that she and her young siblings faced when her mother was actively using. After her mother was sent to TASC and began her path to recovery, “from that point on, all the memories were positive.”

More than 250 attended TASC's 2010 celebration at the Westin Michigan Avenue

In addition to being a celebration of TASC’s partners, clients, and staff throughout Illinois, the event also raised nearly $100,000 for TASC’s programs and services. TASC gratefully acknowledges our donors, including patrons, friends, supporters, raffle donors, and all who contributed to TASC’s work this year.

Photos by Boris Uk.

TASC Founder Receives Justice Leadership Award, Calls for Public Health Approach to Addiction

 At TASC’s December 1 annual luncheon, TASC founder Melody M. Heaps accepted the agency’s 2010 Justice Leadership Award.  Attendees were moved by Ms. Heaps’ speech, of which excerpts are offered below.  Photos and quotes from other luncheon speakers will be posted soon on this blog.


For over thirty years I have had the privilege of working for TASC, an agency whose mission and culture is the restoration of hope to thousands of shattered lives, lives broken by a disease which we have come to understand, through definitive scientific research, as a disease of the brain.

As a society we treat this disease with a combination of fascination, sensationalism and shame. For no other health or medical condition do we attribute such derisive emotions. We watch generations—our sons, our daughters—experience the trauma of broken families. We pretend this is a condition of the inner city, the poor—“those other people” –even as our children leave the suburbs to travel to the drug markets to buy heroin or steal prescription painkillers from our medicine cabinets.

Worst of all, we allow our fellow citizens to pay the steepest price for this disease. We incarcerate more of our citizens than any other country in western civilization, mostly because of the effects of drug use and abuse. And we do so disproportionately so that our minority citizens bear the greatest burden. Even though the rate of illicit drug use is proportionate to all racial populations, one in six African American men was incarcerated in 2001. If the trend continues as it has, one in three African American males can expect to spend some time in prison during his life. This largely because of crimes related to drugs, unavailable treatment for persons without insurance, insufficient legal representation or drug laws which discriminate between cocaine and crack cocaine: one being a product marketed to more affluent communities, the other marketed to the inner cities. In Illinois, the proportion of African Americans arrested for drug offenses increased over a 10-year span from 46 to 82 percent while the proportion of whites decreased steadily from 41 to 11 percent.

This country and those of us in this room must come to understand that drug and alcohol addiction are a public health problem—a public health epidemic—which needs to be confronted, much the same as we have confronted other epidemics or public health dangers such as smoking.

What I love about this agency and why I am so glad that those of you here today have chosen to support TASC is that while it is a great joy to witness the restoration of lives as we have seen in the video, it is also our moral imperative to change the systems, the public policies which have created the conditions in which the disease of addiction thrives, producing devastating social and economic consequences. TASC is committed to a scientifically based public health solution and TASC works tirelessly to create treatment opportunities in lieu of incarceration for individuals entering the justice system.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the remarkable journey of the TASC board of directors and the executive team. This organization, its board and executive team, have not looked back but are moving aggressively to meet new challenges at this critical time in our state and national history. I am particularly amazed at the energy of TASC’s president, Pamela Rodriguez. Under the wise direction of the board of directors, she, along with our executive vice president, Peter Palanca, CFO Roy Fesmire and our vice presidents George Williams and Carolyn Ross, are taking the organization in directions which are faithful to its mission while cognizant of the challenges of a national recession, emergence of national healthcare and a new political landscape.

Again I want to thank you for this honor, for the privilege of service and for the presence of so many who walk with me on the journey to create a more just society.”

TASC Founder Melody Heaps, Judge George Timberlake to be honored at Dec. 1 TASC Luncheon; Event & Raffle Tickets Going Fast

 (Chicago, IL) — Friends and colleagues are invited to join TASC in honoring Melody M. Heaps and Judge George W. Timberlake at a luncheon at the Westin Michigan Avenue in Chicago on December 1.

Melody M. Heaps, TASC Founder

Ms. Heaps, TASC’s founder and president emeritus, will receive the Justice Leadership Award in recognition of her considerable accomplishments in building systems and promoting public policies that address chronic health issues while enhancing public safety. Ms. Heaps founded TASC in Cook County (IL) in 1976 as a nonprofit, case management agency linking criminal courts to community-based treatment. Under her leadership as TASC’s president until 2009, the agency expanded to serve every jurisdiction in Illinois, and extended its services to juvenile justice, corrections, and child welfare systems. Widely recognized for her expertise, Ms. Heaps has been instrumental in shaping local, state, and federal policies related to treatment, recovery, and alternatives to incarceration.

Judge Timberlake, retired chief judge of the Second Judicial Circuit, will receive TASC’s Public Voice Leadership Award for his dedication and accomplishments in improving the juvenile justice system in Illinois. “During his 23 years on the bench, Judge Timberlake championed the importance of community-based treatment alternatives for nonviolent individuals whose drug problems caused them to cycle repeatedly through the courts.” said Colleen Flanagan, administrator of TASC services in southeastern Illinois. “His unique blending of accountability and compassion has improved the lives of thousands of youth and adults here in the Second Circuit.”

The Honorable George W. Timberlake

TASC’s 2010 luncheon will take place at the Westin Michigan Avenue in Chicago on Wednesday, December 1 from 11:30 AM to 1:30 PM. Tickets are $150 apiece.

The luncheon will conclude with a raffle drawing featuring an array of valuable prizes, including round-trip tickets on American Airlines, a $500 debit gift card, hotel accommodations, and admission to numerous Chicago-area attractions. Raffle ticket holders need not be present at the drawing to win. Get your tickets today!

For luncheon tickets or more information, please visit www.tasc.org or contact Nitza Reyes at (312) 573-8201.

WBEZ Interviews TASC on Budget Cuts; Quinn, Cullerton, Madigan, Radogno and Cross Still Deadlocked

(Chicago, IL) —  “We have never been in this kind of situation before.”

That’s a big statement when it’s spoken by TASC President Melody Heaps, who has seen numerous state budget battles in her 33 years at the helm of TASC. 

TASC received budget cut letters this week from the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). The letters announced that TASC’s statewide services for criminal justice clients are cut 76%, and TASC’s child welfare services are zeroed out completely.

The back-breaking cuts to TASC, substance abuse treatment programs, and numerous other human service agencies are set to take effect July 1.

Rob Wildeboer, reporter for Chicago Public Radio (WBEZ, 91.5 FM) interviewed Ms. Heaps on Wednesday.* Given that this is not the first time that human services have faced potential budget cuts, Mr. Wildeboer asked if the current uproar is saber rattling.

“This is not saber rattling,” Ms. Heaps emphasized. “These are the facts.”

Ms. Heaps explained that because funding for TASC’s criminal justice and child welfare programs is severely curtailed or eliminated as of July 1, TASC has no choice but to halt intake and begin notifying clients that services are stopped. The statewide agency is currently in the process of terminating assessment, case management, and supervision of some 3,000 clients across Illinois, including nearly 1,200 court-mandated clients in Cook County.

Courts will become backlogged, addiction-driven crime will increase, and the costs of dealing with addiction will be shifted to county jails and hospitals.

In addition, parents who are working to overcome addiction and regain custody of their children will no longer have the services of TASC’s Recovery Coach program. Without treatment for parents, more children will remain wards of the state.

“These budget cuts undermine the very purpose of TASC, and they undo decades of work by the courts and treatment system in Illinois,” said TASC Executive Vice President Pam Rodriguez. “They are an affront to every judge who relies on community-based treatment as a sentencing option for nonviolent offenders, to every child advocate who helps to heal families affected by addiction, and to every taxpayer who believes in the efficient use of public dollars to maintain community safety.”

Governor Pat Quinn, Senate President John Cullerton, House Speaker Michael Madigan, Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, and House Minority Leader Tom Cross met again on Wednesday, though state budget talks remain at an impasse.

The General Assembly will convene in a special legislative session in Springfield beginning next Tuesday, June 23.

* Note:  TASC does not provide drug treatment, as reported in the WBEZ story. TASC is an independent, nonprofit entity whose criminal justice programs link the criminal justice system to community-based drug treatment.  As the agency designated by the state pursuant to Chapter 20 ILCS 301/40, TASC provides clinical assessment, treatment placement, and ongoing case management and client supervision. 

TASC clients have significantly better outcomes, in terms of reduced crime and reduced drug use, than individuals who do not get TASC.