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.

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Leaders in Transforming Health and Justice Recognized at TASC’s 2017 Leadership Awards Luncheon

(Chicago) – Nearly 300 guests attended TASC’s 2017 Leadership Awards Luncheon in Chicago on December 14 to honor Jessica Hulsey Nickel and Howard A. Peters III, respected champions of health and justice reforms.

Speakers shared inspiring tributes and echoed the importance of uplifting people who need help, and creating a society where fairness and access to health are the norms.

“I know firsthand the impact that substance abuse can have on individuals’ lives and the collateral damage that can occur among families when a loved one has the illness of addiction,” said TASC Board Vice Chair and Event Committee Chair John Zielinski in opening the event at the Westin Michigan Avenue. “I also know and believe in the importance of second chances. People can and do recover.”

TASC Board Chair Michelle Montgomery spoke of the importance of TASC’s work in diverting people who have with underlying substance use or mental health problems away from the justice system, and instead into treatment and other services in the community. She emphasized the need to address racial discrimination in the criminal justice system, where people of color are more likely to be arrested, to be offered a plea that includes prison time, and more likely to serve longer sentences than white Americans who commit the same offenses.

“This is devastating, and it is wrong,” said Montgomery. “We know that once an individual comes into contact with the justice system, it becomes exponentially harder to recover.

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

Howard Peters Accepts TASC’s 2017 Justice Leadership Award

With a mission of addressing these inequities, TASC presents its Justice Leadership Award each year to a leader who has demonstrated a commitment to creating fairer, more equitable systems of justice.

With a long career of service leadership, including as director of the Illinois Department of Corrections, and later as the first secretary of what became the Illinois Department of Human Services, Howard Peters, TASC’s 2017 Justice Leadership honoree, “has the perspective and vision of a leader who has worked on all sides of the issues we address, from criminal justice to human services to healthcare,” said TASC President Pam Rodriguez in presenting the award.

It was under Peters’ leadership of IDOC in the early 1990s that TASC began to offer pre- and post-release case management services for individuals leaving certain state prisons in Illinois, noted Rodriguez. Later, as the head of DHS, he oversaw all state-administered human services, including substance use and mental health, employment programs, youth services, and other programs that address poverty.

“He understands the interconnection of all these issues, and how the solutions to problems need to be comprehensive and inclusive,” said Rodriguez, who served alongside Peters on the recent Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform. “When he would speak, he would change the conversation. He would ask questions that would cause people to think differently and strategize in new ways… His steady voice, deep compassion, and consistent leadership are part of what shape the criminal justice reforms happening in Illinois today.”

In accepting TASC’s award, Peters gave special credit those who shaped his early years, and who instilled in him a sense of obligation to do good in the world.

“Whatever are our accomplishments, no matter how grand or modest, they aren’t ours alone,” he said, sharing stories of how he was influenced and inspired by his mother, his grandmother, an influential second grade teacher, an inspiring college mentor, and his wife of 50 years, Beverly Peters.

“We are obligated to serve, we are obligated to support good work,” he said. “And that is why I am proud today to be in this room with you—because you are engaged in important work, you are supporting work that will determine whether children across Illinois will survive… and how well they will survive, and whether we will have a society in which we can take pride.”

Jessica Nickel Accepts TASC’s 2017 Public Voice Leadership Award

Creating such a society is also the life’s work of Jessica Nickel, TASC’s 2017 Public Voice Award Honoree and founder of the national Addiction Policy Forum.

Nickel played a critical leadership role in shaping and advancing federal legislation to improve justice and support recovery, including the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016, which supports a wide range of responses to addiction, including criminal justice diversion initiatives, and the Second Chance Act, which has transformed the landscape of reentry programs across the country since it was signed into law in 2008.

“I have known Jessica for more than a decade, and from the start, she impressed me with her sense of urgency, her deep commitment, and her unwavering belief that we can – and must – give hope and help to families that are dealing with addiction,” said Rodriguez.

In accepting the award, Nickel noted that the Second Chance Act, co-sponsored by Illinois Congressman Danny K. Davis and Ohio Congressman (now Senator) Rob Portman, came about with the intent to re-envision how people reenter the community after jail and prison. Through this work, Nickel was introduced to TASC leaders Rodriguez, then vice president of TASC; TASC Vice President of Community and Government Affairs George Williams; and Melody Heaps, then president (now retired) of TASC.

“I’m proud of that work, and grateful and proud of the cooperation with TASC,” said Nickel.

Modeling this collaborative model of engagement that propelled the ongoing success of the Second Chance Act, Nickel is dedicated to changing the way society responds to addiction.

“Let’s re-envision how we respond to addiction in this country,” said Nickel. “Instead of playing whack-a-mole with one drug against the other… or playing that sort of favorite child of which response we’re going to work on—treatment or prevention or recovery or criminal justice—let’s put our heads together and think of something different.”

With this commitment, Nickel has assembled leading experts who understand addiction as a public health issue, and, in a short time, has built a strong and growing coalition of families, advocates, policymakers, community leaders, and corporations who share in this commitment.

“Through her voice, her organizing ability, her passion, and her impressive, first-hand knowledge of how to make major policy changes happen, Jessica is helping communities across the country make strides against addiction and its consequences. She’s bringing forth practical solutions… to help families and communities that want to know what works and what they can do,” said Rodriguez.

Among the luncheon guests were three past TASC Leadership Award recipients: retired WGN News Anchor Robert Jordan (2013 Public Voice Leadership Award), Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle (2011 Public Voice Leadership Award), and Heaps (2010 Justice Leadership Award), who founded TASC as an Illinois nonprofit organization in 1976.

Also recognized were TASC’s 2017 event sponsors: elite sponsor Alkermes; select sponsors: John Greene and William Blair; and friend of TASC sponsors Yes Lifecycle Marketing, Gateway, BMO Harris Bank, HAS, Janssen, Meridian Health, and Rosecrance; with thanks also to numerous advocate sponsors, community sponsors, and raffle prize donors.

2017 TASC Leadership Awards Luncheon — Back row (l. to r.): Sue Thau, Toni Preckwinkle, Jessica Nickel, Pam Rodriguez. Front row: Howard Peters IV, Howard Peters III, Beverly Peters. (Photo by Uk Studio, Inc.)