What started as a character education initiative within Elk Grove-area schools two decades ago has evolved into a communitywide service coalition that on Thursday was awarded “exemplary” status by its national organization.
The recognition of the Community Character Coalition of Elk Grove came at the local nonprofit group’s 20th anniversary breakfast at the Jack A. Claes Pavilion.
“They have worked so hard to have a positive impact for over 20 years now,” said Jason Lamping, director of CHARACTER COUNTS!, the 33-year-old education program now headquartered at the Robert D. and Billie Ray Center at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. “Your work and efforts are a model that other communities can emulate.”
Lamping said the program has reached 8 million teachers, students, youth groups, community organizations and others. Its framework of six pillars of character — trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship — was developed at a 1991 summit of ethicists, community leaders and educators in Aspen, Colorado.
But while many will attend the organization’s training seminars, not all local groups maintain those ties with a long-term membership, become their own nonprofit, or have the staying power that the Elk Grove Village group does.
Here, that’s meant promoting character to youth through community events, like Sunday’s Character Adventures from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Pavilion gym. There will be activity stations tied to each pillar; for example, kids will create dog toys that will be donated to an animal rescue organization.
And with the motto of “Service Through Volunteerism,” the group has organized dozens of collection drives over the years benefiting the needy, homeless veterans, active military and food pantries. The coalition also awards annual scholarships to high school seniors who demonstrate citizenship and service to the community.
“We strive to this day — 20 years later — to meet our community’s needs and to include every sector in the community to get this done,” said Birdie Bisceglie, a former Friendship Junior High School teacher and founding member of the coalition. “Our vision is to partner with all facets of the community to celebrate and use the six pillars of character.”
Bisceglie was one of three Elk Grove Township Elementary District 59 staff members who attended the character council’s training, then created lessons and activities to incorporate the values into the classroom. Teachers and support staff, from cafeteria workers to bus drivers, also attended training sessions.
Soon enough, Bisceglie and the other organizers decided to expand their efforts in the community, tailoring presentations to officials in village and township government, police and fire departments, park district, library, businesses and other community groups.
Many of those partners attended the group’s breakfast Thursday morning, when Bisceglie fought back tears as she recounted the group’s history and impact.
“We have an exceptional community here in Elk Grove, and we need to continue to grow and develop and make sure all the community needs are met — the youth and everyone that lives, works and goes to school in Elk Grove,” Bisceglie told them. “We need all of you to help us out, especially in these times.”