Pat Koko: for 50 years, a volunteer extraordinaire in & around Oak Park

A decade ago, the longtime chairman of the Oak Park/River Forest Seniors Services Committee, Jim Flanagan, launched the Celebrating Seniors Coalition. Its mission: honoring, recognizing and serving seniors in Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park, Illinois.

From the outset, I have served as the group’s publicist.

Although Celebrating Seniors Week, held each May for a week, was nixed this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization has made strides with an updated, upgraded website.

In addition to providing more details and a better experience for visitors, the revamped website spotlights several key volunteers who have been especially active over the years. They include Flanagan, as well as Dr. Lydia Manning, Richard Harrison and Nick Preys.

Among these leading volunteers has been Pat Koko, who has received the organization’s Volunteer of the Year Award on multiple occasions.

In fact, I see Pat as the Oprah Winfrey of Celebrating Seniors. An explanation: while still a talk show host, Oprah took herself out of the running for Emmy Awards. Likewise, Pat could at least be a co-recipient of the award every year, and I would not be surprised if we eventually name the award in her honor. With energy, humor and steadfastness that are a powerful force, Pat is truly a volunteer extraordinaire.

A little more background about Pat:

Along with her husband, Paul, and their daughter, Marie, Pat moved to Oak Park in 1967. After she graduated from Dominican University (Rosary College at the time) with a degree in History, Pat volunteered to deliver meals to home-bound seniors for Oak Park Township. Thus began a dedicated 45-plus years of working with and for older adults in our communities.

For 20 years, Pat ran a home-care agency to provide assistance to seniors while she also served as a key volunteer with the Oak Park and River Forest Food Pantry (now known as Beyond Hunger) for 17 years. Her community involvement has also included being among the founders of a networking group, the Senior Citizens’ Services Coordinating Council. The SCSCC still meets monthly to gather those who serve seniors to strengthen their professional development.

Pat Koko (left) poses with Sandra Rowe at the 2016 closing luncheon for Celebrating
Seniors Week. Both were recipients of that year’s Volunteer of the Year award.

In addition, Pat served as Administrative Secretary of The Community of Congregations, and was Executive Director of the Senior Citizens Center before being reappointed to the Oak Park-River Forest Senior Citizens Advisory Council.

Since Celebrating Seniors’ inception, Pat has been Treasurer and Resource Coordinator for the organization–but I think “Volunteer Extraordinaire” captures it pretty well, too.

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Our daily shopping choices: a super-simple way to boost local economy amid COVID-19 era

During this COVID-19 era, any trip through the commercial corridors of Oak Park, Illinois—my community along the western border of Chicago—has revealed its potential as a post-apocalyptic movie set.

But here in my town—and wherever you are, within your community—there is a simple mathematical principle that empowers us to revise the script: shop locally, as much and as often as possible.

The “multiplier effect,” powerfully displayed.

In explaining the multiplier effect of local independent businesses, the American Independent Business Alliance states, “The multiplier results from the fact that independent locally-owned businesses recirculate a far greater percentage of revenue locally compared to absentee-owned businesses (or locally-owned franchises). In other words, going local creates more local wealth and jobs.”

In Oak Park, partly to blame for our ghost-town vibe is extensive road and infrastructure work coursing right through the heart of the community. Given the current state of business distress, with little traffic anyhow, our village leaders have wisely accelerated those efforts. That full-speed-ahead approach, sort of like quickly ripping off a bandage to hasten the pain, is about the only lemonade to come out of this historically humongous lemon.

Efforts to preserve physical health through the COVID era have had major side-effects, not the least of which is a business community with numerous members who find themselves on mercantile life support. It is a condition that prevails across the entire country. Solving the United States’ problems is well beyond any one local group’s capacity to remedy. However, any community grappling on the commercial home front can take steps to minimize the damage in their own backyard, and then turn the tide.

For those in and around Oak Park, not every dollar can be expended within our few square miles. However, making a conscious decision to allocate a few more pennies per dollar can make a meaningful difference, especially when considering the multiplier effect. A decade ago, that philosophy was at the heart of my role for two years as marketing coordinator of “Shop the Village.”

It takes a courageous man (or at least a brazen PR guy) to wear red boots, mask and cape in front of a flower shop–or anywhere else for that matter.

A coordinated initiative supported by the Village of Oak Park, Downtown Oak Park and other business districts, Shop the Village was a marketing arm for dozens of businesses partaking in the campaign the first year (spanning three months before and after the year-end holidays). The next year, 2009, building on lessons gleaned from that first year, we engaged a “Super Shopper Spotter” campaign. It featured a super-hero character played by yours truly.

This is not a proposal to bring back that Caped Crusader of Commerce. You do not need to put on big red boots or have campy humor to recognize that shopping locally is a practical, powerful way for us all to serve our own best interests. It is through our daily choices that we each have a super-simple, super-heroic role to play.

Related Posts:
Super Shopper Spotter’ Picks Up Steam
In Oak Park, Helping to `Shop the Village’

On October 16th in Oak Park: “PR Secrets From a Media Insider”

Since 2001, associations and companies across the United States have hired Matt Baron of Inside Edge PR to train thousands of journalists, publicists and other professionals to develop immediately applicable, improved story-telling skills.

 

On Tuesday, Oct. 16th, through an Oak Park – River Forest (OPRF) Chamber of Commerce Lunch and Learn at Adam Doe State Farm, he brings PR Secrets From a Media Insider. In this practical workshop, rooted in the rapidly evolving communications landscape, Matt teaches how to:

• Craft compelling, publication-ready news releases
• Establish yourself as an expert in your field
• Use social media to expand your communications reach
• Secure media coverage that leads to greater profits

To register, contact Mark Walden at mwalden@oprfchamber.org.

Sharing the Story of StorySlam: A Benefit for Farther Foundation

Honored to be serving as the emcee, and to be providing some media relations support, for StorySlam: A Benefit for Farther Foundation. It’s coming up fast–on Thursday, October 11th, at FitzGerald’s Nightclub.

Tickets are $50 and include food and all the entertainment. For more information or to purchase tickets, go to www.fartherfoundation.org or call 708-497-7240.

Founded in 2008, the Oak Park-based organization has supported 221 students–mostly high school sophomores and juniors from Chicago and nearby suburbs–who have traveled to 27 states and 32 countries.

Farther Foundation enables students from economically disadvantaged circumstances participate in life-changing educational travel programs. While traveling, students interact with people from diverse backgrounds, become immersed in new cultures and experiences, learn and develop skills and engage in community service.

See the news release at the Chicago Tribune’s TribLocal.

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My Percentage / Percentage Point Primer & Plea For Apolitical Math

Sixteen years ago this summer, an editor at the newspaper where I toiled came to my desk and asked if I would be interested in writing a column that centered on numbers.

He was aware of my passion for and facility with numbers–in fact, I was in the midst of creating the Home Run Power Ratio as steroid-abetted sluggers Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were just then making an assault on Major League Baseball’s single-season home run record.

So it took me less than one-fifth of a second to accept the assignment with glee. That brief chat in the newsroom of The Courier News in Elgin was a career-altering moment.

The column, “By the Numbers,” was eventually syndicated nationally and led to the 2001 creation of a training program that I dubbed “Go Figure: Making Numbers Count” and sent me throughout the country to train journalists and other communications pros on numeracy, or mathematical literacy.

Along the way, in 2002, The Christian Science Monitor provided me with a forum to discuss stuff like how many years (and months, days, hours, minutes and seconds) you are when you attain one billion seconds of life. The piece, “Numbers Figure Strongly in My Life,” was published almost precisely one-quarter of my life ago.

So whenever I see people, particularly those in positions of power and influence, wield numbers carelessly or irresponsibly, I can’t help but speak up.

This is all preamble to the letter, on the crucial distinction between percent change and percentage point change, that I sent recently to local newspapers. My writing came on the heels of Illinois State Senator Don Harmon’s “Springfield Report” to his constituents in Oak Park, and his misstatement of the 67-percent increase in the state income tax rate as being only 2 percent.

The headline in the Oak Leaves reads “Let’s stick to good old-fashioned, apolitical math.” Meanwhile, the Wednesday Journal of Oak Park & River Forest dropped the “let’s” but left everything else intact.

From what I have observed over the years, Harmon is a decent, conscientious elected official. So I’m looking forward to writing a letter of praise to him and all other state politicians when they follow through on their pledge to reduce the “temporary” state income tax increase from 5 percent to 3.75 percent.

By then, I’m confident Harmon will lead the charge in describing the reduction as a 1.25 percentage point decline and a robust 25-percent decrease.

P.S. Eight years later, and that hoped-for 25-percent decrease has not materialized. The rate is at 4.95% and, if I were a wagering man, I’d put plenty of dough on that rate going up, rather than down.

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