Cornerstone Services celebrated diversity at Wednesday’s Juneteenth Friendship Festival

This was the first in-person gathering for Joliet nonprofit since the COVID-19 pandemic began

It’s a sign of the times when COVID-19 vaccinations are part of a celebration.

But KodoCare Pharmacy of Joliet was onsite Wednesday to administer vaccines to anyone who wanted them at Cornerstone Service’s first Juneteenth Friendship Festival event – and a number of people took advantage of that opportunity, according to Matthew Lanoue, coordinator of public relations at Cornerstone Services.

“This was the first time a lot of us were in the same place in the last year and a half,” Lanoue said. “We really wanted to make sure that the people who receive our services know they matter to us.”

In fact, Cornerstone president/CEO Ben Stortz announced that, last week, the board of directors declared Juneteenth as an official agency holiday, Lanoue said in an email.

Stephen Hale, Cornerstone’s coordinator of human resources, spearheaded the event, Lanoue said.

Lanoue said Cornerstone recently created a core value belief statement that underscored those sentiments. Although an environment of diversity, equity and inclusion have always been a part Cornerstone culture, Lanoue said the nonprofit is now officially highlighting those beliefs.

“We really wanted to make sure diversity are at the forefront of the things we do going forward,” Lanoue said. “Maybe people just assume we stand for social justice, but we wanted to make sure… it helps build community a little bit.”

And a Juneteenth Friendship Festival was a good way to get staff and clients involved, he said. Representatives from the Will County Health Department, the Joliet Police Department and the University of St. Francis in Joliet also took part in the celebration and spoke, too, Lanoue said.

In addition, Mayor Bob O’Dekirk also spoke for a few minutes, starting at 1:30 p.m., Lanoue said.

“Mayor O’Dekirk said that this is the first Juneteenth event in Joliet, as far as he is aware,” Lanoue said in an email.

In addition to the mingling, Lanoue said the event was an opportunity for people to learn ways to support each other and combat systemic racism.

Between staff and clients from group homes, Lanoue estimated several hundred people attended the event.

“This was the first time most of the people who receive our services had the opportunity to see friends outside of their group home ‘bubble,’” Lanoue said in an email. “We have been working hard with KodoCare and the WCHD to get staff and individuals who receive services vaccinated, beginning as far back as January, but directives from the state have kept our day programs largely on hold.”

In addition to the presentation and the COVID-19 vaccines, the Cornerstone art department led participants in a project that had “an inclusion and friendship feel” to the resulting pieces, Lanoue said.

Cornerstone Services has advocated for people with disabilities in Joliet and Will County since 1969, the organization’s website said.

Services staff at Cornerstone provides including helping people “find and keep jobs, maintain stable housing, and learn to access public transportation and community resources,” the website said.

Cornerstone professionals also provides group and individual counseling and therapy, the website said.

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Denise M. Baran-Unland

Denise M. Baran-Unland is the features editor for The Herald-News in Joliet. She covers a variety of human interest stories. She also writes the long-time weekly tribute feature “An Extraordinary Life about local people who have died. She studied journalism at the College of St. Francis in Joliet, now the University of St. Francis.