The Kendall County Health Department celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, giving Executive Director Amaal Tokars amble opportunity to reflect on how vastly things have changed over the last five decades.
“Some things we did in the beginning we are still doing,” she said. “We are working with families and their health care needs, but that’s gotten much more complicated. So many families need so many more things today.”
Tokars began working with the health department in 2005. During that time, Kendall County became the fastest growing county in the United States. The statistic brought great challenges for Tokars and health department workers who were suddenly faced with a demand for services they had never seen before.
“The population grew, and the population with hardships also grew,” Tokars said, speaking about some of the department’s most utilized services.
The need for home weatherization work and energy assistance greatly increased, as well as the need for behavioral health services, Tokars said.
“There is so much quiet help that people need surrounding the issues of addiction, mental health, anxiety, depression and loneliness,” she said. “People may not realize how many people have hard lives in this way and are looking for a helping hand or professional help.”
When they do come looking, whether it’s for mental health, nutritional health, or energy assistance, Tokars said the Health Department is equipped to do the job.
“What’s interesting is the diverse work that we do,” she said. “The restaurant manager may think of us as an entity that focuses on food protection. Someone whose home we helped weatherize might think of us as an entity that has a lot of experience in energy conservation. Someone who got nutrition counseling might think of us as experts in that.
“Because we are so diverse, every person will understand us from a different perspective. It’s a lot of responsibility and a great honor to work with so many people in so many different ways.”
Looking forward, Tokars said the department has a lot of work to do and issues to deal with —funding being the most crucial.
“We are still able to function, but (the lack of funding) has certainly affected us and will affect us more as time goes on,” she said. “The lack of stability erodes our ability to be stable for the communities we serve. We’re just going to keep trying to recreate ourselves and be wise with the resources we have…At this time we are working on a new strategic place, and a large pice of that has to do with financial sustainability. Without that, we cannot touch the people we need to touch in this community.”
— Kendall Health Department performs ‘diverse work’ in community —