IDHS ALL IN! Stakeholder Newsletter Issue 7

Message from the Secretary

Dear colleagues,

Help Is Here at the Illinois Department of Human Services.

This is our aspiration.

We want people across our state to come to us and our community partners for respite, helping hands, ladders up, and for comfort in trying times. It has never been more important for our organization to lead by example, be strong, compassionate, bold, and swift in the delivery of human services to Illinois communities and to serve as an essential safety net in the State's COVID-19 response.

If it is impossible, we have to do it.

When COVID-19 hit Illinois, at that moment, we knew that we had to believe this if we were to effectively respond to the pandemic. In many ways, with you, we have accomplished the impossible. The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to change the way we did everything. Things that we could never have dreamt of doing within decades - happened in moments, days, weeks.

IDHS was in a state of transformation prior to this unprecedented global pandemic. Before onboarding as Secretary of this resilient organization, we began reconstructing and rebuilding the agency. We had federal corrective action plans - looming penalties for backlogs and delays - under-enrollment and under-utilization. In that first year, we recruited an amazing, diverse leadership team and worked hard to earn the trust that had been lost between us and our stakeholders, providers, families, staff, partners, and legislators. I am thankful and feel grateful that we had that first year to strengthen our system - little did we know that we would be in for the fight of our lives with the coming virus.

The COVID-19 disparities, the police killings of Black men and women followed by weeks of social unrest amplified inequities in our country and affirmed our key value as an administration: equity. We need to be present for those who need us most and must be a place for healing and for hope.

Illinois is confronting a troubling increase in our COVID-19 numbers, and I know that many of us are trying to rally strength to continue the fight. We know that our actions prevent infection and save lives. United as mission-driven organizations, we know that retreat is not an option.

I have hope. I have hope, because despite the monumental challenges that have presented themselves - we have made tangible, remarkable strides. We have come into compliance with SNAP timeliness benchmarks and, with HFS, have busted the backlog on Medicaid applications. Further, you will read in this issue about our record-breaking Census effort. We have also included a recap of all the COVID-19 actions as well to illustrate all that has been accomplished.

Thank you. We are grateful for your tenacity and commitment to the people of Illinois.


Happy Veterans Day

IDHS would like to thank and honor all of our stakeholders, staff, friends, and family who have served honorably in the United States military. We thank all of you for your service and for your contributions to our national security over the years, today, and every day. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

New Grant Opportunities

IDHS issues many Notice of Funding Opportunities (NOFOs) throughout the year for our programs. You can find new funding opportunities on the IDHS Grant Opportunities web page. Below is one example.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Sites

The Division of Mental Health is excited to announce a Notice of Funding Opportunity to provide funding for National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Sites in Illinois. The Federal Communications Commission has assigned 988 as the new nationwide, 3-digit number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (the Lifeline). The Lifeline is a network of crisis centers serving the entire country. The Lifeline's call routing is based on crisis center call capacity and availability. Beginning July 16, 2022, all phone service providers must ensure all 988 calls are routed to the Lifeline. To support the roll out of 988 and to increase in-state/local capacity to answer calls to the Lifeline, IDHS' Division of Mental Health is seeking entities interested in becoming new Lifeline call centers or helping to expand the services of current call centers.

National Hispanic Heritage Month

As many of you know, National Hispanic Heritage Month was celebrated from September 15th through October 15th, and although we weren't able to celebrate the month in our offices across the state like we normally do, we wanted to highlight the importance of this celebration this year and every year.

National Hispanic Heritage Month traditionally honors the cultures and contributions of both Hispanic and Latino Americans by celebrating heritage rooted in all Latin American countries. During this month and throughout the year, we celebrate the history, heritage, and accomplishments of Hispanic and Latino Americans of past and present.

This year, IDHS Assistant Secretary of Operations Dulce Quintero worked with Alex Bautista, Deputy Director of the Illinois Department of Human Rights, Rodrigo Carrillo, the Director of Strategic Initiatives and Planning at the Illinois Housing Development Authority, and Juana Ballesteros, Manager of Community Public Health Outreach at the Illinois Department of Public Health, to put together a video on what this month means to them.

Click here to watch the video.

Dulce is the proud daughter of Mexican migrant farmworkers. Most recently, Dulce served as Director of Health Center Operations at Erie Family Health Center in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago. The centerpieces of her efforts are a deep commitment to high-quality human services, the eradication of systemic homelessness, and creating platforms to raise awareness around mental health and trauma.

Dulce received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, Davis and in 2009, she was selected and completed a non-profit leadership academy with The Center for Leadership. Dulce chose to work for the Illinois government so that she could be an agent of change and lead with integrity and courage as her fundamental values. Dulce was also recently featured on the Illinois Department of Central Management Services LinkedIn page.

We would like to thank Dulce and everyone for sharing their insights on what this important month means. Additionally, we would also like to thank all of our Hispanic and Latino staff members and stakeholders who help IDHS serve our most vulnerable residents across Illinois.

In the Spotlight

David T. Jones, Director of the Division of Substance Use Prevention and Recovery (SUPR)

Our new Director of SUPR, David T. Jones, was interviewed by our team. Check out his answers below!

What drew you to work for IDHS?

Grace Hou, Barack Obama and my family! In a conversation with Secretary Hou, she shared her vision for IDHS and I was thoroughly impressed about the explicit nature of serving Illinoisans through a social and racial equity justice lens. Her commitment to innovation along with the progress the Division of Substance Use Prevention and Recovery (SUPR) has made in implementing evidenced based practices were very attractive. Moreover, returning to Illinois after having gained thirty plus years of behavioral health experience, a state in which the former President is committed to investing is a dream come true. And on a personal note, returning to Illinois places me in close proximity to my wise and aging parents, including my mother-in-law!

What's something you want to do in the next year that you've never done before?

Purchasing a home in the state of Illinois. While I have owned a home in other states, purchasing a home in Illinois is a life-long dream and emblematic of the plan to establish deep roots in a community I will likely live out the remainder of my life. In addition, explicitly connecting social or vital determinants of health to a recovery-oriented system of care scaled across the state is a rare opportunity. Building the scaffolding that results in Illinoisan's with substance use disorder being intentionally connected to permanent supportive housing or adopting a housing first model increases the likelihood of achieving outstanding health outcomes for generations of Illinoisans to come.

What's the greatest bit of advice you've received?

My Father said, "Make wise decisions from the choices you have, as your decisions will determine your pathway in life!" In the field of substance use disorders, people often talk about people, places and things, towards achieving the ultimate goal of long-term sustained recovery. The people, places and things one experiences play a vital role in encouraging or discouraging substance use. As individuals progress in their recovery process, ultimately their pathway requires making a distinction between choices vs. decisions. A recognition that choices are what you have, and decisions are what you make. Often, I have used the example a person can have ten choices. Seven of the ten choices can be wonderful. Two of the ten choices can be deleterious and finally one of the ten choices can be life-ending. The fact that ten choices are available is good, but ultimately it is the decision made among the choices available that determines a more joyous vs. a more dubious pathway.

What's your favorite movie quote?

"I will be your huckleberry" Doc Holiday, Tombstone, hands down is my favorite quote from a movie! Each time I serve and stand-up against the stigma that at times, prevents people suffering from the disease of addiction to access treatment. I confront stigma by saying or thinking, I will be your huckleberry, I will take you on and do everything humanely possible to mitigate the effects of stigma. Stigma continues to be a barrier to accessing treatment for substance use disorder. Unfortunately, stigma has long since been the enemy of people seeking treatment for co-occurring disorders (i.e. mental health and addiction). Similar to the need to combat institutional racism, redlining and poverty, diligence against these social, and economic inequities requires one to stand-up, push back and say I'm your huckleberry-I am among a team of people who will go the distance to end these injustices.

What message would you like to share with our stakeholders?

James Brown, a man of faith and a sports anchor, said "if serving others is beneath you, then leadership is beyond you". I completely agree with the statement and philosophy. As a man of faith, it is important that stakeholders know I will work everyday to be a servant leader. In the role of director for SUPR, my and our commitment is to expand the parameters of the recovery-oriented system of care and make every effort to be great partners with all stakeholders. Inclusive of people with lived experience, families, the provider network, economists, elected officials and anyone interested in improving the lives of Illinoisans.

Caronina Grimble, Director of the Office of Strategy, Equity, and Transformation

Our new Director of the Office of Strategy, Equity, and Transformation at IDHS, Caronina Grimble, was also interviewed by our team.

What drew you to work for IDHS?

The opportunity to serve and support communities across Illinois that have experienced decades of targeted disinvestment, inequitable access to resources, and racial injustice. I've always believed in the power and potential of government to do amazing things for people, and especially during this unprecedented time.

What's something you want to do in the next year that you've never done before?

Go on a 365 running streak. That means to walk or run at least one continuous mile every day. I've been thinking about it for a while, but now that I've put it out into the universe, maybe it will actually happen.

What's the greatest bit of advice you've received?

I don't know if it's the greatest bit of advice I've ever received, but this message from Mariame Kaba is one of the most compelling I've ever heard: Hope isn't an emotion, hope is not optimism. Hope doesn't preclude feelings of sadness or frustration or anger or any other emotion. Hope is a discipline. It is something that can be practiced as a habit. There is always the potential for transformation and for change, good or bad, and believing that we are the leaders of that transformation and change we can practice it every day in the service of building a future that works for all of us.

What's your favorite movie quote?

I don't have a favorite movie quote, but my favorite movie is the Star Wars Trilogy (Episodes IV, V, VI, of course).

What message would you like to share with our stakeholders?

I think Mariame Kaba's message of hope is a good's a discipline I try to practice in my service to the people of Illinois, and the work of advancing equity and racial justice.

2020 Census Recap

Thank you to all of our stakeholders, partners, and residents from across our state for making Illinois count in the 2020 Census. We ended the count in 7th place, amongst all states, in our self-response rate and out of the states with the largest populations, Illinois ranked number one!

August, September, and October announcements from the U.S. Census Bureau and lawsuits about shifting the end date of the 2020 Census required the Census Office, Regional Intermediaries, and partners to be adaptive and flexible in continuing to reach people in low response tracts.

The 2020 Census Office report for November 2020 includes updates regarding: COVID-19, self-response rates, outreach, 2020 Census date change, grant allocations, and disbursements.

To find the final response rates and rankings by city, county, town, or Congressional districts, please visit: or

IDHS by the Numbers

IDHS recently put together a document that captures the work of all five agency divisions, highlighting both the important efforts of our staff across the state and the residents we serve.

IDHS COVID-19 Recap Document Highlights

IDHS is here for you. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, IDHS took swift, responsible, life-saving measures. Our team has been vigilant to ensure the safety of staff, partner organizations, and those we serve.

To keep track of the many extraordinary measures we've taken during the pandemic, we asked IDHS leadership to begin to catalogue the extraordinary work of our staff and partners across the state. We'd like to share a recap document that reflects some of this work with you.

Even as the crisis continues, it is crucial we take time to reflect on IDHS' response to the pandemic, as we continue to plan for the future. I hope we can all use this information to spark new ideas and to remember the lessons learned that will help us reinvent and restore the human services system in Illinois.

5 Star Recognition Program Awardees

Back in early March, we announced a new 5 Star Employee Recognition Program and nomination process for IDHS. A lot has changed since March in our agency, state, and world, but we wanted to take time to highlight three of our staff members who were nominated by their fellow staff members and have gone above and beyond the call of duty for their positions and for our customers.

Luis Perez

Luis Perez is currently a Vocational Rehabilitation Coordinator within the Department of Rehabilitation Services (DRS). Luis has worked for IDHS for a little under six years and strives daily to operate under the motto of "Treating others how you wish to be treated". Luis strives daily to provide answers to all of the questions that customers have and works to help others feel better leaving the office than when they came in.

Luis draws inspiration from seeing his parents work hard to provide a better life for him and his siblings. Both of Luis' parents defied odds and immigrated to the United States with no resources at a young age. Seeing this, Luis challenged himself to make good choices growing up and improve himself to show his appreciation for the sacrifices his parents made. Just as he is inspired by his parents, Luke wants to inspire others.

Customer service is important to Luis because it is his opportunity to directly affect someone else's life in a positive way. "I may not be able to solve all of their problems, but the least I can do is make sure that the service I provide is top notch," Luis says.

Here are some fun facts about Luis:

  • Luis was encouraged to run a marathon in 2018 and has since ran three full marathons.
  • He has learned American Sign Language and enjoys practicing with coworkers.
  • Luis loves motorcycles and classic cars. His favorite car is the 1972 Volkswagen Beetle.
  • Luis' favorite quote is "Service to others is Service to God".

Thank you Luis for the tremendous customer service that you provide and congratulations for being honored as an IDHS 5 Star Employee!

Luke Skorwon

Luke Skorwon has been a valued employee of IDHS for nearly three years. Luke works within our Division of Family and Community Services (FCS) providing comprehensive casework management for individuals and families requesting public assistance. Luke holds true to the value of treating others how you wish to be treated. Working daily from this value, Luke finds inspiration in everyday experiences and interactions with his family, peers and the community in which he serves. Being the son of a Polish immigrant, he draws from the strength, faith and courage of his mother who immigrated to the U.S with dreams for herself and her family.

Working together to assist individuals and families to identify impediments to self-sufficiency and overcome those impediments showcases Luke's ability to provide excellent customer service. Nurturing empathy and respect is at the heart of his service to others, therefore we are proud to recognize Mr. Luke Skorwon as a 5 Star Employee of IDHS. Here are a few interesting facts about Luke.

Luke is a member of the of the Planetary Society; avid amateur astronomer and astrophotographer. He speaks fluent Polish and loves grilling on summer weekends, biking in the spring and fall and catching up on his movies during the winter.

Cynthia Yarborough

Cynthia Yarborough has over 40 years of dedicated service to IDHS. Cynthia is currently a Senior Public Service Administrator within the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS). Over the years she has worked in various capacities providing a wealth of knowledge and assistance within the department and most recently providing secretarial duties for the Senior Public Service Administrator of the Planning and Development Unit. Whether it's receiving visitors, answering phones, overseeing quality assurance or assisting management with special projects, Cynthia's willingness to help and serve others any way she can is an invaluable asset to DRS.

Cynthia loves people and absolutely enjoys helping others. Customer service and customer care is central to every personal encounter she has. Her goal is to show everyone that no matter who they are or what challenges they face, she wants them to know they are important and that their lives have purpose. She credits these fundamental truths of her life to being taught to help others at an early age and her belief in God. Cynthia receives inspiration from studying the bible and from actively participating in worship services with her local congregation.

Cynthia's motto is "People don't care about how much you know, they want to know how much you care." Thank you Cynthia Yarbrough for your many years of dedicated and quality service within IDHS. Here a just a few interesting facts about our awardee.

Cynthia enjoys spending time with her three precious grandchildren, fireside chats, dining out and attending worship services with her husband, the love of her life for over 28 years. Cynthia loves to play all types of games, whether card, word or board games. She refers to herself as a MSNBC junkie, loves watching various talk shows and listening to gospel radio.

Bright Spot: FCS P-EBT Team

Protecting the well-being of Illinois families has always been a priority for our agency, especially when it comes to ensuring that families have access to the most basic necessities, such as food, during the pandemic.

For this month's Bright Spot, we would like to highlight the work of our Division of Family and Community Services (FCS) on successfully securing the extension of the Illinois Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) benefits for the months of August and September. Through the FCS team's tenacity and hard work, the extension was approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service on September 16, 2020.

Under the extension, some of the children who received P-EBT from this past Spring could be eligible for additional August and September benefits. The USDA authorized and funded the P-EBT program, which, with most students staying at home and doing remote learning, brought food benefits to all school-aged children who were eligible for free or reduced meals at schools through the National School Lunch Program. The benefit was available to students for August and September if they met additional, specific criteria.

Behind the Scenes

The FCS team had only 18 days to get the August and September extension done during the pandemic. After completion, they were able to reach a total of 499,510 children and provide them with over $68 million in benefits for food they didn't receive in August and September.

For almost 100,000 of those kids, this is the only Food Assistance Benefit they are receiving. Our team has talked to these families and this is more than food on the table, this is some stress relief for a household that gets a little breathing room in their budget during these trying times. This impact truly has downstream benefits to families and students that we could never measure.

A special thank you to all of our FCS staff, especially Kasey Reagan, Jonathan Claytor, Ashley Weatherford, Susan Hamlin, Brian Cruse, Jamie McCoy, Steve Casper, Mike Norris, Tracy Paben, Jyothi Gadgi, Leslie Cully, Tracy Keen, Patty Herker, Selena Hernandez, Jose Vazquez, Jill Outland, and Angela Imhoff.

Every step along the way was important and necessary to get this done and I would like to thank all of the team members that were able to accomplish this amazing feat. There were only a handful of states that were able to get these benefits to students for this extension and we are extremely fortunate that our team made us one of them.