11/19/20 - A Message from Secretary Hou: Bright Spot - Welcoming Centers

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Good Evening IDHS Staff,

As we continue to see today, COVID-19 has greatly impacted the stability of so many families in being able to access housing, food, employment, and other basic necessities. Across IDHS and our State agencies, we have continued to look for innovative ways to support our community, and to provide families with the resources they need to thrive. Today, I am excited to highlight the work of the Office of Welcoming Centers for Immigrant and Refugee Services (Welcoming Centers). Throughout COVID-19, immigrants, refugees, and limited English proficient persons have been able to look to the Welcoming Centers for compassion, support, and reliable information.

Through the State's CURES Act, the Welcoming Centers received more than $30 million to assist families facing housing instability, and to support them in building skills for long-term community growth. Through this funding, the Office of Welcoming Centers launched a Health Navigator program in collaboration with Alivio Medical Center and Arturo Velasquez institute-Community Colleges of Chicago to create a "Health Navigator Certificate" for individuals that are unemployed and underemployed due to COVID-19. After completing the 10-week training through one of our health navigator grantees, each participant will receive a certificate of completion to support them in providing health support and awareness to their community. In addition, we were able to create multilingual media campaigns to promote COVID testing, treatment, and prevention across television, radio, and social media.

Quickly executing and launching this new initiative was not easy, but our fearless team persevered. The team was tasked with processing the agreements in an accelerated time period due to the urgency of releasing COVID-specific funds. They worked diligently to create and execute an accelerated competitive solicitation, prepared agreements, and reviewed budgets and deliverables to assure that providers could quickly implement the program without interruptions. Overall, the team processed more than 77 agreements or agreement amendments with existing providers, and welcomed 14 new Welcoming Centers. Together, their work prevented homelessness, hunger, and hopelessness.

I would like to thank the entire team and those from other offices that provided advice and expertise. A special thank you to those who worked on the agreement and competitive solicitation process for CURES funding: Lilian Jimenez, Lisa Robinson, Guillermina Valdez, Dwight Jennings, Agata Fieske-Nesheiwat, and our grant agreement team and fiscal unit in Springfield. We also owe an exceptional thank you and our gratitude to Stefanie Mohlenbruck, the Budget Analyst for the Office of Welcoming Centers.

I look forward to learning about the future success of this program and to sharing it with all of you.

Thank you,


Grace B. Hou

Secretary, IDHS