The team representing Flossmoor as a finalist for the Governor's Hometown Award are, from left, Mayor Michelle Nelson, Kevin Dorsey, Brent Bachus, Stephanie Wright, Jackie Riffice, Tristan Shaw, Dave Becker, Trinity Pierce and Jonathan Bogue. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)
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Flossmoor shines light on community involvement, environmental action during state fair presentation

The team representing Flossmoor as a finalist for the Governor's Hometown Award are, from left, Mayor Michelle Nelson, Kevin Dorsey, Brent Bachus, Stephanie Wright, Jackie Riffice, Tristan Shaw, Dave Becker, Trinity Pierce and Jonathan Bogue. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)
The team representing Flossmoor as a finalist for the Governor’s Hometown Award are, from left, Mayor Michelle Nelson, Kevin Dorsey, Brent Bachus, Stephanie Wright, Jackie Riffice, Tristan Shaw, Dave Becker, Trinity Pierce and Jonathan Bogue. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

Flossmoor brought trees to the stage of the Lincoln Building at the Illinois State Fair on Wednesday, Aug. 16, an appropriate feature for a presentation of the village’s Plant the Gem project, which was one of four finalists for the Governor’s Hometown Award.

The Governor’s Silver Cup went to another finalist, the Pike County community of Pleasant Hill, for its summer free meals for kids program, but it was a close contest, according to Serve Illinois Commission Recognitions Chair Amy Rueff. 

“What great projects we have in illinois. I would encourage you to apply again next year. The scores were so close,” she said to representatives of the three finalists who weren’t selected.

Flossmoor Assistant Village Manager Jonathan Bogue response to a judge's question while, from left, Kevin Dorsey, Brent Bachus and Stephanie Wright look on during the Governor's Hometown Award presentations on Wednesday, Aug. 16, at the Illinois State Fair. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)
Flossmoor Assistant Village Manager Jonathan Bogue response to a judge’s question
while, from left, Kevin Dorsey, Brent Bachus and Stephanie Wright look on during the
Governor’s Hometown Award presentations on Wednesday, Aug. 16, at the Illinois
State Fair. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

Serve Illinois Executive Director Andres Fernandez also praised the four finalists, which in addition to Flossmoor and Pleasant Hill included the City of Joliet and the Plainfield Emergency Management Agency.

“What we saw here — compared to what we hear — really changes the narrative, doesn’t it? Community action built on volunteerism, public and private partnerships, compassion and conviction is what we’ve seen,” he said. “On behalf of Serve Illinois, I want to thank Flossmoor, Joliet, Plainfield and Pleasant Hill for representing Illinois very well.”

Flossmoor’s nine-member team presented the village’s October 2022 Plant the Gem project, which involved more than 250 volunteers, to a panel of judges, illustrating the combination of community engagement and environmental stewardship the project exemplified.

The team included Mayor Michelle Nelson, Assistant Village Manager Jonathan Bogue, Village Community Engagement Manager Stephanie Wright, Flossmoor Forestry Maintenance Technician Dave Becker, Community Relations Commission Vice Chair Jackie Riffice, Green Commission Chair Tristan Shaw, Community Relations Commission member Kevin Dorsey, Brent Bachus of Flossmoor’s Future and Trinity Pierce of the Chicago Tree Initiative.

Bogue said everyone on the team contributed to the village’s message of how volunteers mobilize to make a difference in the environmental health of the village. 

During the Q&A period after the presentation, judges asked about how the village would sustain the effort.

Bachus noted that the organizing work done by Flossmoor’s Future as it developed the first run of the Hidden Gem Half Marathon in 2019 helped create a structure to support future volunteer efforts. Race organizers recruited neighborhood captains, who in turn recruited their neighbors to help manage the race and cheer the runners.

“To me, one of the coolest things that happened is we set up this grassroots infrastructure for the race which now we’re using for everything else in the community,” Bachus said, noting that block parties and other volunteer efforts use the same networks to bring people together.

Wright said the village helps encourage volunteers to feel part of something important.

“You want to create a situation where people do not want to miss out on the next great thing you’re doing,” she said.

Flossmoor Green Commission Chair Tristan Shaw answers a judge's questions about the need for ambitious tree-planting projects like the village's Plant the Gem event. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)
Flossmoor Green Commission Chair Tristan Shaw answers a judge’s questions
about the need for ambitious tree-planting projects like the village’s Plant
the Gem event. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

Riffice said the Community Relations Commission advises on inclusivity, helping the village identify ways to make projects available to everyone.

Perhaps because Plant the Gem volunteers put more than 300 trees in the ground in one day, one judge asked whether it is possible to plant too many trees.

Shaw fielded the question. “No,” he said. He explained that the area is actually experiencing significant tree decline that needs to be countered by planting native species.

His business, Possibility Place Nursery, donated 25 saplings to give away at the fair. They included swamp white oak, sweet gum, sour gum and American plum varieties. 

“Half of our tree canopy is invasive species,” he said, noting that in years past trees were planted that do not fit the ecosystem. “We brought in exotic species that provide no habitat for anything. They are green and that is it.”

Becker and Bogue explained the village’s systems for managing, caring for and inventorying the village’s trees.

Dorsey said his part of the presentation connected the village’s efforts to support diversity in the tree canopy with the diversity of the people in the community. 

“Flossmoor makes it all work,” he said.  

After the award was presented, Nelson said the village was honored to be chosen as a finalist from among 48 communities that were nominated.

“There are communities all over this great state that are doing amazing work for their residents and those in need,” she said.

The village previously was a finalist for the award in 2020 for its annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service event.

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