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Elgin Chamber honors ‘unsung heroes’ for community service

Eleanor MacKinney

Eleanor MacKinney

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Updated: January 2, 2014 6:20AM

ELGIN — The Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce recently honored three people as unsung heroes of the community.

Eleanor MacKinney, Aloune Khotisene and Lucy Elliott were recognized at the chamber’s 34th Annual Community Thanksgiving luncheon.

Organizations were recognized at the same time for what was described as their “tremendous commitment made to making Elgin a great place to live, work and play.”

They included Advocate Sherman Hospital, American Cancer Society, Boys & Girls Club of Elgin, Centro de Informacion, City of Elgin and City Council, Clare Woods/Bartlett Learning Center, Community Crisis Center, Easter Seals DuPage and Fox Valley, Ecker Center for Mental Health, Elgin Area Leadership Academy , Elgin Community College & Trustees, Elgin Symphony Orchestra, Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra, Food for Greater Elgin, Gail Borden Public Library, Girl Scouts of Northern Illinois, Greater Elgin Family Care Center, Judson University , Kiwanis Club of Elgin, Little Angels , Prairie Valley Family YMCA , Presence Saint Joseph Hospital, Renz Addiction Counseling Center, School District U46 & Board of Education, Senior Services Associates, United Way of Elgin, VNA Health Care, Youth Leadership Academy, and YWCA Elgin.

“Thanksgiving is an ideal occasion to join together to give thanks for our bountiful blessings,” said Elgin Area Chamber President & CEO Carol Gieske in a release on the event. “One of the standing traditions in the Greater Elgin area is the Annual Community Thanksgiving Luncheon where we reach out in true gratitude and friendship to local service clubs and organizations and sponsor a community luncheon.”

The release described the accomplishments and service of the three individual honorees:

Eleanor MacKinney

An Elgin Community College trustee, MacKinney served 34 years as a teacher and administrator in U46. Through her leadership and creativity, she ensures that others have the same resources and support that she has had. She knows the Fox Valley very well and believes that equity and inclusion initiatives will benefit our young people who may be disadvantaged—challenged by poverty and the lack of opportunities.

As a founding board member and immediate past president of Hamilton Wings, she shares her boundless compassion, tireless commitment, and unwavering advocacy to and for our community’s children and their families, each and every day.

She used resources and developed community partnerships to better link the classroom and “hands-on learning.”

Today, there are architects and carpenters who credit their career choice to their experiences in the Building Trades Program.

There are chefs who got their start in the student-run restaurants at the high schools that MacKinney supported.

She created advisory councils to support projects, especially those related to new technology such as the CAD program.

She established a “partnership academy” at Elgin High School which served as a model when U46 created the academy program for all the high schools.

MacKinney was a trailblazer and always supportive of other educators, trying new approaches in education. Former U46 colleague Karen Fox says, “Ellie was mentoring others before the term was even being used. When she sees the potential for someone to grow and learn, she is there — working alongside, being an example. But she also is a risk-taker, and because of that, the young people in our community are benefitting from Ellie’s leadership.”

Since her election, MacKinney has continued to provide leadership — serving twice as board vice chair and twice as chair. In 2011, she was re-elected to her third six-year term. As a team player, Ellie is the first to credit the college, but her steadfast commitment to her ideals has had an influence.

Aloune Khotisene

Four decades ago, thousands of Lao refugees, now Illinois residents, arrived in the U.S. after fleeing their homeland in an era of unprecedented upheaval and loss. After the communist takeover in 1975, many who sided with the U.S. and the Royal Lao government were sent to “re-education” labor camps in rural Laos, thus tearing families apart for years, and leaving those fortunate enough to survive with various social problems.

For many Lao, the war led to extreme physical and cultural dislocation. Their journey to Illinois included years of limbo in refugee camps, followed by the difficulties of resettlement and adjustment once they arrived.

Khotisene arrived in Elgin as a refugee from Laos during this turbulent time for his family. He finished his schooling and graduated, began classes at Elgin Community College and now works for the YWCA Elgin as the director of the Southeast Youth Program. He works tirelessly to bring awareness of the growing population of Laotians in the community.

His community contributions include:

Member of the Board of Directors of the Elgin Drug and Taskforce and is currently the president.

Serves on the Elgin Human Relationship Commission as a voice for the Lao community in Elgin.

Provide key leadership organizing the Lao New Year Community Celebration in Elgin. During this celebration many workshops were available for participates to learn about the cultural of the Lao Community.

Began the Lao Traditional Dance troop, spearheaded the Lao Artist Festival.

Oversees an employment program for Lao youth through the Chicago Area Project

Organized the International Festival parade in 2012 and 2013.

With Khotisene’s in-depth knowledge of the Lao youth, he sensed that many were losing a connection with the past generations. In 2012, he began working on the YWCA Elgin Lao Oral History project to help youth revive lost cultural identity and provide a forum for adults to forgive.

For the Lao community, which totals approximately 7,102 people relocating to Illinois, the oral histories provide an opportunity for closure, for their stories of tragedy and hardship to finally be told publicly. On Nov. 10, the first interviews were previewed at Gail Borden Library. With the help of the Palmer Foundation, the project will continue to capture these important stories of survival over the next three years.

Lucy Elliott

A force for positive change and awareness in the Elgin area for the past 30 years, Elliott has connected Elgin organizations in a way that makes programming and education stronger. She has committed herself to creating pride in Elgin for everyone, but especially children, newcomers to the area and those who are on the fringes. She also has made it a priority to teach Elgin residents to remember and celebrate Elgin’s past and the people who came before us.

As a community activist, Elliot was a founding member of ARCHES (Advocate to Revitalize Cultural & Historic Elgin Sites) which identifies and protects significant architectural buildings in Elgin. ARCHES was an important step in the resurgence of the U46-owned observatory/planetarium. She has helped create more professional exhibits in the building, assisted with public programs, and is organizing the rehab of the dome woodwork.

Elliot got involved with the Elgin Historical Museum through the city’s sesquicentennial in 2004 and developed a Youth History Fair. Through her vision, it was a great success with hands-on stations for children to work in Grandma’s Kitchen, wash laundry with a scrub board like in the old days, make finger weavings, attend a one-room school house, and participate in blacksmith and Native American demonstrations. All activities were held to make history less abstract for children and create an understanding of cultural development from the 19th century to today.

Working as the museum educator at the Elgin Historical Museum for the past six years, Elliot has encouraged visitors to be proud of Elgin and Elgin’s history. Each child who comes through the museum on a class trip leaves knowing the name of the museum building — Old Main — and that it has a cupola on top.

In her community outreach, she’s been involved with the Farmer’s Market, Black History and Hispanic Culture Fairs at the Library, the GPA Housewalk, and the city’s IFest Committee.

“We truly have extraordinary people in our community that continue a tradition of giving,” Gieske said. “This annual community Thanksgiving luncheon lets us reach out in true gratitude and friendship with our co-sponsors and highlight these three amazing individuals.”

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