As a resident of the village of South Holland, I feel blessed to live in a place led by a man who puts the needs of our community ahead of his own. Don De Graff was first elected village president in 1995. He previously served on the Village Board.
De Graff doesn’t just eat, sleep and drink South Holland; he bleeds South Holland. He has lived and worked in the village his entire life, and his mom and brother also live in town. His commitment has never wavered and this is demonstrated at every board meeting, Mayor’s Coffee, community festival and every conversation.
Don De Graff is the reason I moved to South Holland 15 years ago. As I researched the community, I took an indepth look into the village leader. I was impressed to learn about his service to South Holland prior to becoming the village president. I loved seeing the picture of his beautiful family and pictures of softball teams he coached. His passion in faith and family was refreshing, and when he spoke about the future of South Holland, it was with a mighty conviction and I believed in him. But it was his response to the demographic change of the community that sealed the deal for me.
During a time when South Holland experienced a racial change, village leaders like Don De Graff and the late Dave Janke didn’t fear this change; they embraced it and encouraged others to embrace it. They were pioneers of change and responded to it by creating new programs and activities that encourage residents to connect and get to know others in their neighborhood.
Their priority was to combat fears by connecting our schools and churches, residents, businesses and social groups, and by creating opportunities for open and honest communication and community engagement.
In 1999, members of the Public Relations Commission, led by Janke and supported by De Graff, began their work of developing a Diversity Dinners program, with the first dinner held in early 2000. The dinners were designed to provide an opportunity for residents to engage in a discussion around multi-cultural issues.
De Graff and Janke believed that celebrating diversity and promoting unity was the key to building and maintaining a strong, vibrant community. This is the foundation on which South Holland’s annual Diversity Dinners (now known as CommUNITY Dinners) were established and continue today during the month of October. The village proactively and intentionally brings people together to break down barriers and to foster and promote a sense of togetherness.
In recent years, the program was renamed CommUNITY Dinners to emphasize South Holland’s commitment to promote unity throughout the village. The dinners, held in the homes of residents, are designed to foster positive discussions between people of different age, gender, race and ethnicity, and religion, in a relaxed and enjoyable setting. This level of communication can lead to lasting relationships with neighbors, as well as new neighborhood associations and community groups.
I attend and enjoy very much the CommUNITY Dinners, and I wholeheartedly agree with De Graff’s and Janke’s philosophy — when we take time to get to know others by participating in CommUNITY Dinners, this type of communication helps to break down the barriers that can exist between neighbors. From my personal experience, as residents we often discover we are more alike than different.
Brian and Patrice Kamstra are South Holland residents who host a dinner in their home every year, without fail. I asked Patrice why it’s important to host or attend a CommUNITY Dinner. Kamstra responded, “There is nothing better than sharing a meal together to build friendships and a sense of community. It is a wonderful way for new residents to get to know their neighbors and the community. Neighbors arrive as guests and leave as family.” Well said Patrice!