Larry Shapiro Talks Communications, The Senior Club And Why Retirement Is Not An Option

By Michael Romain

Last week, I had a conversation with Larry Shapiro, the former Communications Director for Mayor Yarbrough, whose position as the Village’s Senior Citizen Coordinator was effectively eliminated when he resigned. Shapiro shared his thoughts on whether or not he’d want the Village to revive his latter position, his functions as Communications Director and why the word retirement is not in his vocabulary, among other matters.

What did you do as the Mayor’s Communications Director?

I’m Congressman [Danny K.] Davis’s suburban representative and I was then-State Rep. Karen Yarbrough’s chief-of-staff before serving with Mayor Yarbrough. Some people say, ‘Well, you’re just a spokesperson.’ And they believe that the only time people need one is when there’s some crisis like a shooting. But I understood the position as, ‘How do we communicate what we’re doing with the residents?’ So, for instance, during the flooding of 2008, we did robocalls for a week and a half. We created the Maywood News, which has over 400 subscribers. We started Coffee with the Mayor.

So the whole ideas was visibility, accessibility, interactivity. We wanted to make government active. We felt that the newsletter we put out four times a year (which I created with the help of Tina Valentino, publisher of Neighbors), was an excellent newsletter. In addition to helping with the Mayor’s board reports, I helped compile his briefing notes and speeches. But beyond that [technical communications matters], I wanted to emphasize the importance of human services.

And this flows into your other role as the Senior Citizen Coordinator. So, you expanded the functions of Communications Director to include social, and/or human, services?

Yes. I didn’t look at the job of Communications Director in isolation. There were a lot of social initiatives that I considered in my purview. For instance, I was a teacher for 20 years and I felt that it was important for government to highlight successful young people. So, I established a relationship with District 89 and we did the Honor Roll Reception. Students from every school in Maywood who made the honor roll got rewarded. Then we added another element that we did at the board meetings. I wanted to do something for students who haven’t made the honor roll, but just need the motivation to do it. So we did the most-improved students program.

We also started the Larry Rogers Annual Board Review Town Hall meeting. This is bringing the government to the people. When we had issues dealing with public safety, we brought the state’s attorney to the town hall meeting. We had a large number of Latino residents who weren’t bilingual, so we created a town hall meeting in Spanish. We also started a series of meetings between the Mayor and the pastors in the community. We did about three or four of those. All these things are predicated on communications, reaching out to people about what’s important to them.

How did your involvement with the Senior Club come about?

I started the current Maywood Senior Club, because whenever I’d go to other villages like Broadview and Bellwood as part of Rep. Yarbrough’s staff — all of them had well-established Senior Clubs. Maywood had one of its own then, but it was hodge-podge compared to those in other villages. So, me and people like Dot Lindsey and Dorris Penington got together and we talked about what we could do. That’s how we came up with the concept that is the model for what we have today. And it’s a wonderful, wonderful thing.

We would have a variety of special guests come in. Seniors got legal services. Loyola would come four times a year and talk about health issues. The seniors got lunches provided by different people who I would call up ahead of time. We’d appoint a volunteer to create a menu for the week. Volunteers rotated the menu-creating duties. And I’d call about twelve people a week to see if they could bring food. It didn’t cost the seniors anything, but they’d get good, whole, nutritious lunches. Fortunately, the Board voted to keep our budget, which amounts to about $5,o00 total.

What’s your future role in the Club?

Whether or not I stay on as Senior Director is up to the Board. I would love to continue to be involved in the senior program. It’s not just the Senior Club, it’s the entire ream of activities that benefit seniors, like interacting with the Secretary of State to help the seniors renew their driver’s licenses, having the Cook County Sheriff’s office come to talk about issues of elder abuse, putting on health fairs, etc. So, I would be happy to continue to coordinate senior services in Maywood, but that’s not my decision.

And what about the position of Communications Director?

I believe that’s been eliminated. The new mayor might ask the Village Manager to take on that role.

Were you full-time when you were the Director?

No, it wasn’t a full-time position. I averaged between twenty and twenty-five hours a week.

What do you think Mayor Perkins will do with the Senior Club now that she’s in office?

I don’t presume to know what she’d want to do with the Club in the future.

What are your plans going forward in retirement?

I don’t know how to retire. I’m still on staff with Congressman Davis. I have reconnected with over a thousand of my former students at South Shore High School, where I was a creative writing teacher and the drama director. I intend to continue to be involved in the South Shore community, as well as in Maywood.

But there will never, ever be in my life, based on my belief system, dead time. I’m not a cruise guy, a vacation guy, a sit in the backyard and chill guy. I’m someone who believes in community. VFP

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