In a 2012 interview, Center on Halsted CEO Modesto "Tico" Valle predicted that Lisa Gilmore would be the organization's next CEO. But after nearly eight years with the Center, Gilmore has resigned her position. That announcement comes alongside major changes in services and programs at the Center.
Gilmore's departure is among the most significant staff changes at the organization in recent years. She was among the Center's longest-serving and most publicly visible employees.
Gilmore started at Horizons Community Services (now Center on Halsted) as an intern in 2005 and most recently worked as the Center's director of education and victim advocacy.
Her last day was July 12.
"I feel like I've had a lot of really awesome opportunities that have come to me at the Center," Gilmore told Windy City Times.
Gilmore declined to go into detail about her decision to leave but said, "It's come to a time where I have realized it's time for me to move on and figure out what is next for me."
Gilmore said she is looking at creating a statewide project for LGBTQ people in smaller communities outside the city.
In a statement released to Windy City Times, the Center said it wishes Gilmore the best.
"Under Lisa's leadership, the Education and Victim Advocacy Department, as well as the Anti-Violence Project, flourished and helped sustain and build upon Center on Halsted's national presence," the Center said. "She served on the governance committee of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, of which Center on Halsted is a founding member. Lisa has a deep-rooted career pushing for social change and advocating for the least represented voices; and, she will continue to be successful in her future endeavors, no matter what they may be."
In an interview celebrating the Center's 5th anniversary last year, Valle told Windy City Times that he felt Gilmore could be the next CEO of the organization. But Gilmore's clout in Chicago's LGBT community extended beyond her seniority at the Center. Gilmore maintained positive relationships with many younger queer-identified activists who tended to be otherwise skeptical of the large organization.
Gilmore's departure comes at a time of restructuring at the Center, most significantly to the organization's education and victim advocacy program, which Gilmore oversaw. That program aimed to prevent and respond to violenceoffering support to survivors, including court accompaniment. Elliott said that court accompaniment services have ceased due to a shortfall of funds.
That shortfall is due at least in part to the conclusion of a pilot grant from the Cook County State's Attorney's office, said Tom Elliott, spokesperson for the Center.
In addition, Gilmore's position and two others in the program will not be re-hired, said Elliott.
"Lisa's position as it was formerly structured will not be filled," said Elliott. "We are restructuring the Education and Victim Advocacy department into a new program, called Advocacy and Community Engagement, to better reflect the growing need for advocacy efforts and education and involvement of the community on the issues that affect our community most."
According to Elliott, Gilmore's title and role would have changed had she stayed on. Filling that role will now be Jane Merrill, a former fellow at the Center who worked under Gilmore. The position of Anti-Violence Project (AVP) manager, formerly held by Anne Huffman, will not be filled either.
According to Elliott, the Center is restructuring the program due to feedback from community members, who asked the Center to amp up its community advocacy efforts. The new program is being spread out over the mental health program, Elliott said. But that shift will not result in new hires.
"The clinical work will be done by Mental Health staff and the related policy/advocacy work will be done by the newly formed Advocacy and Community Engagement Department," said Elliott.
The Center's crisis hotline has also stopped functioning 24-hours a day. The line will serve as a referral system, said Elliott. Elliott said that victims of violence can leave messages, which will be returned by the next business day. He said the switch comes alongside efforts to improve the Center's referral system to other agencies.
The Center remains part of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, a network of anti-violence projects that tracks hate violence around the country.
Finally, the Center has discontinued its Breakfast Program, the weekday programming offered to queer youth, many of whom otherwise went without a morning meal. Elliott said that a grant awarded to Howard Brown Health Center allowed that organization to offer breakfasts, and that the Center ceased its program to avoid duplicating services. The Center's programming, however, has moved to the afternoon, Elliott said. Youth do receive food at the Center in the evening.
Elliott said that the changes in programming do not represent cutbacks in services, but reflect shifts in the organization's goals towards advocacy in addition to direct service.
Merrill echoed that statement.
"There are some things that we're simply no longer able to provide, but it's also restructuring," said Merrill.
That advocacy piece is less political than it is personal, said Merrill. While the Center will continue to provide direct service, Merrill said, employees are being pushed to empower clients to advocate for themselves.
"Our services are not going to solve the entire problem," said Merrill. "It's good to be less dependent. … We're on the theory that people know best what issues are important to them."