The Impact of Experience: An Accidental Community Leader
“Dara Salk got me involved.” Walk into a community meeting, or join a neighborhood improvement project, or visit places where neighbors help in the 47th Ward of Chicago and there is a good chance someone will tell you, “I’m here because Dara asked me.”
Dara brings people together. She does it with a ferocious energy and urgency. She embodies the word “grassroots.” She makes the community, and not herself, the center of attention. And the work she does always leads to one goal: A stronger community.
How did this happen? Dara leveraged a lifetime of expertise, involvement, and leadership in corporate recruiting, health training, coaching and community involvement. She’s always done community service. Whether it’s volunteering at schools or supporting political candidates or a range of community service initiatives too long to mention. As a mother and a neighbor who has spent 38 years in her community, Dara’s work has been to make a large metropolitan community feel like a small town where neighbors know each other’s names.
In her 60’s, Dara saw an even greater opportunity to make an impact. A young man named Ameya Pawar was offering a fresh, diverse, independent, and inclusive approach to the tired politics of Chicago. She knew this was an opportunity to use her community experience to create positive, long-lasting change. Dara volunteered for Mr. Pawar’s election campaign.
Pawar won the election. It was a win that shocked the city. Pawar, one of City Council’s youngest members, would be representing roughly 55,000 constituents on the NW side of Chicago.
Dara pledged to the new Alderman that she would volunteer a year of her life to assist him in the development of a brand new community service operation. As a member of the powerhouse team assembled by Pawar, Dara brought the voice of experience towards engaging residents of all ages.
As part of the Pawar team, Dara contributed to:
- a new network of block clubs to ensure all are heard;
- a Ward Council to bring local voices to inform Aldermanic decisions;
- a council of community members committed to local schools;
- a network of community gardens; and
- a new approach to aging-in-community – a Senior Council focused on supporting residents to live their best years and remain connected to their community as they age.
Dara created a volunteer corps at the Alderman’s Office that is heavily staffed by older adults. In 2012, her invaluable contribution was recognized as she was hired to serve as the Aldermanic Constituent Services Liaison.
She is also a Founding Board member of Forward Chicago and serves as a leader in this local, non-profit organization that supports residents as they age connecting neighbors, businesses, and local organizations to build a strong foundation for the community.
Most recently, Dara is helping in the development of a new pet and people food pantry.
Dara is an inspirational example of how an experienced, engaged, and connected older adult can transform a community. When Dara gets involved, the community gets stronger.