Pembroke Access to Health

Connecting the Dots so Local Heroes from Pembroke Can Create Access to Health 

KATE REED, May 13, 2020

We can accomplish so much when local agents of change and systems of support come together.

That's why I'm proud to share a recent story about fiercely dedicated people mobilizing and joining together to help neighbors, family and friends in Pembroke Township.

United Way of Kankakee and Iroquois Counties fights for the health, education, and financial well-being of every citizen in Kankakee and Iroquois Counties. Emphasis on the word every.

A community not having access to COVID-19 supports such as prevention, testing, protection, treatment, social service agency assistance, and mental health support is not acceptable.

So, we connected the dots. We formed a network of leaders who care, who would also refuse to turn their heads away from the existing health disparities. 

And we took action.


As United Way's Community Impact Coordinator, I had the privilege of convening Pembroke Access to Health calls over the past three weeks. After one of these conference calls, Riverside Healthcare's Vice President of Institutional Advancement, Matt McBurnie said, "We want to serve this community well. We were touched that the community may have felt we are not paying attention. We now have the testing available and Pembroke will be our top priority. The first indication of this plan is this phone call. We are doing this because we want to take care of people. They are not forgotten. What we have done is prioritize them."

Shortly after that call, Riverside Healthcare launched its first mobile COVID-19 testing site in Pembroke. Local leaders of Pembroke went door to door to spread the word, transported residents to the testing site using their own vehicles and made signs to thank healthcare workers. 

Hopkins Park Mayor Mark Hodge shared, "I want to thank everyone for helping to bring this together. As heavily black occupied communities, the people were happy to be acknowledged and recognized. The residents were elated we brought this service to this community, instead of just to a white community they cannot get to. They clearly understand this was for them."



Pembroke's trusted community nurse, Brenda Stewart, led the charge for community health education and PPE distribution at the CITGO gas station. Together with her husband, Reggie Stewart, Brenda has transformed the hub of the drugs and the violence into a hub of prevention, protection, and education. "We want to make sure they [Pembroke residents] feel like somebody cares. And doing what we can to not have to find bodies in trailers. I am here and want to be utilized to provide support," said Stewart.

In addition to distributing PPE to over 1,000 residents, the community has tackled food insecurity and unemployment by creating jobs to deliver emergency food and supplies to hundreds of shut-in seniors and immune system compromised individuals.

Urban Farmer

Local leaders have also secured strong letters of support for a Farm Readiness and Community Resiliency Program to provide "Pembroke Pride Produce Boxes" full of fresh fruits and vegetables. Leaders are still seeking additional funding and support to support recovery efforts to stabilize local markets and increase access to nutritious food. 

nutritious food

As if that wasn't enough to accomplish over the last three weeks, local volunteers came together to completely renovate two buildings to serve as a COVID-19 distribution center and community hub. Over 600 Pembroke residents received information regarding resources like 211,, FamilyWize and other social service intake processes. 


Thank you to our partners for helping to connect the dots in this life-changing, life-saving work. Some people may get forgotten during COVID-19. But not in our backyard. We are joining hands across systems, cultures, races, religions, and sectors, all bringing our strengths to the table. We join hands with those who may have previously been forgotten, look them in the eye, and ask them to lead us so that together, we can get it right this time. And they are leading us to those who could have been forgotten. But not in our backyard. Not this time. We want to be known for how we treat our people."


Kate Reed-United Way of Kankakee & Iroquois Counties; Matt McBurnie-Riverside Healthcare; Dawn Wilbarger-Riverside Healthcare; Kathy Peterson-AMITA Health St. Mary’s; Kevin Bernard-AMITA Health St. Mary’s; Lindsay Wilson-Kankakee County Health Department; John Bevis-Kankakee County Health Department; Johari Cole-Kweli-Pembroke Community Development Corporation; Mayor Mark Hodge-Village of Hopkins Park; Nick Allen-Senator Patrick Joyce’s office; Brenda Stewart-Runaway Buckers; Jacob Campbell-Field Museum; Township Supervisor Brenda Miles-Pembroke Township; Leanne Gregoire-Catholic Charities; Dr. Aditi Vyas- Riverside Medical Center; John Keigher- Urban Farmer; Cora Woods- Hope House Family Restoration Center Team/A More Excellent Way Inc.; Ted Petersen and the Van Drunen leadership- Van Drunen Farms; Senator Patrick Joyce; Archana Liggins and Sharon McNeil-Northern IL Food Bank; Lillian and Bruce Spencer- Lord’s Lambs Food Bank; Mary Williams, Becky and Dave McMillan- Bible Witness Camp; Sharadi Kweli- Pembroke Farming Family Association; Todd Nothstine- Church of the Nazarene; Nick Leep- Hopkins Park Ministry; Julio Puentes- United States Department of Agriculture; Cassie Appleton-United Way of Kankakee & Iroquois Counties