The passing of the torch at West Side Community House

By Victoria Shea

(Plain Press, July 2018)     “We’re here to honor the career, the passion and the legacy of Dawn Kolograf, our fearless leader for twenty-seven-years.” proclaims Rachelle Milner, acting as Master of Ceremonies for the celebration to honor Dawn Kolograf’s retirement from the West Side Community House. “This has been an awesome experience, and so awesome to sit at your feet.”

For the last fifteen years, Milner has been serving as the Family Services Director. Now, however, with a smile on her face, she has accepted the torch from Kolograf.

“It has meant so much to me,” Milner said in her speech at the ceremony on June 21. “I’m so grateful to you.”

When Dawn first arrived at West Side Community House, she joined at a grim time. According to the article written back in 1992 for the Plain Press announcing Dawn’s arrival, the director of the Community House, Cynthia Maxwell, has resigned midsummer, the agency had been thrust into the middle of the St. Ignatius High School expansion issue; there was a six-figure deficit and relationships between management and the Social Agencies Employees Union, District 1199 was strained.

Since then, under Dawn’s leadership, the Community House has experienced various changes. The most significant difference was when Kolograf decided to “follow poverty” and move the Community House from its location at West 30th Street and Bridge Avenue to its present location at West 93rd and Lorain.

Kolograf’s service to the Community House was also recognized. On behalf of the board, Board President Bob Moran presented her with a glass plaque honoring her years of tireless service and dedication. “Dawn had been a tireless and dedicated leader of this organization,” he said.

But for Kolograft, she stressed that she learned by experience. Before becoming the Executive Director, she stated that she had excellent role models that “demonstrated the importance of having a staff of mission-driven people for whom the work was a calling, not just a job.” It was something she would follow throughout her career, with diverse services at Salvation Army, Big Brother/Big Sister and Alta House.

During her speech, Kolograf reflected on those experiences, and stated that the first few years at West Side Community House were a “trial-by-fire” but that she “got through with considerable help and support.”

However, she never considered the success of the Community House her own. “Running the Community House has always been a team effort,” Kolograf said. “Your inspiration, determination and belief in our mission has always made West Side Community House such a very special place-a warm, welcoming place where kindness prevails even when situations become difficult. But warmth and kindness come from people not from buildings, and you are all the people who make up this place, no matter who the director is.”

On passing the torch to Rachelle Milner, Kolograf spoke of the leadership, creativity, warmth and kindness Rachelle has to offer as the Community House’s twenty-second Executive Director and stated that she felt comfortable leaving the Community House “in the hands of someone who loves it as much as I do.”

In her speech, Milner thanked Kolograf for her service: “I’m so grateful to you. I thank you for your passion. I thank you for your dedication. I thank you for being mission-minded and driven.”

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