DuPage’s COVID Grant Just Won a National Award. Meet the People Behind It.   

Lindsay Jirasek just wanted someone to listen.

It was the spring of 2020, peak COVID. For eight years, Lindsay’s Wheaton boutique Frocks & Frills Vintage had been a popular local shop. Now, no one had walked through the doors in months. The store was falling behind on rent and the bills were piling up.

“Despite all the ups and downs businesses usually have, I never had this feeling of helplessness I had when COVID hit,” Lindsay said.

Desperate, she joined millions of small-business owners across the country in applying for grants, money that could help her keep the lights on. Then, one after another, the grants fell through. What really stung was that many of the programs rejected Lindsay outright, without ever reaching out. They weren’t listening.

Then, Lindsay applied for the Reinvest DuPage Small Business Grant. Created by the DuPage County Board and administered by Choose DuPage, the grant was designed to distribute federal relief funds to local small businesses. In the months to come, Choose DuPage granted $36.7 million to more than 2,000 small businesses.

Lindsay’s was one.

“I felt like I had a friend who had their hand out in the darkness, willing to help,” she said.

“Before I knew it, people were reaching out and actually responding to all my questions. When I got the letter that said I was approved, I just couldn’t believe it. That check meant I could keep my lights on.”

In honor of the Reinvest DuPage Small Business Grant program, the National Association of Counties (NACo) has recognized DuPage County with an Achievement Award. Launched in 1970, Achievement Awards honor innovative, effective county government programs that strengthen services for residents.

“DuPage County is proud to be a leader and to provide creative and innovative programs. We are grateful for the recognition from NACo and for the opportunity to share information about these initiatives with government leaders across the nation,” said County Board Chair Deborah Conroy.

For business owners like Lindsay, how the program was executed was nearly as important as the program itself.

When DuPage County asked Choose DuPage to implement Reinvest DuPage, we knew we had to act fast. But we also had to get it right. We needed a well-designed program that was accessible for the businesses that needed it most. The experience had to be as intuitive and seamless as possible.

“There were so many factors to consider,” said Greg Bedalov, President and CEO of Choose DuPage. “How would someone apply? What information do we need from them? How do we verify eligibility?”

There to ensure the program was a success, was a small group of hard-working people. Choose DuPage Board Members, Glenn Mazade of Old National Bank; Hugh Elliott of Dugan + Lopatka CPAs; Chris Pohlman of Mesirow; Bob Hutchinson of Wheaton Bank & Trust; and Bert Nuehring of Crowe LLP formed a committee. Together with Teresa O’Brien from Choose DuPage, and an army of interns, the Reinvest DuPage Small Business Relief Grant Program came to life.

After launching a marketing campaign to educate local business owners about the grant and how to apply, the committee reviewed thousands of applications, vetted businesses and ultimately awarded grants.

Through their hard work, and the hard work of many others, Choose DuPage delivered an accessible experience that helped deliver federal funds to business owners who needed it most. For businesses like Lindsay’s and the communities they serve, the program’s impact is still felt today.

“Reinvest DuPage happened fast, because it had to happen fast. But it has also made a lasting impact on our community, both economically and culturally,” Greg said.

“When I hear stories like Lindsay’s, I remember that this is ultimately about people helping people. This is a reminder that the bonds of our community, our relationships, our trust in one another, make us resilient in the face of change.

“We’re here to lift each other up.”