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Commissioner Patricia Horton Models Significance and Service in the City of Chicago

Patricia Horton & Ken Schaefle

CHICAGO, IL (January 10, 2007) – A trip to Bangladesh several years ago fueled the nationally honored, innovative work of Patricia Horton C’95 in disadvantaged neighborhoods of Chicago.

The trip halfway around the world also led to this North Park alumna’s recent successful bid to become a commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Chicago, which she admits is not a glamorous job, but which makes sure people have clean water while enhancing the environment.

Horton already was working to strengthen the lives of disadvantaged women in the city, when she traveled to see the work of Muhammad Yunus, who was awarded the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in developing micro-enterprises.

"That was an awakening to me as a person, as a woman and as a spoiled American," Horton said.

Through micro-enterprises, people – generally women – are given low-interest loans to develop businesses that will lead to self-sufficiency. In honoring Yunus, the Nobel committee said Yunus’ work had "shown that even the poorest of the poor can work to bring about their own development."

Since her trip, Horton has helped thousands of women to achieve self-sufficiency. Her innovative work as an enterprise agent at the Women’s Self-Employment Project helped lead the organization to receive the first Presidential Award for Poverty Alleviation awarded by the White House in 1997. The Project was the largest micro-enterprise program targeting low-income urban women in the country.

Horton is now vice president of the Madison Western Chamber of Commerce and executive director of the West Side Business Group in Chicago, through which she helps nonprofits obtain grants for development and growth in neighborhoods that have been written off by others. She also teaches entrepreneurship at a local college.

Sworn in last month as a commissioner to the Water Reclamation District (see photo, taken at the ceremony picturing Horton with Ken Schaefle, under whom she studied at North Park), Horton will help oversee a budget of $940.7 million – the fifth largest governmental budget in the state – and 2,100 employees. The District collects and treats the wastewater from more than five million people and the industrial equivalent of another 4.5 million people in Cook County each day. The District also operates the Deep Tunnel Project to collect and treat sewer overflows, and provides stormwater management for all of Cook County.

While in Bangladesh, Horton watched people bathe in filthy water, and saw the devastating effects of not having clean water to drink.

"When I came back to the U.S., I wanted people to be aware of the need for clean water," Horton says. "As a commissioner, I can set policy, and I can educate people."

Horton says her own education at North Park has proved invaluable.

"North Park really took care of me," says Horton, who earned a bachelor’s degree in organizational management. She also was the top player on the Viking tennis team.

"When I first started at school, I just wanted to be a missionary," says Horton, who had worked at two churches in Chicago and Portland, Ore. But she realized she also had "a passion for business."

Now she is combining her passion and her faith for the benefit of thousands across the City of Chicago.