Virginia Cooke, affectionately known in the volunteer community as “Ginny,” has done more to benefit people with disabilities in Illinois than most people do in a lifetime. She has built connections in the community that foster ongoing involvement, and her work has not only impacted those with disabilities, but their families as well.
Since she was 13 years old, Cooke has had a genuine concern for people with disabilities. At this young age, she began to volunteer for Misericordia, a residential home in Chicago that services people who have physical and cognitive concerns. This initial experience was the beginning of a mission that Cooke completed as an adult, to serve those who are undeserved and looked at as underdogs.
For the past eight years, Cooke was the executive director of Illinois Partners in Policymaking, and in 1997 founded Phoenix Perth Institute, a small nonprofit organization. The mission of the organization is to educate, improve the quality of life for those with disabilities and to empower families of those with disabilities. Though Cooke receives a minimal salary for her duties as director, she is at the job from seven in the morning to midnight. Her work touches people all over the state with diverse geographic, ethnic, and economic levels. She teaches people to work pro-actively with those in positions to make laws that affect family members. In addition to that, she teaches them that their children should have goals and dreams and that they can attain them.
Cooke has been a dream maker and a miracle worker for families of those with disabilities. She goes about her tasks with humor and joy and takes pride in teaching people to discover their tools they already have to do her job themselves. Her attitude and energy inspires people to achieve what they never thought possible. As a result of her leadership, families who go through the Partners program become familiar with their legislators in order to achieve certain goals. Some of them even go on to serve on state boards, committees, and task forces along with holding leadership roles both statewide and locally.
Cooke’s ceaseless efforts have resulted in policy changes within the state of Illinois. Now, there is money written into the state budget for family support and respite issues and more children are being included in mainstream courses. Her involvement in this area has spanned 20 years, and her involvement with the Partners in Policymaking has lasted for eight years and will continue well into the future.
Ginny Cooke’s innovative approach to solving problems involves those with concerns. She insists that those most affected should be educated. Her commitment in providing opportunities for all people to achieve their fullest potential is what she believes will help others to change their attitude and continue to change our lives.