‘ExtraOrdinary Woman’ Alexis Kalish Recognized for Literacy Service Work

Reposted from The Pantagraph

Story and Photos by Brendan Denison

BLOOMINGTON — After Alexis Kalish went to college with plans to become a special education teacher, she took a laboratory job at State Farm that commenced a 34-year career with the company.

But, she said that she probably always had “the love of teaching in the back of my mind.”

Her passion for uplifting the minds of others through the Regional Office of Education #17 STAR Adult Literacy program, in addition to her work for several other organizations, led to recognition as Kalish was named the third-quarter honoree for The ExtraOrdinary Women Project.

The honors were formally presented to her Friday evening at The Center for Health in Normal. Kalish, 73, said she was both grateful for and honored by the accolade, while also noting there are many other women deserving of the recognition.

Volunteering has been a big part of her world, she said in advance of the award presentation, and her service began with the literacy program. She said this work began in an era where some folks would quit school to help out on the family farm. Others struggled to read, she said, but were very motivated and “a delight to work with.”

Alexis Kalish, 73, was named the 2022 third quarter recipient of the ExtraOrdinary Women Award of 2022.

She said some credited her with helping them attain literacy, which was gratifying. From her perspective, every inch of progress made was a cause for celebration.

Kalish continued her literacy work with Chestnut Health Systems and the Regional Alternative Schools, serving teen boys who dealt with homelessness, substance abuse or tough environments. She said she was so proud of her students, and it was rewarding to see how much they grew.

She’s also on her second six-year term of the McLean County Arts Center board, where until recently she worked on the events committee.

Kalish was active for 15 years with the League of Women Voters, where she said she registered voters, participated in studies on mental health and advocated for a graduated income tax. She was also the organization’s secretary.

Additionally, she’s served the nonprofit Immigration Project by assisting people with applications and interviews for naturalization or citizenship. Kalish learned the ropes of the complex applications and an interview process that she said most people would find challenging.

It was another rewarding experience for her, she said, where she continued to be delighted by the success of her clients.

She was also part of the American Business Women’s Association for 35 years. The scholarship program was one of her favorite parts of that organization.

Being recognized for her work and included in the assembly of ExtraOrdinary Women boosted Kalish’s spirits “at a time when I could use that,” she said.

She said she was diagnosed in March 2021 with multiple myeloma, a bone marrow cancer. After undergoing a stem cell transplant, and later being hospitalized with COVID, Kalish said she’s spent a lot of time rebuilding.

“Right now I’m on an upswing and hope I can keep it that way,” she said.

She also still has her sights set on more outreach work, Kalish said, if she continues to feel better.

From right, ExtraOrdinary Women Project Co-founder and board President Feli Sebastian poses Friday, Sept. 30, 2022, with project awardees Candice Byrd, Alexis Kalish, Rebecca Lynn, and Rosemary Parker at The Center for Health in Normal.

Feli Sebastian, board president and co-founder of the ExtraOrdinary Women Project, told The Pantagraph that Kalish was chosen for her steadfastness and tenacity.

She added all of their awardees have set a pattern: They have indomitable spirits that triumph over their challenges, whether they are personal, career or relationship-related.

Sebastian also noted they’ve all led quiet lives away from the limelight.

“We want to create a platform that allows women to share their stories hoping to educate and inspire others,” Sebastian said. “We hope to bridge gaps and foster empathy and understanding.”

She also said that connectedness can only further strengthen the Bloomington-Normal community.

When asked how the project might inspire others, Kalish said she hopes people will see service work as a rewarding effort that makes a difference in people’s lives.

She said she’s very fortunate.

“I had a good job,” Kalish said. “I have a good family. I have a good husband. And, I think people need to give back.

“I hope I’m an example for that.”

Illinois Prairie Community Foundation serves as fiscal sponsor for the ExtraOrdinary Women Project. If you would like to support these efforts to celebrate women in our community, please donate online.

Top photo caption: Alexis Kalish, left, is handed her certification naming her as the quarter three recipient of the ExtraOrdinary Women Award of 2022, by Melissa Larson in Normal.