The man who created the nonprofit Project Oz is retiring as its executive director after 45 years with the youth services agency.
Peter Rankaitis has worked for Project Oz since 1973 when he founded it as a student at Illinois State University. What started as a service to prevent youth involved in Illinois Department of Children and Family Services from being moved out of state has expanded to provide services such as substance abuse prevention, workforce development training and housing for runaway and homeless youth.
Project Oz has named Lisa Thompson the next executive director. She's currently vice president of operations and has been with the agency for 23 years.
Rankaitis said he felt this was a good time for the organization to transition into new leadership.
“A lot of things in the environment are changing, the way funding is and health care reform and budget reform,” Rankaitis said. “I think it’s time to get out of the way and let younger, smarter people figure this stuff out.”
Rankaitis added Project Oz’s legacy has been its proactive community outreach.
“I’d like to think our impact has been we’ve helped set a tone and encourage people to reach out and go to youth and families who are in trouble rather than trying to make them come to you if they are having problems,” he said.
Project Oz board member Joe Bell said Rankaitis pioneered innovative programs to meet the changing needs of youth in the community, including the first Host Home network in Illinois, the county’s first and only transitional living program for homeless youth, and authoring the nation’s first drug prevention education curriculum for students with special needs.
“Peter’s leadership and vision laid the foundation for the success of Project Oz, and his ability to define our principles and execute our strategy has allowed the agency to positively impact the lives of youth across McLean and Livingston counties,” Bell said.
Rankaitis will retire Oct. 15. Project Oz is planning a retirement celebration for Rankaitis in October. Supporters are asked to call Project Oz at (309) 827-0377 if they plan to attend.
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