Growing Business with Austin Weekly News

Forging Strong Community Connections

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By West Side Business Network

This story was written and published by Metro Creative Graphics, Inc. and was included in the November edition of Metro Plus Business.

Long before she signed on as a sales rep for the Austin Weekly News, a community newspaper on the west side of Chicago, Dawn Ferencak understood the importance of building good relationships with her customers. Having worked for the weekly's parent company — the Oak Park, Illinois-based Wednesday Journal — for five years before moving over to the Austin Weekly News, Ferencak was well schooled in all aspects of advertising sales. But in 2010, when she took on her new assignment in Austin — one of Chicago's largest neighborhoods and an area known for its high crime rate — Ferencak was both appreciative of the opportunity and apprehensive about how she would be received by the local business community.

"At first, I was pretty nervous," she describes, "but then realized that the best way was to jump in full force. My first week on the job, there was an invitation to a bus tour of hair salons in Austin and I called and asked if my son — who was eight at the time — could come along with me. So we both ended up going and found the people on the bus were so welcoming and engaging. I knew then that the way to connect with the community was for people to know me and trust me."

And that's exactly what Ferencak has done. With her son, Paxton, now 10, by her side, she has become a fixture in the West Side community, building strong professional and personal relationships and growing her business along the way. Together, mother and son make weekly visits to a variety of West Side locales, meeting and greeting local residents, business owners and community leaders, then writing about their visits in "Out & About in Austin."

Ferencak has also been instrumental in bringing together various sectors of the community for networking, socializing, and mutual support. In February of this year, she launched West Side Women, a group that meets once a month to explore common interests and community concerns as well as expand their professional networks.

A few months later, she formed a similar group for West Side Men. Notes Ferencak, "I always walk away from these gatherings with new business, but it's a soft sell because people see me not as a salesperson, but as a leader who is dedicated to promoting business growth in the community."

Most recently, Ferencak formed West Side Bridge, an alliance between business people in Austin and those in neighboring Oak Park, a more affluent suburban area just outside the city.

"When I started my new job, I thought I'd be successful in getting my suburban clients to advertise in the Austin paper, but there was a huge stigma because the economic environment on the West Side is so depressed," she recalls. "For example, there are no major grocery stores and no book stores, so residents have to spend their money in the surrounding suburbs. I saw a need to raise these issues and bring people from these neighboring communities together — to connect the power of the suburbs with the needs of the West Side. And it has been a very productive partnership."

All of Ferencak's efforts have had an amazing impact on her, both personally and professionally. "From a business standpoint, this little struggling newspaper has become one of the most successful publications in the Wednesday Journal group because the advertising has grown so much due to relationshipbuilding," she explains. "Advertising in the Austin Weekly News has quadrupled in the last three years because business people in the community want to do business with someone they know and trust."

On a personal level, both Ferencak and 10-year-old Paxton wouldn't turn back the clock for anything. "These experiences have been lifechanging for me and have enriched my son's life in a way that will be with him forever," sums up Ferencak. "It's been amazing to have fallen in love with this neighborhood through discovering all that's great about it — especially the incredible people we've met who we now call friends."

Reader Comments

46 Comments - Add Your Comment

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Carol Kilgallon from Elmhurst  

Posted: October 31st, 2013 3:03 PM

Dawn ?" GREAT JOB and YOU SHOULD BE PROUD!!!!!

Andre Hines from chicago  

Posted: October 31st, 2013 12:58 PM

Wow what a nice article - and well deserved. Dawn is awesome! She oftentimes talk about how much she loves her work in Austin and how she has benefitted. I have worked on the Westside of Chicago for about 20 years and am happy to say that Dawn is one of our True Gems! Her commitment to our community (her community) is Amazing. She has connected me with so many individuals and organizations (in my own community). Again, Dawn is a Westside Gem!

Andrew from Chicago  

Posted: October 14th, 2013 9:46 AM

Dawn is true asset to the community. She is very easy to work with and always follows through. Her dedication to making positive change in the community is evident through her hard work and willingness to go the extra mile. She has been a huge help in creating awareness in the community about the non-profit organization that I work for and the events we put on. We hope to work with Dawn for years to come! Thanks for everything that you do Dawn!

RoseMary Gange from Oak Park  

Posted: October 14th, 2013 12:56 AM

Dawn always goes the extra mile for clients. If anyone can be an asset to Austin, it is Dawn.

Ollie from Chicago  

Posted: October 13th, 2013 12:41 PM

Way to go Dawn, Loved the article. You are amazing and there is so much more to come. I am a bystander of your brilliance and a cheer leader of your life! Love you, Rev.Ollie

Connie Johnson from Chicago  

Posted: October 11th, 2013 12:36 PM

Dawn, Since we met 11 years ago, I have been amazed at what a wonderful person and resource you are. Your creative endeavors to raise your son with a village of people is to be commended.

Tina Levy from Forest Park  

Posted: October 11th, 2013 10:23 AM

Congrats Dawn. This recognition is well deserved. I really love the West Side Bridge meetings you put together.

Vickie Rivkin from Chicago  

Posted: October 11th, 2013 9:44 AM

Dawn and Paxton, what an awesome duo! You provide a great service to Austin and Oak Park. I applaud all of your hard work. Best wishes always.

Athena Green-Williams from the Austin Community, Chicago  

Posted: October 11th, 2013 6:56 AM

I am glad to see that Dawn's outreach has not gone unnoticed. To me Dawn is the true example of and effort of "Austin Coming Together". I personally appreciate that Dawn has taken her role to a whole new level to bring about an overdue change for our communities. It all starts with a seed. Thanks Dawn!

Cheryl from Oak Park  

Posted: October 10th, 2013 5:12 PM

Awesome! Cheryl Muņoz The Sugar Beet Cooperative www.sugarbeetcoop.com

Laurie and Steve from Oak Park  

Posted: October 10th, 2013 5:10 PM

Hi Dawn! Love the inside scoop about your job and how it all began. Fun hearing of Paxton's involvement. Great results! Our community is fortunate to have you. Congrats! Continued best wishes! Laurie and Steve Berggren The Tennis and Fitness Centre

Heather from Oak Park  

Posted: October 10th, 2013 5:06 PM

I read the wonderful article about you and your son. What a fabulous recognition for both of you and the Austin Area.

Claudette McDonald from Oak Park  

Posted: October 10th, 2013 9:57 AM

Dawn is so good at what she does!! She's prompt, professional and creative. We at DiSomma Foot & Ankle Clinic love Dawn and congratulate her for all her hard work. Continued Success Dawn!!!

Iris M from Forest Park, IL  

Posted: October 10th, 2013 9:38 AM

Dawn, I am so proud to know you. I can see where Paxton gets all of his "everything good about him traits"....from you. Keep it up, we need the both of you in all of our communities.

Arlene Jones from Chicago  

Posted: October 10th, 2013 9:31 AM

Dawn Ferencak is a phenomenal person. She has instituted so many great ideas that combines the Austin Weekly News with local businesses and people. She is appreciated more than she will ever know. Thank you Dawn for all you do!

Lydia from Oak Park  

Posted: October 10th, 2013 9:15 AM

Great article. Dawn and Paxton are inspirational people and I love them both. We're lucky to have you.

Natalie from Oak Park  

Posted: October 10th, 2013 6:28 AM

Dawn, congratulations! You are bringing business AND hope to the Austin community. Keep up the great work of connecting and building!

La Shawn K Ford from Chicago  

Posted: October 9th, 2013 10:08 PM

I have the privilege of representing two different communities - Oak Park and Austin. The communities both have many difference and each has their share challenges. In order to move pass challenges in communities, we must have more involvement from citizens like Dawn and Paxton. I support Dawn and Paxton and applaud the effort to help build a stronger bridge between two neighboring communities.

Kay Foran from Michigan  

Posted: October 9th, 2013 9:47 PM

congratulations, Dawn. Well deserved kudos.

Renee Martinez from Chicago  

Posted: October 9th, 2013 9:44 PM

What a nice homage! congrats!

Olga Solares from Chicago  

Posted: October 9th, 2013 9:41 PM

Congratulations Dawn! You and Paxton are a Breath of fresh air!!!

Sandra Sokol from Oak Park  

Posted: October 9th, 2013 9:40 PM

Dawn and Paxton, wonderful team, doing a great job working with and for all. Congratulations. How lucky to have you both.

Elizabeth Wilson Yu from Oak Park  

Posted: October 9th, 2013 6:49 PM

Dawn & Paxton are both vibrant, kind, interested, and determined - a real-life winning Mother-Son Team that knows how to make the world a better place. We can all learn from their example! Yes, there will always be obstacles, and yes, there is always a way to rise above!! We are so proud to be a part of your lives.

Rich Brooks from River forest  

Posted: October 9th, 2013 6:42 PM

Two of my favorite people...Dawn and Paxton. Congratulations on the good work you do!!

Dan Lundak from Chicago  

Posted: October 9th, 2013 6:34 PM

Dawn is personable, hard working, inspiring, creative and a daily role model for her son and all of us.

Rebecca Beasley from Oak Park  

Posted: October 9th, 2013 6:01 PM

Congratulations on your current and future success!

Sally Iberg from Oak Park  

Posted: October 9th, 2013 5:41 PM

Dawn's enthusiasm for the community is contagious. She does a great job of bringing people together. And it's always a delight when Paxton joins her. We are blessed by her many gifts.

Roberta Miles from Chicago  

Posted: October 9th, 2013 5:20 PM

You Rock, as Always!!!!!!!

Laura Best from Oak Park  

Posted: October 9th, 2013 5:14 PM

Proof that hard work, initiative and dedication work! Great job, Dawn! Good for you and Pax! And here's to more accolades - Cheers!

Jennifer from Wheaton  

Posted: October 9th, 2013 5:13 PM

This is awesome! Congratulations!!!! Are you still doing artwork as well?

Bonni McKeown from Chicago  

Posted: October 9th, 2013 5:04 PM

Hooray for Dawn and everyone who is having the faith to work together!

Joanna Sobran from Chicago  

Posted: October 9th, 2013 5:04 PM

You are an inspiration to me, Paxton and everyone around you. You see the good in everyone and make the impossible possible. Keep rocking it Dawn! Joanna

Michelle Young from Forest Park  

Posted: October 9th, 2013 5:02 PM

Congratulations Dawn on your success and the paper's success. It's critical that we break down the walls around racism and inaccurate perceptions of our communities. Kudos to you for doing this in your business and personal life. You are right that will be a significant contribution to Paxton's life as he grows up. It's time that we broke down those barriers and educated our children to connect with people from all races and economic situations. That is how we all become better!

Justina from Chicago  

Posted: October 9th, 2013 4:56 PM

Awesome article! Justina Winfrey Bethel New Life Community Impact Coordinator

Lydia from Oak Park  

Posted: October 9th, 2013 4:52 PM

This is great Dawn. You are an amazing woman and Paxton is a great kid.

Teresa Powell from Oak Park  

Posted: October 9th, 2013 4:51 PM

Congratulations, Dawn! I passed the story on to the Village Board...you are doing such good work in Austin!

Beth from Chicago  

Posted: October 9th, 2013 4:38 PM

Great article Dawn, congratulations on being appreciated as a smart, go-getter and wonderful mom, also, teaching Paxton from an early age diversity and how communication and an open mind can help neighboring communities improve!

Don Offermann from Forest Park  

Posted: October 9th, 2013 4:38 PM

Great feature! Congratulations.

Marvin Austin from Bethel New Life  

Posted: October 9th, 2013 4:31 PM

Congratulations Dawn! Nice and very deserving article. Keep up the good work!

Dennis M. DeRossett from Springfield  

Posted: October 9th, 2013 4:30 PM

Dawn: This is a great article! I commend you and your son for the attitude and effort you are putting forth to make your community and your newspaper much better, both individually and together. Congratulations on the great work you are doing. I know Dan Haley and Andy Johnson must be very proud of you! Keep up the great work. Dennis M. DeRossett Executive Director Illinois Press Association

NB from Chicago  

Posted: October 9th, 2013 2:54 PM

Congrats! I smell a political future...

RMcLaren from Oak Park  

Posted: October 9th, 2013 1:58 PM

Dawn has done Oak Park a tremendous service by bringing access to the Austin community, a community replete with great people and organizations doing good. To quote- this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Frank Brim from Chicago  

Posted: October 9th, 2013 1:32 PM

Austin is glad to have you Dawn as a partner in highlighting the good in our community that receives very little press. I represent the Garfield Park Little league when I say Thank you for stopping to allow us to share our story with the world through the Austin Weekly News.

Darnell Shields from Chicago  

Posted: October 9th, 2013 1:15 PM

On behalf of Austin Coming Together, we are so glad you accepted the challenge of creating a better Austin community by leveraging your role at the Austin Weekly News.

Lynne Lance from Springfield  

Posted: October 9th, 2013 1:06 PM

Congratulations, Dawn. You rock!

Leonard Grossman from River Forest  

Posted: October 9th, 2013 11:53 AM

Congratulations to Dawn who is an amazing resource and asset to the community.

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