Neighborhood Picnic provides perfect summer fun

  • Written by Kelly White

hand painting photo 7-20

Photo by Kelly White

    Graciela Fuentebella, 8, of Evergreen Park, gets her hand painted at the First United Methodist Church’s Neighborhood Picnic on Saturday afternoon in Evergreen Park.


Summertime is for fun, barbecues and socializing.

The congregation at First United Methodist Church in Evergreen Park knows that is the true recipe of the season.

The second annual Neighborhood Picnic was held Saturday afternoon on the church grounds, 9358 S. Homan Ave. Over 200 residents attended the event throughout the day – almost doubling the number of attendees from last summer.

“The church year-round provides a nice, cozy and family-friendly environment,” said James Foreman, of Chicago.

Foreman has been a member of the church for the past three years.

The family-friendly picnic on Saturday featured fun for all ages with inflatable slides, face painting and a bounce house for children, a DJ and interactive games for adults, including bean bags and chess.

Not only were attendees encouraged to join in on the fun, but children were encouraged to mingle with other neighborhood children. Adults were encouraged to mingle with other neighborhood adults, according to church officials.

“It’s a nice day to get out and enjoy the people and the friendships,” said Wayne Hastings, of Evergreen Park and 35-year-member of First United Methodist Church.

The free event was organized by the First United Methodist Church’s Men’s Group, spearheaded by member Jeffrey Fuentebella, along with Pastor Larry Paris.

“Having this kind of event will give families and community hope, understanding and peace of mind and heart as they fellowship and socialize with each other,” Fuentebella said. “The more that attend, the merrier.”

“This event is a collaboration between our church, The Temple of Promise Apostolic Church, and members of the community,” Paris said. “It is also the culmination of the previous week’s Vacation Bible School that takes place over the summer at the church. The goal of the event is to promote community between both churches and members of the larger surrounding area. We hope that we each expand our circle of friendships beyond our own doors.”

A large food buffet was provided by the men’s club, made up of grilled burgers, hot dogs, chicken and pork sandwiches, fresh fruit, salads and barbecued ribs. Water and soft drinks were also available.

“Having more new people in our church is always my vision,” Fuentebella said. “I'm not expecting for the result. All I’m expecting is to have fun and great fellowship within the community, and God works with the rest.”

Evergreen Park resident Bob Vogeltanz has been a member of the church for over 60 years.

“I first came here when I was just a baby,” said Vogeltanz, 70. “I was confirmed in the church in 1958, and I was married there. My entire family belongs to this church and we are all very actively involved.”

United Methodist Church first opened its doors in 1893, coincidentally the same year the Village of Evergreen Park was founded. The current building was erected in 1947.

The church gathers an average of 60 people each Sunday for worship, according to Paris.

“Our emphasis is on our youth,” Paris said. “We provide Sunday School, an active youth group and Vacation Bible School. We also host four scouting groups -- two of them are for boys and two of them are for girls. This year we will have at least four Eagle Scouts in our parish. Children are welcome here.”

“While we hold the distinction of being the first church in Evergreen Park, we're gaining a reputation for being the church for kids,” Fuentebella said. “Our outreach has been aimed at the needs of children with fun events.”

Aside from the children-based organizations, the church supports agencies like the Village Food Pantry, ChildServ, Red Bird Mission and UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief), which serve children and families facing poverty, disaster and loss.

Law would ban employment discrimination based on religious practices, attire

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

jacqueline collins photo 7-20

Photo by Dermot Connolly

State Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-16th, center at left) and state Rep. Theresa Mah (D-2nd), with other political and religious leaders, met last Thursday outside the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview, 7360 W. 93rd St., to urge Gov. Bruce Rauner to sign Senate Bill 1697, prohibiting employment discrimination against people who wear religious garb or hairstyles.


State Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-16th) brought a group of political and religious leaders together last Thursday at the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview to urge Gov. Rauner to sign a bill prohibiting employers from requiring anyone from “forgoing any sincerely held religious practice or attire” to keep or obtain a job.

Collins was the chief sponsor of Senate Bill 1697, which the General Assembly passed and sent to Rauner to sign on June 14. Among those joining her at the press conference were state Rep. Theresa Mah (D-2nd), who sponsored the bill in the House, state Rep. Will Davis (D-30th), Mosque Foundation President Oussama Jammal and Rabbi Michael Belinsky, representing the Chicago Board of Rabbis.

“This bill truly goes to the foundation of our country,” Collins said, sharing a quote from George Washington that, “The United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”

“This country truly was built by immigrants and slaves,” said Collins. “The government’s role is to protect all Americans from discrimination, regardless of their ethnicity or race or faith.

“Fighting prejudice is never as simple as getting a bill signed into law,” Collins added. “It requires all of us to push for a democracy that lives up to founding principles. But prohibiting discrimination--protecting opportunity and supporting each American’s God-given rights – is the first step. This is legislation that we need now more than ever.”

Mah explained that the bill amends the Illinois Human Rights Act, making it a violation for an employer “to impose as a condition of obtaining or retaining employment any term or condition that requires a person to violate or forgo a sincerely held practice of his or her religion including the wearing of any attire, clothing, or facial hair in accordance with the requirements of his or her religion.”

“The First Amendment of the United States Constitution is clear that our country is meant to be a place with freedom of religion and cultural customs,” said Mah. “We all come from different backgrounds and choose to worship how we please. Despite existing laws, it was important to have more specific laws to protect against loss of employment or employment opportunities. We need to call upon our fellow citizens to support it, as well as our representatives, and urge Gov. Rauner to sign it.

“Everyone has a right to be free of from discrimination in the workplace. We are not looking for preferential treatment, but fair treatment,” said Jammal.

“This is a bill we can support because it is not just to protect against discrimination, but it celebrates the religious diversity of this country. It is a celebration of America. It makes it open to everyone. This is a positive thing,” said Belinsky. “Wearing a kippa, like I do, is usually not a problem. But I think it is unfortunate that anyone should be singled out for their hair or garb.”

“There is a real sensibility to the bill too, regarding health and safety issues,” said Belinsky, referring to wording in the bill that states, “dress codes or grooming policies that include restrictions related to the maintenance of workplace safety or food sanitation are not prohibited.”

“Dr., Martin Luther King said we should judge individuals on their character, not by the clothes that they wear or how they fix their hair,” said Davis.

The press conference coincidentally was held the same week as controversial comments made by Palos Township Trustee Sharon Brannigan regarding Muslims moving into the community, allegedly without documentation, led to calls for her to step down.

“It is regrettable that a person like her, in a district that is quite diverse, would make such bigoted, baseless comments,” said Jammal. “She unfairly targeted a community that has done a lot economically for this area, building businesses and nice homes. We have some of the best doctors in the Chicago area.”

Sara Hamdan, a community organizer with Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) on Chicago’s Southwest Side, was also at the press conference.

“We’re moving in the right direction with any legislation like that that can protect people of faith from discrimination,” said Hamdan afterward.

Bridgeview resident Rifqa Falaneh, an intern with state Rep. Juliana Stratton (D-5th), represented Stratton at the press conference.

“I’m a part of this community,” said Falaneh, who, like Hamdan, wears a hijab. “As a college student, I don’t feel I have been discriminated against in the workplace yet. But if it happens, it is good to know this legislation is there.”


Chicago Ridge Board rescinds ordinance limiting mayoral powers

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

What a difference an election makes.

Just 13 months after the Chicago Ridge Village Board passed an ordinance giving them the power to reject mayoral appointments, a reconstituted board rescinded the ordinance at its meeting on July 11.

The original ordinance strengthened the “advice and consent” powers of trustees, giving them the right to reject any mayoral appointment. If a majority voted against an appointment, the mayor would have 30 days to convince them otherwise. If unsuccessful, the mayor would have to choose another candidate.

But Mayor Chuck Tokar was so strongly against it that he filed suit last year against the five trustees who approved it, saying he wanted a judge to determine whether the ordinance violated the state constitution regarding mayoral powers. Well, in April, around the time that Tokar won re-election and three new trustees were elected to the board, a judge ruled against his position. But that is all moot now.

The vote on July 11 was 4-2 to rescind the ordinance, with the no votes cast by Trustee Fran Coglianese, who pushed for it last year, and newly elected Lisel Kwartnik.

“I’m very happy. It means we are not going to waste taxpayer dollars to appeal it, which could have lasted another year,” said Tokar this week. “I didn’t want to appeal, but every attorney I talked to said the judge was wrong.”

“It’s sad that so much money was spent on this, and the mayor has stated that he would abide by whatever the judge’s decision was,” said Coglianese, who ran unsuccessfully against Tokar for mayor in April.

“It’s a loss to the board. I hope they will never be in the same position we were last year, but if so, we will be back where we started,” she added.

Tokar contends that the ordinance isn’t necessary, because the trustees “hold the purse strings” and can get rid of an unwanted appointee by simply reducing the salary to an unacceptable level.

“They have to vote on everyone’s salary. All they have to do is lower the salary and then just raise it again,” said the mayor.

Coglianese disagreed, pointing out that efforts to lower the mayor’s salary last year were unsuccessful.

The issue originated last year when a majority of the board voted against the appointment of Burt Odelson as village attorney. But he stayed on until the end of Tokar’s term, and the board approved his appointment officially after the election, with only Coglianese voting against it.

“This year, the board was consulted on everything and I think all the appointments went well,” said Tokar. “They were all approved. I’m pretty happy with how things are going now.”

In a somewhat related matter at the July 11 meeting, the board also approved the appointment of Chris Fernandez to the Police and Fire Commission. He replaces Dan Higgins, a longtime commissioner who is stepping down.

“Chris is a detective with the Worth Police Department so he is a perfect fit,” said Tokar.

District 218 high schools named among best in Illinois

  • Written by by Michelle Zalesny

By Michelle Zalesny

Alan B. Shepard High School, Harold L. Richards High School and Dwight D. Eisenhower high schools were ranked among the top 100 high schools in Illinois, according to U.S. News & World Report.

“This is really, really positive thing for District 218 that our schools are recognized as the best in the state of Illinois,” said Dr. Sue Feeney, assistant superintendent of special services and instructional engagement, during the Year End Highlights Presentation at the District 218 School Board meeting last Thursday at Richards High School.

High schools are ranked in the annual U.S. News & World Report list based on how well the schools prepare students for college and their performance on state-required tests. Shepard High School in Palos Heights, with a graduation rate of 81 percent and college readiness of 24 percent (the district average), ranked 2,148 in the national rankings and 68 in Illinois, earning a silver medal.

Richards High School in Oak Lawn, with a college readiness of 24 percent and a graduation rate of 83 percent, ranked 1,974 in the national rankings and 62 in Illinois, earning a silver medal.

Eisenhower High School in Blue Island, with a graduation rate of 80 percent, scored a bronze medal and ranked 86 in the state. To receive a silver or gold medal, high schools must have a college readiness index of 20.91 or higher. High schools that achieved a bronze medal were not ranked in the national ranking.

The Year End Highlights Presentation also marked various accomplishments throughout the school year for both students and teachers — most notable the foreign language department was awarded the Arts and Foreign Language Implementation Assistance Grant in the amount of $75,000.

“This was used for professional development for our teachers, some online assessments and supplies like headsets for our Foreign Language department,” said Dr. Josh Barron, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction.

District 218 is also currently rolling out a PD2020 initiative that aims to increase student independence. The long term initiative is meant to improve instruction in the classroom.

A video was shown of LRC teacher Kim Borgia and English teacher Gia Mallet of Shepard High School as an example of impacted instruction that focused on student ownership in the classroom to bolster student independence.

The lessons focused on “The Catcher in the Rye” as the primary text for a research assignment. The video highlighted the use of scaffolding lessons.

“One of the ways we want to improve our student achievement is to focus on professional development with our teachers,” said Barron.

Local legislators brace for school funding debate in budget aftermath

  • Written by Joe Boyle



By Joe Boyle

The state budget stalemate has finally come to a close after just over two years, but local legislators said that a long road is ahead.

“Well, we stopped the bleeding,” said state Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th), whose district includes portions of Worth Township and Chicago’s Mount Greenwood neighborhood. “I can’t say that I was confident that a budget was going to be reached. This is the third budget cycle we have gone through. It has been difficult. But I think most of us were ready.”

The long-awaited budget was reached last Thursday by a narrow margin and will include a state income tax increase. The increase will go from a 3.75 percent personal income tax rate to 4.95 percent. Legislators said that the increase will result in $4.3 billion in additional revenue. House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-22nd)) called for the vote. The budget passed due in part to 15 Republicans who voted for it.

But while a budget is in place that will see Motor Fuel Tax funding for local municipalities, some local universities that were on the brink of losing their accreditation. The approved budge has ended that – for now.

“I think it is important for all the legislators to work together,” Cunningham said. “We need to take a step back. After decades of dishonesty, we have to work on the pensions.”

Cunningham said that the state has about $15 billion in debts and there is only money to pay for half of that. The problem, which Cunningham dates back as far as 1917, is that the state has never dealt with a growing pension debt.

“This has been years in the making,” Cunningham said. “We are limited in what we can do because of the Supreme Court decision to not alter pension plans.”

Cunningham mentioned that the state will have $500 million in savings that Gov. Bruce Rauner has sought. Cunningham said that legislators are looking at a 401(k) type retirement plan. One plan would have employees contributing 6.2 percent toward the pension plan and a minimum of 4 percent toward the 401(k) proposal. At this point, these plans are in the discussion phase.

Right now, Cunningham and other legislators are concerned about funding for school districts throughout the state. Rauner, who was angry that the override took place with none of his Turnaround Agenda demands being implemented, said he would veto Senate Bill 1 that has passed both houses of the Legislature. House members approved it last Thursday about $350 million more in school funding.

State Rep. Mary Flowers (D-31st), whose district includes Oak Lawn and Chicago’s Southwest Side, said that she was pleased that a budget was reached.

“It was like taking an 800-pound gorilla off my chest,” Flowers said.

But like Cunningham, Flowers knows that a lot of work has to be done, including dealing with the disparity in funding for the Chicago Public Schools.

“I must say I was pleasantly surprised that (the budget) it went through,” Flowers said. “I was happy that we had bipartisan support. Every time we went to negotiate with the governor, he would change his position. So I am proud we got something done.”

But Flowers also said that more needs to be done for families in poverty and students who struggle because of low income households.

“That is going to be a heavy debate,” Flowers said. “I think the governor is going to try and veto (Senate Bill 1). Some changes have to be made to provide a quality education for everyone. And we need better access for health care for poorer residents. We need more on-the-job training.”

Flowers believes that legislators will be back in Springfield soon to determine how they are going to fund schools in Illinois and deal with increasing debt.

“There is a lot to do,” Flowers said. “Our institutions have been damaged. We have to really assess what Illinois government is going to be about.”

Cunningham said that he will be working with the comptroller’s office to make sure local schools receive funding. He mentioned that St. Xavier University should receive $6 million and Moraine Valley Community College is owed $1.5 million.

“We have local school districts that could use some help,” Cunningham said. “Senate Bill 1 would pump millions of dollars to schools that really need the funding.”