Marist group to bring people together for 'Disability Day'

  • Written by Mary Alialoney

The Disability Defenders is a student-run organization at Marist High School that accepts those who differ developmentally and strive to spread awareness for the community to do the same. The group is hosting its first “Disability Day” from 3 to 7 p.m. Saturday, July 16 at the school, 4200 W. 115th St., Chicago.

The event is a day where people with disabilities and members of the local community can come together to enjoy food, music, and activities all while celebrating each other’s differences and focusing on each other’s’ similarities.

Alex Lyons, Marist Class of ’16, founded the Disability Defenders after being inspired by his own experiences working with people with disabilities. During his first years at Marist, Lyons was a member of the Peace Builders Initiative, a program of the Bernardin Center at the Catholic Theological Union that prepares youth from 33 Catholic high school communities in the Chicago area for active leadership roles in peacemaking and reconciliation.

Having enjoyed his time with the Peace Builders Initiative, Lyons decided to partake in the Marist Senior Service program. Senior Service provides senior students at Marist the opportunity to travel to a site within the local community to help and serve those in need.

Lyons completed his Senior Service at Park Lawn in Oak Lawn, where he worked closely with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“It was only an hour and 10 minutes out of my day, but it was the best hour and 10 minutes of my day,” Lyons said of his Senior Service experience. The time he spent with members of the Park Lawn community motivated him to create an event that would celebrate and assimilate people with disabilities into the broader local community.

According to Lyons, the driving idea behind the Disability Day event is to bring people together.

“People with disabilities are pushed aside. They’re put into separate schools and living communities, which provide support, attention, and care, but the separation lingers beyond that. These people are people and they live their lives just like we do – they laugh, they cry, they love. We’re all just people. Disability Day is a way to bring “normal” people together with other “normal” people for a day of fun,” Lyons said.

Lyons, the director of the Disability Defenders, has put together a team of 18 students who have spent their summer working hard to put on a great event. Elizabeth Seip, Marist Class of ’16 and the organization’s marketing director, organized fundraising efforts for the event and managed the event cost, which included finding food vendors and other donors or organizations who wanted to lend services to the event.

Seip shares Lyons sentiments of inclusion and celebration surrounding Disability Day. “We want to spread awareness and show solidarity to people with disabilities. Our community is their community, and this day is a way to bring everyone together,” Seip said.

Ellie Marino, who will be a senior next year at Marist, will take on the role of director of the Disability Defenders and is learning the ropes by working closely with Lyons. Marino said he has gained invaluable experience in event planning and has seen the true range of duties that goes into developing a successful event.

“You do big things, like booking a band to play at the event, but then you stop and think about the little things, like ‘wait… who can we get to donate spoons,’” Marino said.

Marino has a family member with a disability, so being a Disability Defender holds a special place in her heart.

“We want to really connect with the community at the event. So many people know someone with a disability or know people who have friends, family members, or loved ones with disabilities, so the celebration of disabilities touches home with a lot of people.”

The Disability Defenders are working closely with Park Lawn, Elim Christian Services and Sertoma Centre to make Disability Day in July a fundraising success for participants of these organizations. The plan for the event, according to Lyons, is to raise enough money to donate all proceeds back to each organization.

Frank M. Portada, Employment and Day Services director at Park Lawn, is appreciative of the Disability Defenders’ efforts to celebrate disabilities.

“The students at Marist have been wonderful in their support of Park Lawn and we’re excited to have fun at the event. The students have made sure to ask what kinds of foods are easiest for our participants with disabilities to eat and have made sure the venue is comfortable and welcoming for all the different needs of our participants,” Portada said.

Disability Day will include two live bands, a magician, balloon animals, a stilt-walker, face painting, and more, with plenty of food.

“It’s going to be like a festival where the whole family can have fun,” Lyons said of the event.

There are over 200 volunteers who will be helping at Disability Day, including the Knights of Columbus and local Girl Scout troops. Orland Park District and St. Alexander in Palos Heights have provided funding, promotional services, and connections to vendors and entertainment for the event.

If interested, send checks and donations to Marist High School at 4200 W. 115th St., Chicago IL, 60655 with “Disability Day” in the memo.

Fourth of July celebration outs focus on families and kids

  • Written by Kelly White


The Oak Lawn Park District decided to take the Fourth of July to a different level and have celebrations aimed at local area children.

The festivities kicked off on Monday morning at Centennial Park, 94th and Nashville Avenue, Oak Lawn, with a wide array of children’s-themed activities that included a treasure hunt sponsored by the Oak Lawn Firefighters Union, Freshline Watermelon Eating Contests for both youth and adults, Oak Lawn’s Got Talent, a giant inflatable slide, obstacle courses, games and crafts, balloon animals, gymnastics, dodgeball and archery.

The fun didn’t stop there as children were also able to bring their tricycles and have them washed for free in a tricycle car wash by park district employees.

Entertainment was provided by Magician Gary Kantor, who teaches magic to children at 135 local park districts. Music was provided by DJ Greg Carter of GAC Entertainment, playing today’s hottest hits and children’s favorites.

“We have been coming to this event for many years now,” said Oak Lawn resident Brooke McCain. “My kids love the activities, especially the interactive treasure hunt.”

McCain’s viewpoint was also shared by the Giffey family of Oak Lawn.

“I love this fest,” T.J. Giffey, 7, said. “I like because there are a bunch of games and different things to do.”

Giffey insisted his father, Rick, enter in this year’s Watermelon Eating Contest. Rick took home the 2015 first place title for the event and was looking forward to the challenge again.

“Of course I had to come back to defend me title,” he joked.

The event gathered together 500 patrons, surpassing last year’s attendance of 350.

Popularity for the annual event continues to grow larger every year, according to park district officials.

“This holiday-themed event is held annually in observance of celebrating the national holiday, Fourth of July,” said Mary Crout, safety coordinator and aquatic director for the Oak Lawn Park District. “The event provided our patrons with a safe and fun environment to enjoy and honor this holiday. There was something for everyone. Hopefully, this becomes a traditional event for families to participate in and to make life long memories.”

Bingo was available for adults while the children played, along with a military salute to the veterans in honor of the holiday.

The Fourth of July event has been taking place for more than 25 years, according to Crout, who has been heading the event’s planning since 1999, along with a team of park district employees.

“It is a great feeling of accomplishment, as a staff member and an event coordinator, to see patrons of all ages having a fun, safe and exciting Fourth of July at our event,” Crout said. “It also provided the park district an opportunity to showcase the different services we offer while providing fun and entertainment for our residents.”

In honor of the holiday, there was a special $2 admission for residents and non-residents to both of the Oak Lawn outdoor pools that are located at Centennial Aquatics Center, 94th Street and Nashville Ave., and Central Pool, 9400 S. Kenton Ave. The cost per pool is normally $7 per resident and $12 per non-resident.

A $5 wristband was available for children will allow them to participate in all daytime activities and gain admission to the pool. Last year, the wristband sales totaled $1,500.

“Any money revenue from the event goes back into the special event fund to be used towards next year's event,” said Denise Iwinski, marketing and public relations supervisor for the Oak Lawn Park District.

To end the day, the park district and the Village of Oak Lawn worked together to provide a firework show at Richards High School, 10601 Central Ave., Oak Lawn.

Stopgap budget brings local leaders some relief

  • Written by Joe Boyle

The Illinois legislature finally has a budget after a year. But since the agreement is only for six months, no celebrations were forthcoming.

Local legislators were relieved that a budget was approved at the last hour. They were in agreement that funding for the state education was the key. The budget was approved on June 30 after two days of marathon sessions between Democratic and Republican leaders.

“Illinois has very big problems, and we need bipartisan solutions. I am glad that we were able to come together and agree that investing in primary, secondary and higher education needs to be a top priority,” said state Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th). “This is a start to ensuring that we can get Illinois back on the correct fiscal path.”

Cunningham joined a bipartisan group of senators that were able to pass legislation that would raise the investment the state makes in elementary and secondary education by more than $6 million for the southwest suburbs school districts he represents. It would also send stopgap funding to institutions of higher education and human service providers throughout his district, which includes Worth Township.

Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett, who is also the president of the Southwest Conference of Mayors, felt that something was going to occur due to the unrelenting pressure on both parties to avoid another budget deadlock

“I think everybody agreed that a budget had to be reached,” said Bennett. “So, as far as funding for education, that was sort of a surprise. It was not only Chicago Public Schools that were in danger of not opening in the fall, it was schools downstate and everywhere else.”

The stopgap budget bill includes $720 million for state operational expenses and will go toward paying off bills at state facilities and agencies. The funding includes $1 billion for universities, community colleges and MAP grants. Nearly $655 million will go to nine universities including Chicago State, Eastern Illinois and Western Illinois. Chicago Public Schools will receive $100 million.

Rauner had set aside his “Turnaround Agenda,” which calls for measures to reduce collective bargaining and lessen the power of unions. The governor is hoping that more Republican victories in November will allow for some of his agenda items to become a reality in the future.

State Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-16th), whose district includes portions of Oak Lawn, was grateful that at least the compromise budget fully funds kindergarten through 12th grade education for the 2016-17 school year and restores state resources for afterschool and employment programs for at-risk youth:

“With bipartisan support, the General Assembly and the governor have finally reached a compromise that will allow our schools to open in the fall and will route desperately needed state funds to services for society’s most vulnerable – including afterschool and employment programs for youth at risk of falling victim to the cycle of violence in our inner cities,” said Collins.

Both Democrats and Republicans were feeling the heat as yet another budget deadline was about to occur. The agreement was reached on June 30 as Rauner signed budget deals to get state funding operations to move forward. This came after two days of marathon sessions between Democratic and Republican par

BRIA facility set to open soon in Palos Hills

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

bria of palos hills photo 6-30

Photo by Dermot Connolly

The STRIVE Center for Rehabilitation, a short-term rehab facility affiliated with BRIA Health Services of Palos Hills, Rehabilitation,” will host a July 12 grand opening in a brand-new building at 10400 S. Roberts Road in Palos Hills.


The STRIVE Center for Rehabilitation, billed as “the future of short-term rehabilitation,” will be opening in a couple of weeks in a brand-new building at 10400 S. Roberts Road in Palos Hills.

The grand opening of the new facility is scheduled from 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, July 12.

The new building, which represents at $20 million investment in the city according to Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett, is a 63-bed facility, offering short-term sub-acute rehabilitation. Its “five-star amenities,” as described in marketing materials, include “lavish private suites, and a 9,000 square-foot therapy gym complete with the world’s most advanced aquatic therapy pool and spa.”

STRIVE stands for strength through restoring independence, vitality and energy, and the program is promoted as the “most effective way home after a hospital stay.”

“People could stay here for five days for a hip or knee replacement or up to 100 days if necessary for something else,” said Amy Torres, marketing director for BRIA Health Services of Palos Hills. She said that while there are 63 beds now, it may add more in the future.

In addition to assisting people recovering from hip-replacement and other surgeries, those needing physical and occupational therapy following strokes and paralysis would also be candidates for the center.

Patients will have access to speech and physical therapy, occupational therapists, respiratory therapists, psychiatrists and a wide range of other help onsite.

BRIA also operates an existing 133-bed long-term care facility adjacent to the new building at 10424 S. Roberts Road, as well as others around Illinois and one in Wisconsin.

Torres said the two BRIA facilities in Palos Hills will eventually operate independently of each other, although they are being run as one unit for the time being.

“The long-term plan is to rebuild the long-term facility,” said Torres.

More information may be obtained by calling BRIA at (708) 770-5595

MWRD station closed as search for stray dog continues in Worth

  • Written by Dermot Connolly


The search for an elusive stray dog has resulted in the temporary closure of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District’s aeration station known as Harry “Bus” Yourell Waterfall Park at 117th and Harlem in Worth.

The popular park, which has been cordoned off for a month, is adjacent to the Calumet-Sag Channel and Water’s Edge golf course. The walking paths and wide lawns around the central waterfall pool are a big attraction for people, as well as geese, ducks and seagulls attracted to the flowing waters. People often feed them there, despite warnings not to do so.

After a 16-year-old boy reported being bitten by what he described as a coyote there in late April, the village of Worth sent out notices in June water bills informing residents of the incident. The boy said he and a friend left a walking trail, and climbed down the banks of the canal to get closer to a beaver. When they climbed back up, they said a coyote was standing in front of them, and bit the teen, causing a minor wound.

Several area residents questioned why the park was suddenly closed earlier this month. But according to a notice published on the village website at, it will be closed until further notice while a suspect dog is tracked down. The note states that village officials working with Cook County Animal Control have determined that while coyotes are longtime residents of the area, the problem animal was likely a mixed-breed dog, such as a German shepherd-husky mix that resembles a coyote.

The note states that together with the eyewitness account and an examination of biological material in the area, Dr. Donna Alexander, administrator of the Cook County Department of Animal and Rabies Control, and Stanley D. Gehrt, an expert on urban coyotes, “are confident there is a mixed-breed dog (probably German shepherd-husky or malamute) that has been stalking the area.

“It would be easy to mistake the dog for a coyote. Especially when someone is probably in panic mode, trying to fend off an attack. The park will remain closed until further notice while Cook County tries to trap the dog,” according to the village statement.

Becky Schlikerman, a county spokesperson, said Tuesday that, “The traps have been set and nothing has been captured by the traps. No sightings have been reported to Cook County Animal and Rabies Control.”

“It is not unusual for the department to assist municipalities who request assistance with specialized animal control issues,” said Schlikerman, emphasizing that Cook County Animal and Rabies Control is assisting the Village of Worth and is not the lead agency on this matter.

She also noted that “humane traps” are being used, and said that it will be up to the village and the MWRD to decide when to reopen the park.

According to the village statement, “(Alexander and Gehrt) are fully aware of the fact there are coyotes wandering around the Village of Worth and there are more than 2,000 coyotes living in Cook County. The coyotes have lived here for many, many years…. and decades of research indicate coyotes and humans can live together, side by side, and coyote attacks on people are isolated and very rare,” the statement continued. “It would be virtually impossible to trap and remove every coyote in Cook County. Dr. Alexander has indicated if a coyote is removed from a certain area another one will simply move in and take that space.”

Village officials said more information about living in close proximity to coyotes may be obtained at online at