Mother's tight budget might have cost her daughter a big break in Hollywood

  • Written by Staff Reports


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Submitted photo

Evergreen Park resident Donae Parker, 9, performs during an Actors, Models and Talent for Christ (AMTC) competition last month in Orlando.

Claudia Parker, of Evergreen Park, said she wasn’t so sure she wanted her 9-year-old daughter, Donae Parker, going anywhere but into fourth grade at Northeast Elementary School.

“I was completely comfortable with her acting in community theater and church plays,” said Parker. “But the thought of her actually working in the acting industry makes me nervous, so I’ve been ignoring her pleas to find her an agent.”

Parker said she softened to the idea last summer after she and Donae attended an open audition for Actors, Models and Talent for Christ (AMTC). It’s a non-profit training ministry preparing performers for film, fashion, music and theater. They can be found at Some might find it comparable to The Second City Training Center, but with an emphasis geared toward people of faith.

“I signed Donae up for AMTC’s training program because they addressed every area of my concern,” said Parker. “I wanted Donae to get more than talent development. I wanted instructors invested in helping us to navigate the pitfalls of the entertainment industry.”

Parker also said AMTC sets itself apart from other training centers with their culminating event for graduates. “They host an international week-long conference with performers from Orlando, Seattle, New York, Los Angeles, Denver, Dallas, Atlanta and South Africa. This year it was July 4-9 at the ritzy Gaylord Palms Resort in Orlando, Fla. The conference is optional and entry for AMTC performers is included in the tuition, but transportation to Florida, lodging at the Gaylord and meals for the week are not.

Parker’s husband, Don, said he wanted Donae to attend the conference because of the unique opportunity it would provide for her to acquire a reputable agent, so they worked it into the budget by making it their family’s summer vacation. However, Claudia pulled back the reins on anything that warranted additional spending.

“AMTC had invited over 50 agents, managers and casting directors to the conference whom they call their VIP guests,” said Parker.

They’re present to watch performers showcase their talent. The conference is called SHINE because performers are being given the chance to shine before industry professionals that may lead to their big break.

Three showcase performances are included in the tuition. Those wanting to appear before the VIPs more than that can, but for an additional fee.

“There were over 420 children and adult performers showcasing various talents before the VIPs. Of course, every mom thinks their kid is the best, but if I’m being honest, there were at least 10 African American little girls about the same age, with similar talent and equally as adorable as my precious Donae,” recalled Parker. “Among that much competition I could see the validity in piling on additional showcases for a fighting chance to be noticed. Nonetheless, my wallet told Donae, ‘Girl, you better make your three shots count!’”

Each performer is given up to 20 seconds per showcase. Performances are broken into categories throughout the week. VIPs give each performance a score, which is calculated for an overall scoring determinate for the top 10-15 percent, which are selected to perform in the talent and acting finale.

One of the finale’s masters of ceremonies was Ser’Darius Blain. He was in the 2011 remake “Footloose,” “Star Trek: Into the Darkness,” “Maybe Someday,” “Camp X-Ray,” and he was the lead in “When the Game Stands Tall.” This December, Blain will star alongside Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Kevin Hart and Jack Black in the highly anticipated “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. “  

The AMTC performer packet reads, “We do not select a certain number of children, teens, songwriters, dancers or any particular age group or style; only readiness, show diversity and star potential are considered.”

Of the mere three showcases that Donae performed, she was selected to perform two of them in the finale.

“I was so happy I cried,” said Donae. “I didn’t want anyone to see so I buried my head into my mom’s chest.

“I was shocked,” said Parker. “I was a little skeptical at first. I had thoughts like, ‘Hmmm, are these VIPs legitimate people from the industry? And if so, what’s the true likelihood that they’ll notice my kid?’”

Parker said her doubts were put at ease after reading the bios of several of the VIPs and learning more about them during various seminars they conducted throughout the week.

Erica Cruz, of Lily’s Talent Agency, and Mike Theisen, of Gray Talent Group, were two of the VIPs present from Chicago. Both have very strong reputations.

“I can say without a doubt, AMTC is legit. Attending the SHINE conference really made me a believer. After Donae performed in the acting finale, which also streamed live over the internet for thousands to see, Donae got callbacks from two VIPs, DebraLynn Findon, of Discover Management, and Penny Middlemiss, of Mavrick Artists Agency, which are both in the heart of Los Angeles.”

Unfortunately, Parker said the family had chosen to leave the SHINE conference one day early to save $500 on the cost of their flight back to Chicago, so Donae wasn’t able to meet with the VIPs that expressed interest in her.

“I felt bad about it after that fact,” said Parker. “I suppose I should have had more faith in the SHINE process and trusted in Donae’s abilities over my budget. I guess I didn’t expect anything would really come of her performances.”

Parker said she’s learned a priceless lesson and she’s now moving forward in seeking Donae acting representation here in the Chicago area.

Interested in watching Donae’s 20 second performances? AMTC’s Leo Marshall Creative provided a professional reel. Residents can have a look at


Local communities celebrate ‘night out’ with police, neighbors

  • Written by Joe Boyle

The origin of National Night Out dates back to 1984 as police-community partnerships were developed in an effort to better relate to the neighborhoods they patrol.

Southwest suburban communities have since joined in an effort to develop a better relationship between police and residents. National Night Out is always held the first Tuesday of August and recognized and celebrated in different ways in communities across the country.

Organizers in Hickory Hills, Palos Hills and Worth recognized National Night Out in similar but different ways Tuesday night.

The Jake Gill Band performed at Kasey Meadow Park, 8047 W. 91st Place, in Hickory Hills. The event was a celebration as free pop and popcorn were distributed to visitors to the park. Plenty of games and fun was available for kids at the Kasey Meadow Park playground.

“We have a lot of things going on,” said Jennifer Fullerton, the executive director of the Hickory Hills Park District. “We have the free pop and popcorn. Everyone has a good time. The kids have a good time.”

The Hickory Hills Police Department and the Roberts Park Fire Department Protection District were also on hand at the National Night Out, interacting with kids and adults. First Midwest Bank was the chief sponsor.

The first National Night Out involved over two millions neighbors across 400 communities in 23 states, according to organizers. The original events were more solemn gatherings as residents were encouraged to turn on their porch lights and come out to greet the police and meet their neighbors. Even if they remained in their homes, neighbors were encouraged to put their porch lights on as a sign of unity and camaraderie with the police and community.

But since the first events were held 33 years ago, National Night Out has become more festive. At Kasey Meadow Park, for instance, children were playing in the splash pad. Adults were taking a stroll along the new walking and jogging path around the park.

Southwest suburban communities, like cities and towns across the nation, began to host block parties, festivals, parades, cookouts and safety demonstrations. The majority of these events include visits from emergency personnel. Many children have the opportunity to meet first responders and take tours of emergency vehicles.

National Night Out has taken place at the Town Square Park, 8500 W. 103rd St., in Palos Hills, the past couple of years. The event keeps getting bigger in that community. The staff from nearby Green Hills Library drops by to interact with kids. First responders also allow kids to tour their vehicles.

Bonnie Price, the longtime village clerk in Worth, said National Night Out activities are now in its fifth year for the village. Like other southwest suburban communities, the celebration drew a large crowd.

“This is like a festival atmosphere,” Price said. “The kids have a great time and they get to talk to the police. They get to know each other.”

The National Night Out event held at Peaks Park at 107th and Oak Park Avenue had a DJ, games, inflatables, balloons, face painting and ice cream for kids and adults. The North Palos Fire Protection District was also on hand. Hot dogs were also served.

Price said that the National Night Out in Worth has been positive for the community and the kids have responded well to it.

“Just the other day some kids came in asking if Officer (Mike) Cozzi (the school resource officer) was going to be at the National Night Out,” recalled Price. “When they heard he was, they were so excited and said they would be there. The kids want to go to talk to the police. That means it is working.”

Oak Lawn man gets 6 years in animal cruelty case

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

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Oak Lawn resident Edward Hanania, 23, was sentenced last Friday to six years in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of felony aggravated animal cruelty in a Bridgeview courtroom.

Hanania was transferred this week to Statesville Prison in Joliet to begin serving his sentence. He had been held without bail in Cook County Jail since May 25, after surveillance cameras showed him tossing two toy poodles off the fifth-floor roof of a parking garage adjacent to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn.

An investigation determined that he obtained the two dogs from a woman who had found them running loose, and had posted a notice on Facebook. Hanania pretended to be the owner, and paid the woman $20 for finding them. He then took the dogs, which were actually owned by a Chicago man, and drove to the parking garage and threw them off.

One of the dogs, 4-year-old Guero, died on the way to the Animal Welfare League in Chicago Ridge. But the 14-month-old dog, named Angel, survived with badly broken legs. He is recovering after having successful surgery.

Hanania was also convicted of a parole violation on an unrelated charge of producing and delivering heroin. As a part of a plea deal before Cook County Judge Colleen Hyland, he pleaded guilty to the animal cruelty charge and received a five-year sentence, as well as six years for the parole violation. But the sentences are to run concurrently. He is also required to remain under mandatory court supervision for two years after being released from prison.

Brannigan quits county commission

  • Written by Anthony Caciopo

Palos Township Trustee Sharon Brannigan has stepped down from her position on the Cook County Commission on Women’s Issues following a call for her resignation by County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, leaving the larger issue of her position on the Palos Township Board still simmering with community activists.

“We’re claiming this as a victory and a step in the right direction,” said Bassem Kawar, advocacy specialist with the National Network for Arab American Communities. “We’re going to continue to organize until she resigns as a Palos Township trustee.”

Brannigan has been under fire for comments she posted on social media that many people inside and outside the community have found offensive. In now-deleted statements on Facebook, Brannigan questioned why Palos-area schools are “filling with Middle Eastern students without proper documentation.”

She also claimed that area Muslims fail to integrate into the community.

“Everywhere you turn, from Orland Park to Bridgeview, those numbers are increasing in leaps and bounds,” she wrote. “We are allowing these people whether they have peaceful intentions or not into our country without question.”

Following widespread discovery and circulation of the comments, a crowd of more than 100 people showed up at Palos Township headquarters for a scheduled meeting on July 10 in which at least a dozen attendees spoke of their dissatisfaction with Brannigan. Many of those who spoke inside the meeting and outside the building demanded her resignation. Less than half the crowd was allowed into the meeting room due to seating limitations.

When Brannigan’s online postings came to the attention of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, she issued a statement for Brannigan to resign from the Commission on Women’s Issues, an organization whose mission is to advance the status of women and girls in Cook County. The focus of the commission is domestic violence, childcare, economic inequity and health issues, according to the county’s website. Brannigan has served on the commission since May of 2016. She was an appointee of Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison (R-17th).

Pressure from the community, along with Preckwinkle’s call for Brannigan to step down, resulted in the trustee’s decision to resign, said Kawar.

“We truly believe it was a combination of both,” he said, citing a coalition of organizations including the Campaign to TAKE ON HATE, Arab American Action Network (AAAN), Arab American Family Services (AAFS), AmVote PAC, Arab American Democratic Club, Kiswani Law P.C., Law Offices of Reem Odeh and MPower Change.

Brannigan has so far refused to resign from her elected position on the Palos Township board. She told The Reporter in a brief phone call on July 18 “My position is the same. Nothing has changed.” A call to the trustee for additional comment was not retuned in time for this edition.

“It’s important to know that even though it’s an elected position, Sharon Brannigan ran unopposed,” said Kawar. “It’s clear that Palos Township doesn’t stand for such rhetoric. Palos Township values the diversity of the township. They value their neighbors and they truly don’t stand for what Brannigan stands for.”

Palos Township government provides a variety of services to all or parts of Bridgeview, Hickory Hills, Orland Park, Palos Heights, Palos Hills, Palos Park, Willow Springs and Worth.

Adding intrigue to the trustee’s departure from the Commission on Women’s Issues is a published report that she had already resigned from the position prior to widespread notice of her Facebook comments, the heated July 10 meeting and Preckwinkle’s call for her to leave.

Brannigan reportedly had decided to leave her post on the commission because it was conflicting with her small business and she could not give the organization the proper attention.

Also reported was a claim by Morrison that Preckwinkle was politically sniping with her demand for Brannigan to leave when the trustee had already put into motion her own departure.

“Well, we can expect that position of him,” said Kawar about Morrison. “Sharon is his appointee on the Commission for Women’s Issues and obviously he had no comment about the (controversial) comments she made. He said she’s just going to have to live with her comments.”

Kawar said a petition has been launched that has garnered almost 500 signatures to date. Coalition members have already visited elected officials in some of the seven communities located in Palos Township. Speaking to The Reporter by phone in his car, Kawar was unable to provide the names of the four communities but said “There’s a lot of support for our cause. Our local mayors are supporting us and supporting our demand, publically calling for her resignation.”

Kawar said coalition members and local residents will be gearing up for the next Palos Township meeting on Aug. 14.

“More allies will be there,” he said. “It’s going to be a big meeting.”


Oak Lawn welcomes new police chief

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

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                                                                                    Photo by Dermot Connolly

New Oak Lawn Police Chief William "Randy" Palmer (right) shakes hands with his newly retired predecessor, Michael Murray, at a cake and coffee "going-away party" for Murray held Friday at the Oak Lawn police station.

A smooth transition was made this week between Oak Lawn’s retiring police chief, Michael Murray, and the newly appointed William “Randy” Palmer, who already is well-known with more than 22 years of experience with the Oak Lawn Police Department.

Village Manager Larry Deetjen issued a statement last Thursday announcing Palmer’s appointment, noting that he is the village’s 11th chief, since the first one was hired more than 100 years ago.

With Murray retiring after 30 years of service, Deetjen said that Palmer was chosen following a lengthy search within the department, after several “very qualified candidates” put their names forward for consideration.

Palmer was one the most well-known members of the Oak Lawn Police Department already, having served as chief of investigations and public information officer since 2014.

After stepping into his new role on Monday, he was too busy to be interviewed earlier this week. But he joked on Friday during a coffee-and-cake retirement party honoring Murray that he already has encountered his first “troll,” before even officially taking over the job. The new chief laughed as he told of reading the comments under his photo that appeared on an online publication announcing his appointment.

“Doesn’t he look like Captain Kangaroo?,” said one commenter, referring to the onetime children’s TV show host played for decades by Bob Keeshan.

The new chief is an Air Force veteran who earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminal justice from Governors State University. He is a graduate of the 234th session of the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Va., and also attended John Marshall Law School.

Prior to being chief of investigations and public information officer, during his long career with Oak Lawn, he has served as a patrol officer, watch commander, detective sergeant and supervisor in both the Patrol and Detective divisions. He also has been an investigator and assistant commander of the South Suburban Major Crimes Task Force, which he served for 13 years.

“Contemporary times have put the spotlight on police departments and their officers nationally. Chief Palmer pledges adherence to our local ordinances and the U.S. Constitution with respect for individual rights and safety, and the protection of law-abiding residents of our great village of Oak Lawn,” said Deetjen.

The village manager said the quality of the candidates from within the department who competed for the top job bodes well “for the strong leadership future that the Oak Lawn Police Department had in place.”