Message of Columbine victim inspires District 124 students

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Rachel Joy Scott’s life was cut short during the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado on April 20, 1999.

But her short life still has meaning all these years later. Evergreen Park Elementary School District 124 accepted “Rachel’s Challenge” to start a chain reaction of kindness, which took place last week. All District 124 students in kindergarten through eighth grade were encouraged – and ultimately challenged – in developmentally appropriate ways to choose kindness over prejudice, bigotry and apathy.

District 124 students and parents listened as Rachel’s uncle, Larry Scott, shared the inspiring true story of her dream being fulfilled over a decade after her death. The acts of kindness Rachel displayed in her short 17 years of life provide a powerful reminder of the little things everyone can do each day to make the world a better place, he said. Rachel wrote in one of the many essays that her uncle shared, “You never know how far a little kindness can go.”

“Rachel was the first student to die in the Columbine shootings,” said Scott. “Her death devastated our family. She was the middle child of five; she had two sisters and two brothers.”

Scott said that Rachel kept journals to chronicle her thoughts and good deeds. Those journals unveiled that Rachel had wisdom beyond a typical 17-year-old girl. “She knew she was going to die before her time and she knew her life was going to impact millions of people,” said Scott.

According to Scott, Rachel’s Challenge has been facilitated in over 20,000 schools nationally and internationally combined. It’s a message of hope, inspiration and a call to action to change the world for the better.

“I believe true healing happens when we use our lives to help others to the extent we’ve been hurt,” said Scott. “Today our family is doing well and that’s largely because of our faith and the work we’ve done through Rachel’s Challenge.”

Last week marked the third year for Rachel’s Challenge in District 124. Supt. Dr. Robert Machak said that the program continues to positively impact the school community.

“Our disciplinary numbers go down every year; the Challenge is a big part of it,” said Machak. ”It’s really about accountability to ourselves and to one another -- the idea of setting goals and writing them down, signing your name to the banner, these all speak to the real commitment we are making to try to get better every day.”

The banner is a large poster passed around each school that every student and staff member is invited -- not required -- to sign. By signing it, participants agree to honor the five tenets of Rachel’s Challenge, which include using kind words and doing kind things for others.

In referencing the banner in his meeting with District 124 parents last week, Scott said, “Tell (your children) not to sign it if they don’t mean it.”

Chicago Ridge targets rat population

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Chicago Ridge officials promised to remedy a rat problem that is concerning many residents, as evidenced by the standing-room-only crowd at a town hall meeting on the issue Saturday morning at Village Hall.

Nathan Comanse, of Guardian Pest Control, spoke during the three-hour meeting about the work his company has done since being hired four months ago, and what residents and businesses can do to reduce the rodent population.

“Everyone has to work as a team,” he said.

Many residents become alarmed when they heard the village had closed the Royal Palace banquet facility indefinitely last week due to a rat infestation found in the basement of the building at 6254 W. 111th St. A broken dumpster behind the Pepe’s restaurant at 6336 W. 111th St. has turned into a feeding ground for rats, infuriating nearby residents who are finding rats in their yards. Other badly maintained dumpsters behind some multi-unit buildings around the village have also been blamed.

When asked how the problem at Royal Palace could be allowed to get so bad, Trustee Bill McFarland said the latest available paperwork shows that an inspection of the property was done last April. However, Trustee Bruce Quintos argued that several other documents provided to trustees indicate there had not been an inspection since last year. He said the information showing the April inspection was not date-stamped, and was only turned in to the village by the health inspector on Friday.

“It could be a clerical error,” said McFarland after the meeting, acknowledging that trustees were given three different documents with conflicting data about when inspections were done.

Comanse focused much of his talk on what residents can do to help solve the problem. He said preventing rats from getting access to the “food, structure and water” they need to survive is the first step. “There are no free rides, Make life as difficult as possible for them.”

The exterminator said the poison bait his company puts outs “is only good if something eats it. Rats aren’t really picky, but they know what they like. If they have other preferred foods available, they won’t eat bait.”

“Dog feces is a fine food source for rats. It is like filet mignon for them, unfortunately,” he said, stressing the need to pick up after dogs immediately, on public streets as well as yards.

Comanse also advised against using birdfeeders, because rats and mice eat the seeds that get scattered on the ground.

He said rats live near water sources, and fixing leaky spigots and pipes would cut off access to it. He said just as with mosquito prevention, getting rid of any standing water is also be helpful,

When a woman asked if she should drain her backyard pond, Comanse said no.

“If it provides you with enjoyment, there is no need to go that far,” he said. “You’re never going get rid of all the water sources.”

Keeping properties well-maintained, without high grass or woodpiles or debris for rats to hide or nest under is also advisable, he said.

“We don’t want to incite panic,” said Trustee Sally Durkin, pointing out that officials from neighboring communities such as Oak Lawn, Worth and Alsip have reported similar problems.

After a couple of residents reported seeing “hundreds” of rats in place, or being afraid to go outside, Comanse cautioned against exaggerating the numbers involved, and or the danger posed to humans.

“It’s really easy for fear to take over. When people start talking about hundreds or thousands of rats, I have to say that those numbers are very unlikely. While he said that rats can give birth seven times a year, to as many as 12 per litter, he never encountered more than 40 rats in one place.

“Unless you’re trying to feed them by hand, there is little chance of being bitten,” he added. He said most rat bites are inflicted on children sleeping on floors, often with crumbs on them. He also noted that the active ingredient in modern rat poison is an anticoagulant similar to the drug Coumadin or warfarin and would have little effect on humans or dogs or cats.

“I’ve learned more about rats than I ever thought possible. We have to take this to heart and make changes and make changes to the way we live. If we all work together, and this means the businesses too, we can solve this,” said Mayor Chuck Tokar.

“If we have to pay more, we’re going to pay more,” said Tokar.

He pointed out that the multi-unit buildings and businesses identified as problems have already been given seven-day notices to clear up the problem. Otherwise, fines will be imposed and more businesses could be closed.

Last week, the village board authorized the hiring of four part-time property inspectors to help deal with the problem, and earlier this year, fines were raised to as much as $750 for ongoing problems with dumpsters.

Responding to residents complaining of getting no response when calling the village about rat problems, Trustee Jack Lind said that would be fixed too.

“We’re putting our money where our mouth is. If you’re telling me that no one is calling you back, it is not sitting well with us. The situation will be rectified or people will lose their jobs,” said Lind.

Chicago Ridge Board settles in court case involving former police officials

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

The Chicago Ridge Village Board at its Sept. 6 meeting approved a $200,000 payout to settle the village’s part in a Cook County court case involving former Police Chief Tim Baldermann and former Deputy Chief Dennis Kapelinski.

The vote was 5-1 to approve the settlement, with only Trustee Bruce Quintos voting against it.

“I am against the deal. I am against any settlement,” said Quintos.

The case dates back to 2010, when Baldermann left on disability and Kapelinski retired from the police department.

Tokar pointed out that the suit against the former officials was originally filed by the Police Pension Board, and the village signed on later. The Police Pension Board is seeking to amend a disability package extended to the village’s former police chief, and the retirement package awarded to Kapelinski.

The issue centers around how their final salary figures were calculated to determine their benefit packages, with the value of accrued vacation time added to the final salary figures, resulting in “pension spikes.”’

When a resident asked during public comment why the village was settling, Tokar said it would actually save the village money. “We’ve had bills of $15,000 and $17,000 per month on this,” said Tokar.

“It is almost always better to settle and get half a loaf, than maybe not get anything at all. The court could end up ruling against us,” said the mayor.

Tokar pointed out after the meeting that Quintos was a trustee when the pension spikes were approved, and he voted for them. “I was the village clerk, without a vote. I had nothing to do with it,” he added.

The mayor said that since the Pension Board is continuing with its lawsuit, there is a chance that much of the $200,000 could end up back in the village coffers if the board wins the case.

Quintos acknowledged that he did vote for the pension spikes, but blames what he called bad advice the board received from the law firm of Odelson & Sterk.

“That is a vote I regret to this day,” said Quintos this week, asserting that it was worth continuing to fight the case.

“So far, we are winning, winning, winning,” he said.

As a result of the pension spike issue, the Pension Board filed a lawsuit against Odelson & Sterk, which conducted Baldermann’s disability hearing. The board alleged that the firm was “careless and negligent” for signing off on the final salary figure used to calculate the former chief’s disability package. But Burt Odelson said his firm only conducted a disability hearing, and did not provide any advice

The issue caused a rift on the Village Board this year as well, after Tokar appointed Odelson as village attorney without the approval of a majority of the trustees. Five of the six trustees then approved an ordinance requiring a board majority to approve all mayoral appointments, which led Tokar to file suit against the board. He is seeking a declaratory judgment, maintaining that the move was unconstitutional because it changed the way the village is governed without a referendum.

Shepard High School reflects on the events of 9/11

  • Written by Kelly White

shepard salute photo 9-15

Submitted photo

Shepard High School students salute as an ensemble from the Shepard marching band performs the national anthem prior to the start of the walk-a-thon that took place at the JROTC 9/11 memorial event held Friday at the school.

The administration, faculty and student body at Shepard High School in Palos Heights gathered on the school campus grounds Friday to remember and reflect on the horrific events that shook our nation on Sept. 11, 2001.

For the fourth year in a row, the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) at Shepard High School held a 9/11 memorial event. JROTC is a program offered to high schools that teaches students character education, student achievement, wellness, leadership and diversity. The 113 students in the program are under the guidance of Major Dan Johnson and Master Sergeant Chris Saberniak.

“Sept. 11 is a day we all must remember because of all the people who lost their lives,” said Paulina Witek, 16, of Worth. “I enjoyed helping out with this ceremony because we are all honoring and paying our respects to all who perished on that day. I believe this is truly beneficial for everyone.”

The U.S. was the victim of a terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001 that killed 3,000 people when two planes crashed through the two World Trade Center buildings in New York City. Another aircraft also deliberately crashed into the Pentagon. Another plane crashed and killed all the passengers in Shanksville, Pa., 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

To begin the day, JROTC cadets walked for 14 miles on the track in the football stadium to raise money for The Heart of a Marine Foundation. The Heart Of A Marine Foundation is a non-profit organization that provides comfort, support, financial assistance and educational resources to improve the quality of life of military personnel in all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, including veterans and their families. Each JROTC member collected money in their own discretion for the walk.

This was the first year the walk was held, according to Johnson.

Johnson has been instructing the Shepard JROTC program for eight years, with this marking the second year of instruction for Saberniak.

“We wanted to do something more visible to remember 9/11, and our cadets can earn a ribbon for their uniform if they organize and participate in a 14-mile walk, so we decided to combine those opportunities into one,” Johnson said.

Throughout the school day, inside of the building and also outside on the track inside the football stadium, JROTC cadets dispersed to read the names of all victims who perished on 9/11. The list of 3,000 names was obtained by the cadets through the website,

“I think it is easy to miss the impact of 3,000 people being killed on a single day,” Saberniak said. “When you take the time to read each name, the victims become people, not just numbers.”

“I enjoyed bringing everyone together as a whole to pay respect to the victims of 9/11,” said Samantha Gebbia, 17, of Worth. “9/11 was the day we as a nation stood together as one to mourn those we lost and to fight against a common terror.”

Previous 9/11 events hosted by JROTC were held only at the start of the school day and did not involve many others from the school.

This year, teachers had the option to choose to bring out their classes for each period during the day to the football track to observe the walk and read the names of the victims. In order to help teachers prepare for the observation, JROTC cadets developed a short presentation explaining the event to classes about the importance of 9/11.

“The hope this year was that by extending the ceremony, more students and staff were also able to participate at some point during the day,” Johnson said.

The presentation consisted of JROTC cadets explaining the activity at the track and also sharing some facts and details about 9/11.

“The presentation was beneficial to students since few, if any, high school students have first-hand memories of that day,” Johnson said. “Students were able to gain an appreciation for what their parents, grandparents and older siblings might feel when 9/11 comes around. To most of today’s high school students, 9/11 is simply another historical event. If those of us who lived through those days can share our memories with them, the lessons of that day will be remembered.”


Local library staffs welcome addition of security guards

  • Written by Joe Boyle

Public libraries in the southwest suburbs have been adding additional programs the past few years, much to the delight of regular patrons and students.

The additional programs have been drawing more people, many of them grade-school children and teens. Security guards have been added during regular hours at most local libraries. But some patrons have called The Reporter office wondering if the reason for that is because some disturbances have occurred at some local libraries.

Sara Kennedy, assistant director of public services at Green Hills Library, 8611 W. 103rd St., Palos Hills, said that a security guard has been on staff at the facility for the past couple of months. However, she pointed out it is not because of any specific reason or due to an incident.

“We have so many programs here and we are pretty busy,” said Kennedy. “We just need another body on site to help monitor things.”

Kennedy said that the Green Hills staff often has to answer questions at the front desk and they are often called away to another section of the library. She said the presence of a security guard is a benefit because they can help visitors while staff can respond to questions in another part of the building.

“But nothing has happened,” said Kennedy. “We have three floors here so we just think it is a good idea to have a security guard on hand.”

Kennedy said that the security guard was hired by another company. A security guard works from 3 to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The presence of a security guard has caught the attention of some patrons, Kennedy said.

“”A few people were asking us,” added Kennedy, “It’s not because of any problems. They were just curious. Some other libraries have security.”

Rose Gilman, library director at the Chicago Ridge Library, 10400 S. Oxford, said they also have a security guard. Gilman has been at the library for a year and she essentially inherited the policy of having security on hand for Tuesday and Thursday evenings during the school year.

“But I think it is a good idea,” said Gilman. “We have a lot of programs for kids and teens on those nights so it can get very busy.”

Gilman said that security is arranged with the village. She said she was going to place a call with the Chicago Ridge Police Department to set up the arrangement.

“It’s not because of any incident,” said Gilman. “We don’t have as many people on staff so it is just helpful to have another person around.”

Gilman likes the idea of having a security guard around when the kids come in to take part in their programs.

“What’s so exciting about this is that the teens in these programs can get a chance to interact with police,” said Gilman. “They get to know the police in a positive way.”

While Green Hills Library and the Chicago Ridge Library have security guards, the staff at the Evergreen Park facility does not.

Julie Keaty, virtual services and special events coordinator at the Evergreen Park Library, 9400 S. Troy Ave., said that a monitor is employed to help out at the library during after school hours. The monitor is a resident who mostly likely is a patron who may have children who take part in programs at the library. The monitor works Monday through Thursdays.

Keaty said that no real issues have occurred at the library.

“It’s more about noise levels,” said Keaty, who explained that they are across the street from a junior high school and they have many programs during the week for kids. “Having a monitor helps our staff.”

Keaty also added that the Evergreen Park police are just a block away.

“They are very responsive,” added Keaty.

The Oak Lawn Library, 9427 S. Raymond Ave., was closed over the weekend due to the Fall on the Green festival that was held outside their grounds, so one was available to respond to calls regarding security. The library offers a variety of programs for adults, youths and teenagers. They have had a security guard on staff for some time.

Carol Hall is the director of the Worth Library, 6917 W. 111th St. She said they do not employ a security guard.

“This is a small library,” said Hall. “But I can see at larger libraries that could be helpful. When you have a lot of people coming in, you could use the help. For us at the moment, it is not an issue.”

In respect to the Green Hills Library, Gilman said that is understandable that they would have a security guard now on staff. Gilman served as the youth services manager at Green Hills Library from 2006 to 2013.

“I agree with them,” said Gilman. “I can tell you that they have increased their programs greatly since 2013. Sometimes you just need more help. I think is a good idea.”