Stagg students keep saying something about school violence

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

By Dermot Connolly

Some students at Stagg High School in Palos Hills participated in National Walkout Day on March 14, calling for action to prevent school shootings. But the whole school has actually been doing so for years, through the “Say Something” program.

The “Say Something” program for students in sixth through 12thgrade was created by Sandy Hook Promise, a national non-profit gun violence prevention organization founded by several people whose family members were among the 26 people killed by a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012.

The program, which Stagg has been involved in since 2015, teaches youth and adults how to identify warning signs and signals, especially in social media, from individuals who may want to hurt themselves or others and how to Say Something to a trusted adult to get them help. The school at 11100 S. Roberts Road was named the Sandy Hook Promise’s 2017 Say Something Week winner, a national award, for Student Spirit, Creativity and Sustainability.

At the District 230 meeting held at Stagg on March 22, faculty members on the Say Something Committee that organizes the program explained how it works. The committee includes Head Dean Mary Pat Carr, Assistant Principal Ian MacLeod, Dean Kristyn Koss, and teachers Erin Wendt and Corky Lyons. Many of them will be representing Stagg at the National Sandy Hook Promise SAVE Summit on April 21 in Raleigh, N.C., where they will receive the award.

The two other high schools in District 230 -- Sandburg in Orland Park and Andrew in Tinley Park -- are also involved in the program, but to a lesser extent.

“Stagg has been “saying something” since 2015. The week in October was designed by the Sandy Hook Promise to empower students to speak to a trusted adult when or if they are concerned about a safety issue at school, with a friend, or in their community,” said Eric Olsen, the Stagg principal. 

A student-produced and narrated film explaining Say Something, and what goes on during Say Something Week, was also shown to the board. Students were shown the film in advisory periods that week, when the school was emblazoned with green, the color of the Say Something program. Students received green bracelets and staff wear green shirts as a visible reminder that they will “say something.”

A large banner was also on display, which staff and students alike sign as a pledge that they will “say something.”

Through the Say Something program, each student is assigned a faculty member to whom they can feel comfortable reporting any concerns. In most of the school shooting cases, it has been found that the shooter told someone about their plans.

“We want the students to be advocates for themselves and their community. We stress the difference between snitching and reporting. When you have a safety concern, you’re not telling on them,” said Koss. “You’re looking out for the safety of everyone.”

The school works closely with the Palos Hills Police Department and the North Palos Fire Department on safety programs year-round, but especially during the Say Something week.

“This year, we wanted to reach out to the greater Palos area, and we reached out to Conrady and Palos South junior high schools,” said Carr. Many of those students will eventually attend Stagg.

The T-shirts and bracelets were given to all the board members, but many, including Tony Serratore, were already proudly wears the bracelet.

“It is not just a week. Being recognized by the Sandy Hook Foundation shows that it has been ingrained in the culture of Stagg High School,” said Carr.

“The Say Something program has affected me in a big way,” senior Sabrina Vasquez told the board. “Just knowing that I have signed the pledge to say something gives me great pride. And knowing that I have a trusted member of the administration that I can go to with any concern gives me confidence.”

Junior Maggie Gorman noted that the Say Something program has been part of her entire high school experience.

“I feel like I have grown up with it. My friends are turning to me to ask what to do. It makes the school feel smaller and helps people feel safer,” she said.

“To be recognized as the leading program in the entire country is quite an honor,” said Rick Nogal, the school board president. “Our community has expressed understandable concern, considering what has happened at schools around the country. We have school resource officers at our schools. But this is quite a program to have, in addition to all the safety measures in place.” 

Budding artists take a bow in Oak Lawn

  • Written by Kelly White


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                                                                           Photo by Kelly White

Kelsey Klusacek, 9, of Oak Lawn, and her grandmother, Kate Monahan, of Oak Lawn, look over some of Kelsey's artwork she submitted into the Oak Lawn Park District’s Community Art Day on March 11 at the Oak View Center in Oak Lawn.


Kate Monahan has taken great pride in passing down one of her favorite hobbies to those she holds dearest to her heart -- painting. She enjoys spending afternoons with acrylic paints and her granddaughters, Kelsey Klusacek, 9, and Jordyn Klusacek, 10.

“Painting came very naturally to the girls and it’s something that we can all enjoy doing together,” said Monahan, of Oak Lawn.

“I’ve been painting with my grandma for about five years now, and it’s always so fun and something I really look forward to,” Kelsey Klusacek, also of Oak Lawn, said.

Oak Lawn Park District paid homage to its local artists, like the Klusacek sisters, on March 11 during the third annual Community Art Day and Competition at the Oak View Center.

The free event was open to all ages and featured a variety of art, including paintings, drawings, sculptures, and photography from 60 artists.

“The Oak Lawn Park District is dedicated to embracing and celebrating the arts, and we wanted a chance for the community to come together to showcase their talents,” said Michael Sinkewich, recreation supervisor for the Oak Lawn Park District. “We use this event to encourage art in the community by not only allowing local artists to showcase their talents, but by allowing everyone in attendance the opportunity to experience local art and to learn art techniques from the artists at the event.”

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Photo by Kelly White 

Maeve Hughes, 6, of Oak Lawn, is happy with the finger-paintings she created for the third annual Community Art Day and Competition at the Oak View Center in Oak Lawn.


During the event, there was a youth gallery set-up for artists ages 6 to 18 to showcase up to five pieces of their artwork and enter the youth art competition.  The youth art competition encompassed awards presented by Laurie Snaer, art instructor for the Oak Lawn Park District, and ribbons were presented for first, second, and third place, along with awards for honorable mentions and trophies for “Best in Show,” “Young Budding Artist,” “Most Promising Artist” and “Best Use of a Medium.” A people’s choice award was available for patrons to vote for their favorite artist.

Aspiring to become an artist when she grows up, Julia Bolcarolic knew this was the perfect way to get her artwork out into the open.

“I’ve always liked art because of the outcome,” said Bolcarolic, 10, of Oak Lawn. “You can share anything you create with others and they can hang it up in their homes.”

Artist Maeve Hughes, 6, of Oak Lawn, agreed.

“Art is amazing because you can put your mind into it and make anything you want,” she said.

The event did not stop at the youth artists, as an adult gallery was held in a separate room artwork display. Some of the adult artists also demonstrated a variety of art techniques that they have been working on while creating their masterpieces. 

An interactive movie and art project was also available for all attendees to enjoy.

No art was sold at the event. However, artists had the option to pass out their contact information if they wanted to sell their artwork after the event.

“We believe that everyone is an artist, no matter their age, and that is definitely on display at this event,” Sinkewich said. “The art created and showcased at our event by both youth and adults is incredible.”

The first Community Art Day was held in October of 2015. Prior to that, the park district offered a youth art competition for 10 years, according to Sinkewich.

“We transitioned into the Community Art Day because we wanted to expand beyond the youth artists,” he said. “So, we created an event that was able to encompass artists of all ages and abilities and expose our entire community to art. This event is a great reminder of the many benefits of art in the community, and we hope that everyone in attendance takes home that message and brings art into their lives. “

Area's message to Metra: We won't be ignored

  • Written by Joe Boyle

Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett led off his president’s report at the recent Southwest Conference of Mayors meeting on an issue that continues to bother him: a lack of Metra train service in the southwest suburbs.

“We have not had an area representative from Metra at our meetings in a long time,” Bennett said at the mayor’s conference on March 28 at the Evergreen Park Village Hall. “We are tired of being a poor stepchild for ridership. We have upgraded and improved seven stations in the southwest suburbs and we have less service than ever.”

Vicky Smith, the executive director for the Southwest Conference of Mayors, assured Bennett that Metra officials will be notified and will be encouraged to attend a future meeting.

Other local mayors were in agreement and believe service should be improved. But Bennett was the most vocal on the subject. He provided an example of his ongoing frustration with Metra.

“We wanted and requested more train service for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade that was being held downtown,” Bennett said. “But we received no extra train service – no more trains. All these train stations have been built in the southwest suburbs and we have no additional train service. Yet, you see plenty of service provided up north and in the western suburbs,”

Bennet dismisses the argument that some Metra representatives provide, stating that southwest suburban residents are not using the train service.

“If we build it, they will come,” Bennett responded. “Residents will take the train if more service is offered. But when it is inconvenient and when it is not offered on weekends, then residents have no choice but to look elsewhere. It just isn’t fair.”

Bennett would like to see Metra representatives attend a meeting sooner than later to address the situation.

Jim Garrett, president of the Chicago Southland Convention and Visitors Bureau, told the mayors he had concerns about recent changes to the Cook County Incentive Program. But he is specifically points to a proposal about the Prevailing Wage Tax Incentive Amendment, which requires prevailing wages be paid to contractors that work on a project whose business receives a tax incentive and requires installation of apprenticeship programs.

“It also places an unfunded mandate on municipalities to collect and hold certified payrolls for all workers associated with any new construction or repair projects,” Garrett said. “As you are aware, communities are already being asked to do more with less and this requirement is another unfunded mandate that adds to that burden.”

Garrett is concerned about the rise in rates for building hotels in the south suburbs.

“It will have a major effect on the poorer communities,” Garrett said. “It could be devastating.”

In other news, Smith reminded mayors and audience members of the important work that the PLOWS Council on Aging provides residents over the age of 60 who have physical ailments or might be psychologically impaired. PLOWS stands for the four townships the program covers – Palos, Lemont, Orland and Worth.

“PLOWS can help seniors with medical issues but quite a few other things,” Smith said. “Some reps help make lunch for some of these people or help do laundry.”

Justice Mayor Kris Wasowicz asked if PLOWS could look into situations in which seniors are charged exorbitant rates for home construction projects. Wasowicz said in many cases these seniors are taken advantage of by unscrupulous contractors. He mentioned one instance in which an elderly couple was charged $43,000 for minor repairs.

Smith said she would pass that information along to PLOWS, which can be reached at their Palos Heights office at (708) 361-0219.

Bennett said that in terms of legislative activity in Springfield, a lot of bills are being considered.

“They (legislators) are nit-picking about local issues,” Bennett said. “They are looking into mandates and have packed the agenda with a lot of bills there. That usually helps them but hurts local government.”

Flood relief on the way

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

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Submitted photo

Burbank Mayor Dan Foy speaks at the podium during a groundbreaking ceremony on Monday for the expansion of the Melvina Ditch Reservoir at the site at 6500 W. 87th St. in Burbank. Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury and Stickney Township Supervisor Lou Viverito are standing directly behind him.


The Melvina Ditch Reservoir expansion aimed at alleviating flooding in Burbank and Oak Lawn officially began Monday, with a groundbreaking at the site at 6500 W. 87th St.

Burbank Mayor Dan Foy, Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury and Stickney Supervisor Lou Viverito joined Metropolitan Water Reclamation District President Mariyana Spyropoulos and other dignitaries to put the first shovels in the dirt at the 10 a.m. event.

Spyropoulos said the $20 million project, expected to be completed in early 2020, will more than double the storage capacity of the stormwater reservoir on the Oak Lawn border, expanding it from 54 million to 117.3 million gallons. The pumping station will also be modified to enable it to handle the increased volume, and a new emergency overflow weir is being installed to reduce the chance of the reservoir overtopping.

She noted that the reservoir was created in 1965, five years before Burbank was incorporated as a city. It was part of unincorporated Stickney Township, and the reservoir served an area of 21,000. It now handles runoff coming from throughout Burbank, with 28,000 people, as well as part of Bedford Park and much of Oak Lawn, on the south side of 87th Street.

The water from the reservoir is conveyed to an underground culvert that stretches from 87th Street to 95th Street, where it empties into the Melvina Ditch.

 Spyropoulos said the MWRD came up with the expansion plan after public meetings in local communities following heavy rains and flooding in the surrounding neighborhoods in April 2013, and again in June 2014.

“We heard the pleas for help and as the area’s stormwater authority, we had to do something,” she said.

“After getting input from Burbank and Oak Lawn neighbors and various stakeholders to address flooding concerns, the MWRD agreed to design an improved and expanded reservoir.”

The MWRD purchased 15 homes on the north and east sides of the reservoir and demolished them to make room for the expansion, which will include the removal of 80,000 tons of dirt. The project will also include the installation of a stormwater chamber and culverts at the outlet of the pumping station. Construction will extend to 87th Street to install the culverts and replace any disturbed utilities. Storm pumps will also be removed and serviced and impellers will be lengthened.

Engineers with general contractor F.H. Paschen said Monday that landscaping around the reservoir will complete the project.

“This is a great day for the city of Burbank, the village of Oak Lawn and the Southwest Side,” said Burbank Mayor Dan Foy. “I would like to commend MWRD for doubling the size of the reservoir and adding the emergency overflow. There are 430 residential properties that will have a reduced risk of flooding during storms. This is a great day.”

“During my lifetime in Burbank, we have had four ‘hundred-year rains.’ The rain is an act of God, but it is up to us to handle the water,” added Foy.

“This is indeed a very happy day for us, especially for the residents of the area. I can tell you when you speak to a resident whose home is underwater or taking on water, it is very sad. It means so much that we have a highly responsive group of people in the MWRD. This is pretty quick movement by government standards,” said Bury. “This will be a joy to watch. The difference this is going to make to the quality of life for people is enormous. Let’s get this done now.”

“I am very excited about it,” said Viverito, a longtime Burbank resident and former MWRD commissioner himself. “I am excited for Burbank, and Oak Lawn, and Bedford Park has been part of this. This is going to be great for the residents and businesses.”

He said the development of Burbank as a city would not have been possible without the creation of the reservoir, which he recalled was known as “Mud Lake.”

““What you’ve done with this expansion has touched the hearts and minds of Stickney Township and this whole area,” Viverito said.

Downstream communities, such as Bridgeview, Chicago Ridge and Worth will also benefit indirectly from the reservoir.

While the project is funded primarily by the MWRD, the agency did receive a grant from the state of Illinois through its Build Illinois Bond Fund.

“This is a great day for my constituents in Oak Lawn, Burbank, Chicago Ridge, and Alsip who have suffered from flooded basements, businesses, yards and streets,” said Cong. Dan Lipinski (3rd) in a statement. “I was happy to work with local officials and the MWRD to make this expansion of the Melvina Ditch Reservoir possible. This type of cooperation on local projects is what helps make our communities better places to live and work.”


Chicago Ridge shelves plan for gas station cafe with gaming

  • Written by Dermot Connolly
A proposed café with video gaming in the Thorntons gas station at 10559 S. Harlem Ave. in Chicago Ridge has been shelved, perhaps for good, after company representatives failed to attend the Village Board meeting on March 20 where it was to be discussed for a second time. Rather than being postponed, discussion of the proposal was stricken from the agenda on March 20, meaning that the backers will have to ask to come back before the board. The idea received a cool reception from most of the six trustees when Joseph Reed, a Thorntons representative, came to the village board meeting on March 6 seeking the liquor license needed for video gaming. He wanted to exchange the gas station’s current B-1 license, allowing packaged liquor sales for the B-2 license needed for video gaming, which allows liquor to be poured on the premises. Reed said a contained 10-foot by 10-foot area called Thornton’s Tap would hold five video gaming terminals adjacent to a cashier for easy monitoring. Plans called for offering cans of beer for $6, which would be kept in a refrigerator behind the cashier. Mayor Chuck Tokar and Trustee Jack Lind expressed support for the idea at the original meeting. But the four other trustees raised objections such as oversaturation of video gaming, and well as even serving alcohol at a gas station because of the possibility of drinking and driving. Trustee Ed Kowalski, at the March 6 meeting, pointed to existing problems related to loitering and alcohol at the gas station, and in preparation for the March 20 meeting, he looked at crime statistics between 2015 and 2017. “It was a big concern, and I did follow up,” said Kowalski this week. “We found there were over 1,500 calls for service to that location, for accidents, theft, and alcohol-related issues,” said the trustee. “There were about 15 calls a month over the past two years, involving some type of alcohol-related issue,” he said. Kowalski said he also didn’t buy Reed’s contention that very little alcohol would be sold there due to the price. “If people want the alcohol, they will find a way to get it. I don’t want them to be committing crimes in the area to get the money,” he said Monday. Trustee Bill McFarland had similar concerns, as well as reservations about video gaming in general. “Video gaming is such a divided issue. To help existing businesses stay in town and compete with neighboring businesses, I am 100 percent for it. But it really has to be taken on a case-by-case basis,” said McFarland, explaining why the board voted unanimously to give a gaming license to La Playita restaurant on March 6, but not others. He and Kowalski said the Thorntons proposal was especially unusual, and do not give it much chance of ever getting approved. “I highly doubt they will be bringing it back,” said Kowalski of Thorntons. “We have some real huge issues with it. I don’t think the board was very receptive. So, if they do come back, they will have a lot of questions to answer.”