Let them play: Used playground equipment aids kids in Third World

  • Written by Kevin M. Coyne


The Chicago Ridge Park District plans to continue its effort that began last year to provide playground equipment to children in countries wracked by pestilence, war and natural disasters.

The park district last year forged a partnership with Rockford-based nonprofit group Kids Around the World in an effort to provide underprivileged children in impoverished countries with refurbished playgrounds. The district donated two playgrounds, one that was sent to Haiti and the other that went to Tanzania. Since 1994, Kids Around the World has built more than 300 playgrounds in 60 countries.

“We do a mixture of new and refurbished playgrounds in country and internationally,” said Kids Around the World administrative assistant Laura Biby. “We are up to almost 50 communities in Illinois, a lot of Chicago suburbs are donating their playgrounds and community leaders will help remove the playground prior to reassembly internationally.”

The 20-year-old playground donated to Haiti was in good shape, but time was right for the district to update its equipment, said Chicago Ridge Park District director Kevin King.

“Most of the time we would scrap the old equipment so working with a nonprofit like Kids Around the World is a win-win for the village, nonprofit and those who benefit from the new playground,” King added.

Playgrounds can range from $5,000 to $30,000 depending on its type and size. Working with Kids Around the World helps to defer the cost of destroying the playground, and benefits children who would otherwise be unable to utilize the refurbished equipment.

“We typically have a team doing one to five playgrounds and we can vary from five to 50 people helping to install the equipment,” said Biby. “All of our funding is from donations from churches, communities, businesses and individuals. Our funding goes to removing, refurbishing and assembling playgrounds at home and abroad.”

Strict regulations in the United States prohibit a playground deemed unsafe or unusable from being refurbished and relocated within the country; however, other countries have no such regulations, enabling park districts to donate their old equipment instead of destroying it.

“It’s great working with Kids Around the World so we are able to donate playground equipment that we would otherwise have to get rid of because of the rules,” King said. “Kids can now enjoy new playground equipment and our community feels great for helping less-fortunate kids in other countries.” 


Music, animal show help turn Palos Hills Friendship Fest up to 11

  • Written by Kelly White

COLOR ff8 3colKieran Kelly, 3 (left), and his sister, Layla, 6, enjoy the rises and falls of the Frog Hopper on Saturday at Palos Hills Friendship Fest. Photo by Jason Maholy

Pleasant weather and a billing of top entertainment contributed to what the mayor of Palos Hills deemed an excellent turnout at last weekend’s Friendship Fest.

The city’s annual summer event was held last Thursday through Sunday at the Moraine Valley Triangle, the fest grounds for many years until the past three campaigns which were held just south on the old Moraine Valley driving range. Friendship Fest featured a children’s area and the traditional carnival, as well as Journey tribute band Infinity and The Beatles tribute band American English, both of which drew huge crowds, according to Palos Hills Mayor Jerry Bennett.

Animal lovers and curious fest-goers enjoyed Woody’s Menagerie Educational Wildlife Show which took the stage for a performance on Friday and for four shows on Saturday.

“The wildlife show was definitely unique,” said Allie White, 19, of Chicago Ridge, after viewing Friday’s performance. “It was so cute when the baby tiger meowed during the show.”

The tiger cub was one of several crowd favorites during the show that also featured a fox, groundhog, skunks, snake and bear cub.  

The children’s area at the far north end of the fairgrounds was a popular place all weekend as youths rode ponies, visited with horses and a mule named Rio, and fed goats in the JoDon Farms Petting Zoo. The collection of animals also included a zebu, geese and a tortoise that kept trying to no avail to find its way out of the fenced area containing the creatures.

Bennett said the city sold more Mega Passes, which provided access to all carnival rides all four days of the fest, than it ever has in its history. The carnival featured games on the Midway including a test-your-strength-with-a-mallet attraction as well as popular rides such as the Swinger, bumper cars, dragon coaster and frog hopper. Older attendees tested their stomachs and equilibriums on an array of twirling, whirling and zipping attractions

The Double K Car Show was held Sunday and showcased a wide range of old-fashioned automobiles.

“It’s nice when the city combines a car show and a festival together,” said Hickory Hills resident, Rocco Giannelli, 19, who attended the fest with his girlfriend. “I often attend local car shows when they are in the area, but when there is a fest incorporated as well, it’s something we can both enjoy together.”

In addition to musical headliners Infinity and American English, the beer tent stage saw performances by R-Gang, The Breakfast Club, Modern Day Romeos, The Difference and Epic.

The tent was packed with music fans who raved about the bands. Oak Lawn resident Kelsey Slawecki was at the fest Thursday night with her friends to see Infinity.

“Infinity is such a fun band,” she said. “They sounded great and played all types of music so everyone was out of their seats throughout their entire performance.”

The fest concluded Sunday night with a fireworks show that received props from Giannelli.

“The firework display is by far one of the best ones in the area,” she said.

COLOR ff9 3colPalos Hills residents Gavin Krupinski (from left), 6, Zachary Van Loon, 6, and Logan Krupinski, 4, ride the Dragon Coaster. Photo by Jason Maholy




Oak Lawn Park Dist. approves 2013 budget

  • Written by Jessie Molloy

Several facilities to be improved

  The Oak Lawn Park District board of commissioners voted unanimously earlier this month to approve its 2013 budget.

  The budget shows $20.07 million in expenditures and $17.23 million in revenues, compared to last year’s $20.65 million in expenditures and $19.37 million in revenues. The district will use funds form a bond issue to cover the anticipated $2.84 million deficit, according to park district finance director Les Swintek
  Last year’s infusion of bond money accounts for the $2 million difference in revenues from 2012 to 2013.
  The park district will this year embark on a number of capital improvement projects at district facilities.
  The $4 million expansion of the Community Pavilion, 94th Street and Oak Park Avenue, and the $1.18 million improvement of adjacent Centennial Park have both received state grant funds that will pay for portions of those projects. The park district will use $1.8 million of a $6.1 million bond to cover some of the cost. The projects are expected to be completed this fall.
  The Pavilion expansion will increase the gymnasium’s size to include two new basketball courts and four volleyball courts, add a café and offices, and renovate the rest rooms. The Centennial Park work includes the addition of a picnic pavilion, playground, basketball courts, and a children’s splash pool.
  The Memorial Park renovation approved in April has been budgeted at $1.53 million, which will be funded with bond money. The project is a complete renovation of the park’s facilities including improvements to the fishing pond, a new pier, new walking paths with outdoor fitness equipment as well as the reintroduction of the park’s classic rocket ship slide and the addition of a space themed spray pad.
  In other park district news, a “rec mobile” will visit parks and bring traveling activities every Monday and Wednesday through the end of the month. The park district is also using July — which is Parks and Recreation Month — as an opportunity to bring the community into a promotion plan. Residents are through July invited to submit their own videos explaining why they love the Oak Lawn Park District. The videos can be submitted at the park district administrative building to public relations superintendent Vince Clark, who will use some of the submissions in upcoming promotional materials.

Walking strong at Rice

  • Written by Jessie Molloy


  About 130 people hit the running track 2X PG3 relay2zat Brother Rice High School last weekend for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life of Evergreen Park, Beverly and Mt. Greenwood.

  The participants comprised 14 teams that each pledged to keep at least one member of their squads on the track for 16 hours from Saturday afternoon through Sunday morning to represent how the struggle against cancer never sleeps. They also honored their friends and relatives who have the disease, who have survived it and who despite their efforts succumbed to it — the latter whom event chairman Kelly Duffy said “are only here in memory.”
  Organizers’ goal was to raise $23,000 to go toward cancer research and treatment, and the participating teams were just $1,000 short of that mark by the start of the first lap, Duffy said.
  The event kicked off at 2 p.m. Saturday with an opening ceremony that included speeches by the event organizers and Evergreen Park resident Marlo Keyser, who shared the story of her experience with breast cancer. Keyser, who’s cancer is in remission, thanked the Relay for Life Committee for inviting her to tell her story, and emphasized the importance of getting mammograms and check-ups to catch cancer early on.
2X PG3 relay3z  After the speeches, cancer survivors were invited onto the track to be recognized and receive their “Medals for Mettle” from the Chicago chapter of Medals 4 Mettle, a charity that awards donated marathon, half-marathon, and triathlon medals to cancer survivors “who’ve run an even harder race every day of their lives.” The survivors then walked the relay’s opening lap.
  For the second lap the survivors were joined by caregivers of cancer patients, and from there the remaining 16 hours were given different lap themes including the patriotic lap, beach party, and hours dedicated to Halloween, country and disco. At 9 p.m., after darkness had fallen on the Crusaders’ stadium, the walkers participated in the ceremonial Luminaria lap to honor persons who have been affected by or died of cancer by lighting candles in decorated paper lanterns.
  “The luminaria is one of the most important parts of the night,” Duffy said. “It’s really very moving.”
  Participants showed their support and donated money and time to the cause, and many brought with them stories about their experiences with cancer. Lauren Kielbasa organized the event’s largest team — “Adam’s Army” — to honor her husband, who has been stricken with epithelioid sarcoma, a rare cancer found in the tissues of the extremities and which affects about one in 4 million people. Since being diagnosed in 2011, Adam Kielbasa has undergone radiation, eight rounds of chemotherapy and seven surgeries including one that removed a large portion of his right calf. He is now undergoing treatment for tumors in his shoulder and lungs. The 27-year-old Brother Rice alum has not let the disease keep him down.
  “I always tell people it’s not the physical part that’s hard,” Kielbasa said. “The surgeries don’t phase me, it’s the emotional part and seeing how it affects everyone that’s the hardest part. Honestly, the scars on my body don’t hurt me, it’s the emotional scars that take longer to heal.”
  In this, their first year participating in the Relay, the 30 members of Adam’s Army raised more than $4,000 by the start of the event, with more efforts planned before the official close of the relay fundraising season including a lemonade stand at the team’s relay campsite.
  “I’ve been very fortunate 2X PG3 relay1znot to need too much help financially,” said Kielbasa, “but I’m glad these organizations exist to help people who are less fortunate. That’s why we wanted to come out and give our support.”
  Lauren Kielbasa explained that she and Adam had wanted to take part in the event last year, but Adam’s surgeries had prevented him from partaking. This year he was not only out of the hospital, but strong enough to walk with the team.
  Felicia Alston and her husband of the “My Crafty Table” squad both have sisters who survived cancer. Felicia’s sister, Brenda Fitcher, was diagnosed in December 2010 and received a medal in the opening ceremony Saturday. As part of their fundraising, the sisters were selling custom-made pillows and pillow cases.
  “When my sister was going through her treatment, she made pillows for some of the patients and she saw they seemed to take a lot of comfort from them,” Alston explained. “She couldn’t go to work but she was making the pillows to keep busy. Eventually I asked her why she didn’t just make a business out of it.”
  That is, in fact, what Brenda Fitcher has done. She designs and sews pillows she was selling at the Relay to help raise money for the American Cancer Society. The sisters manned a sewing station set up in their team’s camp, and was making custom pillows and pillow cases for a $10 donation.
  Not all the teams participating had big teams or elaborate fund raising plans, some just had a lot of dedication. “The Procrastinators: The Next Generation” was the smallest team participating with only eight members. It was also the youngest one. All eight members are either Evergreen Park High School students and recent graduates, and half of the team has been participating in the Relay since childhood, when their parents started the Procrastinators.
  “The Putlakas [family] started the team because they had several cancer survivors in the family and the Townsends were on it with them,” explained Mary Dickey. “I wasn’t on the team then, but they kind of just tagged along. A couple years ago their parents decided they just didn’t want to do it any more so they kept the name and recruited some friends to help them keep it going.”
  The team is composed of Dickey and her sister, the five Putlaks and Townsends who took part in the relay as children, and another friend. The members used their connections at Evergreen Park High to run a pie-sale fundraiser this spring that yielded $100 dollars. They raised another $192 at the Relay and are looking forward to continuing with the tradition in coming years.


Lawmakers hold book drive to enrich jail inmates’ lives

  State Rep. Fran Hurley is co-sponsoring a book drive with state Sen. Cunningham and the Cook County Sheriff’s office to collect reading materials for the Cook County Jail Library.
  The donation drive is in conjunction with the Green Hills Library in Palos Hills.
  “This is just one way we can help local law enforcement curtail costs and increase efficiency. The collection will cut costs to the jail’s overall budgetary expenses,” Hurley said.
  Local residents are invited to drop off new or used books to Hurley and Cunningham’s joint constituent service office, weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 10400 S. Western Ave. in Chicago, and Monday-Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 16033 S. 94th Ave. in Orland Hills. Books with sexual and/or violent content cannot be accepted.
  During the legislative session, Hurley worked closely with the Cook County Sheriff’s office to fight violence and crime. In addition to passing a number of bills supported by the Cook County Sheriff, Hurley helped pass a bill to curb reckless driving and crack down on street gang violence. The measure enables law enforcement officers to impound vehicles that are caught driving recklessly and causing disorder in a funeral procession.
  “I will continue to support legislation that puts the safety of our community first and provides local law enforcement with the tools to protect local residents,” Hurley said. “We must continue to work together to keep our neighborhood safe. I strongly encourage local residents to participate in this on-going book drive.”
  For more information, contact Hurley’s constituent services office at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , (773) 445-8128 or 233-9703.