PADS turning people away as calls for help grow louder

By Dawn Thrasher
Community Resource Coordinator

As one of our PADS site managers recently said, "We are a community of people even though we do not see each other often, or ever."

Think about that – 4,000- plus individuals all pulling together to support one mission; to provide shelter, meals and supportive services to persons facing homelessness.

South Suburban PADS is the largest provider of shelter and supportive services for persons that are experiencing homelessness in the south and southwest suburbs of Chicago. PADS partners with local Faith Communities for the use of their building one night a week. Volunteers from these Faith Communities and the public at large provide the operational support that keeps these shelters open for the approximately 175 men, women and children served by PADS every night of the week.

The number of guests depending on the PADS shelter network this winter is the largest number ever in PADS 22 year history.

"This is the first year that PADS has had to turn guests away because we do not have enough capacity," commented Dawn Thrasher, community resource coordinator for PADS. "This breaks our hearts! We've also had several pregnant women this season, and many children."

PADS opened a 77-unit permanent supportive housing facility in Country Club Hills several months ago. Having 77 units of additional affordable housing in the Chicago Southland couldn't have come at a better time. Many PADS guests have been housed in this building in the last few months, leaving the shelter environment behind.

Even though PADS is blessed with thousands of volunteers, there are never enough to fill all the needs. Shelter volunteers are asked to work one four-five hour shift a month, and office volunteers are asked to work one 3 to 4- hour shift a week. Plus there are many other types of volunteer opportunities.

This winter season, PADS is operating 32 shelters each week, but 32 is not enough. We need more Faith Communities willing to open their doors one night each week to host a PADS shelter.

Since 1990 PADS has sheltered 12,724 men, women and children; has served 1,185,114 meals, and has been blessed with 13,873 men and women that serve as PADS volunteers, staffing the overnight shelters, and preparing and serving meals. To learn more about how you can help contact Dawn Thrasher, community resource coordinator, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , or 754-4357, Ext. 107.

What do you say?

State your case for or against a federal ban on assault weapons.

(Asked at the Oak Lawn Public Library)

Austin Morgan,
Chicago Ridge

"I think they should be banned. You don't even need them to go hunting. They are for soldiers and the police."

Hana Elhila,
Oak Lawn

"I am for the ban. Violence is happening around the country to an extent that is too much."

Rem Ismail,
Oak Lawn

"They should be banned, because they will just cause more violence."

Neal F.,
Oak Lawn

"I am for the ban. Unless they are for the police or the FBI, I don't think regular citizens should have them."

Saja Jaber,
Oak Lawn

"People should be able to have them, but I think they should have to take a psychological test before they get the gun."

Fire official charged with attempted murder

Police say Gary Swiercz, who began his firefighting career in Worth in 1984, had a knife, 8-inch sex toy and lubricant when he broke into woman's condo

By Laura Bolin

A Chicago Ridge Fire Department official is accused of trying to sexually assault and kill a woman after he allegedly broke into her Tinley Park condominium and attacked her last Saturday.

Gary M. Swiercz, 49, who lives in the same building as the alleged victim, has been charged with attempted first-degree murder, aggravated criminal sexual assault, aggravated unlawful restraint, home invasion and residential burglary.

Swiercz, the deputy fire chief in Chicago Ridge and a former chief of the since-disbanded Worth Fire Department, allegedly broke into the woman's unit early Saturday morning at the building in the 8100 block of 168th Place. Swiercz allegedly beat the woman, attempted to tie her up and sexually assault her, and threatened to slit her throat with a folding knife.

At one point during the attack he allegedly forced her to the floor and smashed her head against the tile surface. The alleged victim was reportedly treated on the scene for minor injuries.

Swiercz reportedly entered the apartment with the knife as well as rope, zip-ties, an 8-inch sex toy and a bottle of lubricant.

A neighbor who reportedly heard a woman screaming reported the alleged incident to police, who reportedly found Swiercz in the parking lot of the condominium building and arrested him at 2:35 a.m.

Swiercz has been placed on indefinite leave from the department pending an "investigation surrounding criminal charges regarding an allegation of home invasion," according to a statement from the Chicago Ridge Fire Department. At the time of the alleged attack, Swiercz was "off duty and not performing any duty in his official capacity with the Chicago Ridge Fire Department," according to the statement. Fire department officials refused to comment further on the matter.

Swiercz, who retired Monday after posting $15,000 bail, is under court-mandated electronic surveillance while staying at his parent's home in Worth.

Swiercz has been with the Chicago Ridge Fire Department for 24 years. No members of the department ever had a problem with him and he has never before been placed on administrative leave before, said Chicago Ridge Fire Chief Robert Muszynski.

Swiercz began his firefighter career in Worth in 1984 as a paid on-call firefighter, a position he held until 1991. He began working full-time as a deputy chief in Chicago Ridge in 1988. He returned to Worth in 2004 as a part-time fire chief, and served in that role until November 2006 following the death of Chief Don Stefaniak, then served another five months in Worth as parttime chief from August 2008 to December 2008. The Worth Fire Department was dissolved Jan. 1, 2009 when control was handed over to the North Palos Fire Protection District.

Images wanted of Palos Park's past

Library, village compile historic photos for book

By Jeff Vorva

At one time, Palos Park was a place where buffalo roamed and marksman from all over the country with nicknames such as "The Terrible Dane," "The Stock Crank" and "Our Ammunition Factory" came to compete in sharpshooting contests.

It was once a place where writers such as Pearl S. Buck and Sherwood Anderson and sculptor Lorado Taft hung out.

In 2014, the village turns 100 years old and one of the special projects that will take place will be the debut of a book jammed with photos and stories about Palos Park's first century of existence.

While members of the Palos Park Public Library have been gathering material for this book in recent weeks, they are still seeking out more photos and information. They have pushed their original deadline from Jan. 31 to mid-February and people can share their history by dropping items off at the library, 12330 S. Forest Glen Blvd., or at the Kaptur Center, 8999 W. 123rd St.

The library requests that people place is the photos and information in an envelope marked "Palos Park Centennial Pictures" and to provide their name, address, e-mail address and phone number on the back of each photo and that the story is attached to the photo.

The library is working in conjunction with Arcadia Publishing, which has produced hundreds of books like this under its "Images of America" series, including books about nearby Worth and Oak Lawn.

Administrative Librarian Sheila Sosnicki and Public Services Librarian Jeannine Kacmar are helping to oversee the project.

"These books are usually a compilation of photos of an area," Sosnicki said. "We're looking at doing this for Palos Park. We also want to emphasize some of the interesting parts about Palos Park's history. Horseback riding was really huge back then. It was interesting to hear stories about farms that the families had. People are really interested in their history and they are happy to share their stories and talk. Someone brought in school pictures from the 1920s and from the 1940s and it was fun looking at those."

They discovered that buffalo had roamed in the village limits in the 1920s.

"The Cook County Forest Preserve stocked buffalo," Kacmar said. "I'm not sure why they did that, but we have photos of them grazing in the forest preserve. We have photos of people hunting them."

The village's rich history in shooting will be highlighted. Palos Park once housed the Sharpshooter's Association, which hosted competitions for regional and national shooters.

In the 1910s, the village hosted the George Washington Birthday Cup Shoot. Marksmen from all over the country to compete including C.T. Westergaard, who was known as the "Terrible Dane", C.L. Forsythe, otherwise known as "Our Ammunition Factory" and Frank Dulleck - a.k.a. "The Stock Crank."

The village has not announced any details about the 100-year anniversary celebration, but in 2012 officials said they were expanding their Autumn in The Park Festival in 2012 and 2013 in anticipation for the 100-year anniversary in 2014.

Orland Park Chili Challenge simmers

The aroma of simmering chili fills the Orland Park Civic Center on Saturday, Jan. 19, when the village of Orland Park hosts its annual "Chilly Willie Chili Challenge." Now in its eighth year, Orland Park's annual contest draws competitors from across the country.

"The village's Chili Challenge is an annual winter favorite," said Orland Park Mayor Dan McLaughlin. "We have people from all over the country come to Orland Park to compete and our residents help by voting for their favorite chilies and serving as judges," the mayor said.

The village's competition is sanctioned by the International Chili Society (ICS) and the Chili Appreciation Society International (CASI). The winner of the ICS Competition at Orland Park will qualify to compete in the World Championship Chili Cook Off. The top winners in the CASI competition receive points to add to their totals qualifying cooks for the national competition held in Terlingua, Texas.

Cooks may compete in ICS traditional red, salsa, verde or homestyle and/or in CASI traditional red chili. Cooks must be active ICS members to compete in the ICS Competition. Contestants must be 18 years or older to compete.

"Chili is an art form at Orland Park's competition," said Trustee Pat Gira, chair of the village's Recreation and Parks Committee. "Orland Park is thrilled to host this annual contest, which is a fun afternoon in the middle of winter for so many people," she added.

The International Chili Society has added a new category for 2013 - homestyle. Designed for locals who have always wanted to enter their chili in a contest, this category permits beans, which are normally not allowed in the competition.

Cooks may compete in either red chili or homestyle but not both. The cost is $20 to compete for ICS members and $40 for non-members, which includes the $20 membership fee in ICS Homestyle. The membership fee allows a cook to compete in any homestyle contest for a year. ICS membership applications appear on the village's entry forms or cooks may join the organization on the day of the event.

All chili must be cooked from scratch on site on the day of Orland Park's Chili Challenge. Beans, macaroni, hominy or other similar ingredients are only permitted in the homestyle category.

"Every year, we hear about the many great chili cooks in Orland Park," McLaughlin said. "It's nice that the ICS has opened its competition, enabling local residents to compete with their homestyle recipes," the mayor said.

Contestants are required to cook a minimum of two quarts of competition chili plus an additional gallon for the People's Choice/Public Tasting. Judging is based on aroma, consistency, color, taste and after taste. Awards are presented to the top winners in each category.

Approximately 100 judges are needed to judge the event. Individuals interested in helping to judge Orland Park's competition should contact Patty Vlazny at 403-6145. Judges must be 18 years and older.

Public tasting at the competition begins at 2 p.m. and continues until the chili runs out. All-you-can-eat tasting cups will be available for purchase for $5 each with proceeds benefiting the Village of Orland Park Special Recreation Program.

"We encourage those who want to taste the chili to come as close to 2 p.m. as possible because this is a very popular event," Gira said.

The Orland Park Civic Center is located at 14750 South Ravinia Avenue, one block west of La Grange Road. Registration information and further details are available by calling the Village of Orland Park Recreation Department at 403-7275.