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Leaders often are born, while others show the way through hard work

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia-NEW

Are leaders born or made?

That question has been debated for eons. Some say natural communicators possessing social intelligence with a knack for bringing others together to complete shared objectives can’t be taught, only strengthened.

Others argue true leadership is only obtained by practicing acquired experience and mentoring.  

Both arguments are so convincing. I teeter on the fence as to which theorists I agree. Regardless of how they’re made, I know how some of them are being discovered.

Back in January, my sister-in-law, Crystal Sykes of Chicago, along with 29 other workforce frontrunners were selected into the University of Chicago’s Civic Leadership Academy (CLA) from a pool of over 100 applicants. I was present when Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Chicago’s Deputy Mayor Steve Koch and University of Chicago Vice President for Civic Engagement Derek Douglas welcomed the 2016 Class during a ceremony at the Gleacher Center on Jan. 13. The intense six-month program started the following day.

The university launched the Civic Leadership Academy in 2015 in hopes of developing promising talent to assist nonprofits, city and county government agencies in Chicago to reach new heights of success. The program is in its second year.

In February, the 2016 cohort traveled to the University of Chicago’s Center in Delhi, India, for a weeklong global practicum.

Throughout the CLA program, each of these trailblazers were required to strategize to assess and work to resolve a practical challenge facing their specific organization. The employee must be nominated by their organization to be eligible for consideration. It’s a high compliment because once accepted, the employer must also fund their applicant by paying a tab of $6,000.

Crystal is the director of Employee Services and Workforce Development at Heartland Alliance for Human Needs and Human Rights. She provides operational and strategic oversight to employment practice and workforce development efforts. She holds a master’s degree in Public Administration and a bachelor’s degree in Human Resource Management.

“Crystal is someone I look up to,” said Don, my husband and her younger brother. She is the second to oldest of his four siblings. He continued, “When we were growing up, I’d go to her for advice often. She had a good track record with me for analyzing problems to generate favorable solutions. I’ve always felt she was extremely smart. She graduated high school at just 16 years old.”

I personally admire Crystal’s resolve. She has a gift for remaining composed in highly stressful situations, which is a fundamental component of being an effective leader.

Crystal said she feels the six months spent in the CLA has her better informed on what true leadership means to her.

“I recognize that there are varying types of leadership and while many people can be leaders, we can have very different leadership styles and we don’t have to be the same to be effective,” said Crystal.

She went further by explaining that the CLA helped her to focus more on the functions of a leader rather than temperament. “This program challenged me to examine my character – I’m now more apt to recognize which character traits are manifesting in a given situation. I’m then able to be more decisive about which one of those traits I want to bring to the forefront in that moment.”

Crystal recalls on her first day of class learning about Harry Davis’ character theme. She said, “It’s centered on knowing ourselves and leading authentically. Leadership is accepting yourself and using whatever your own style is to change those things that you can. At the beginning of the CLA, I likened leadership to being more about what one does – in spite of anything or anyone else. I now also look at leadership as being what one does because of someone else.”

The CLA graduation ceremony took place last Saturday, June 18. I couldn’t contain my enthusiasm for Crystal. I slid my way up into the front row just before she received her certificate in civic leadership from Chicago Harris. It was my honor to witness the culminating celebration of her completion of the program. Now that she’s been strategically trained, I’m very excited for her and I’ll be cheering as I watch her elevation continue.

Success is within all of our reach if we desire to obtain it. All we have to do is reach out and grab it. You don’t have to be in a leadership role in order to make an impact. Just choose to be the change you wish to see in the world.

Claudia Parker is an Evergreen Park mother, author and runner whose columns appear in The Reporter the second and fourth Thursdays of each month.  

Crossing finish line with sense of pride and hope

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia-NEW

Ask any parent what hurts them most and I’ll bet they’ll tell you it’s when their children are hurting. Be it by accident or illness, it’s absolutely excruciating watching your children experience pain. That’s why I didn’t hesitate when Advocate Children’s Hospital asked me to be Ayiana Hernandez’s running mentor for their 9th Annual Running for Hope 5K Run/Walk.

Ayiana is a 13-year-old pediatric cancer survivor who is now two years cancer free. We met last year through this running program. It’s my second year being her mentor. She’s a beautiful, fun loving, free spirit that I adore. I’m relieved I didn’t know her while she was battling this awful disease. I wouldn’t have wanted to watch her suffer. Being able to contribute my time by running to help her remain healthy is very gratifying and I’m not alone.    

Over the previous eight years, the Pediatric Oncology team at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn and the CURE-IT FOUNDATION in partnership with SURVIVORVISION have invited avid runners to mentor survivors.

We spent nine weeks at the Keyser Pediatric Cancer Center training. There were 25 survivors, 25 survivor friends and 25 mentors that participated. Each session included a warm-up, walk and/or run, cool down, stretching, and “homework” assignments for the survivor and their buddy we were paired with. Last year, Ayiana’s mother, Virginia Rivera, trained with us. This year it was her father, Miguel Hernandez.

The race took place on Sunday, June 5.

I’ve ran two full 26.2 mile marathons, at least seven half-marathons, three 10 milers and several 5K races. So why on earth would I tear up at the finish line of this race? Because the 9th Annual Running for Hope 5K Run/Walk was my 8-year-old daughter Donae’s first race. She wouldn’t have been able to do it without the ProActive Kids (PAK) Foundation, which is a youth program in Oak Lawn, also sponsored by Advocate Children’s Hospital.  

My confident, outgoing, social butterfly had started to become subconscious about her weight after a few of her peers made unkind remarks about her body. I gave her the ole’, “You’re beautiful, never mind them,” spiel but I soon realized a true intervention was needed. She was beginning to have a poor body image, all while overindulging in unhealthy foods.

What I know for sure is -- to ignore a problem one doesn’t know how to resolve, doesn’t make it disappear.

My husband, Don, and I are both physically fit, him especially. Neither of us could understand how weight became an issue for our daughter, but it did. We sought intervention through ProActive Kids and it’s made a tremendous impact.

With the sponsorship of Advocate Children’s Hospital, PAK is a complimentary fitness and nutrition program designed for children ages 8-14 who are struggling with their weight, and being overweight. The program offers a safe environment where kids can work out and learn about proper nutrition. They also focus on their self-esteem, body image, stress, feelings and a variety of other issues caused by being overweight. It’s an eight week program offered three days per week with classes that range from 90 minutes to two-hours.

There are eight locations in the Chicago area; the one we attended took place at the Oak Lawn Ice Arena on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Monday and Wednesday was from 4 to 5:30 p.m., Friday was from 4 to 6 p.m. The class was structured with the first 45 minutes of physical fitness, followed by 45 minutes with a licensed social worker, who acted as their lifestyle coach. Fridays included a session with a nutritionist who kept us informed about proper food choices and portion control.

Parents were required to be active participants in the program. The children attended independently on Monday and Wednesday but Fridays the entire family was encouraged to attend. We also had parent-only meetings and received weekly emails informing us exactly what our kids were doing in class and how we could support them at home.

Donae doesn’t have an innate need to be physically active. She’s completely content to lounge on the sofa and watch “Full House” episodes all day if we allowed her. However, once she started PAK, she began requesting to exercise. PAK made fitness fun and rewarded her progress. She loved getting the recognition and being around other kids who had similar weight loss goals. Together, they were supporting each other, week by week to create a plan for a healthier life.

It worked.

With the loss of almost four pounds, Donae’s confidence in her physical ability shifted. She requested to train with me and Ayiana for the Running for Hope race. I wasn’t convinced she wouldn’t complain and fall behind, like she had numerous other times I’ve tried to train her, but she insisted.

Donae totally surprised me. Each week she got stronger and stronger until she was able to complete the entire distance of 3.1 miles. It was mostly run/walk but prior to joining PAK she wasn’t walking a 1/2 mile, let alone three.

The Running for Hope race just happened to culminate the PAK program. It ended Friday, May 27. So yes, I teared up under my shades as she sprinted full throttle across that finish line; pumping her fist like she’s seen her Momma do many times. Aaah sweet victory!

I’m proud of Donae because she’s learned to own her choices. Before going to PAK, nothing Don and I did or said would resonate. Sometime it takes another source to help our kids fully appreciate the message.

For any parent recognizing their child hurting in this area, you don't have to watch them suffer. I’d highly recommend PAK. Visit http://www.proactivekids.org/

Claudia Parker is an Evergreen Park mother, author and runner whose columns appear in The Reporter the second and fourth Thursdays of each month.  

Cubs, White Sox have a long season to go

  • Written by oe Boyle

This is a column I held off on writing about for a while. I’m talking about the status of the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox.

Remember a month ago when TV sportscasters and some columnists wondered if we would have a Crosstown World Series between the Cubs and White Sox? The reason for the optimism was the great starts by both teams.

I haven’t played baseball in a long time but have watched a lot of major league games and suffered through some tough seasons. I do know they play 162 games and that is a marathon. The teams that are blessed with solid starting pitching, solid relief, some timely hitting, good defense, and some luck will be playing in October. I say luck because winning teams have to avoid serious injuries. If they do suffer some injuries, reserves have to pick up the slack.

And you can never have enough pitching. During a long season, starting pitchers will tire and go through “dead arm” periods. Much has been said how important bullpens are. However, if you have starting pitchers who hardly get through the fifth or sixth inning, the great bullpen will be overused and will go through a period where they can get no one out. In that sense, baseball is a cruel game.

The World Series champions are not always the most talented teams, but they are the best. Winning teams usually have battled-tested veterans who can help lead the way. Some players can have career years.

Let’s take the Cubs for instance. Paraphrasing former Northwestern and Arizona Cardinals football coach Dennis Green, the Cubs are who we thought they were. This is a ballclub that was on fire at the end of last year and rolled over the Pirates and Cardinals in the playoffs. The team had great starting pitching, a solid bullpen, adequate defense, and an up-and-down offense with power. They also struck out a lot and did not walk much. Despite those deficiencies, their confidence and strengths led them to 97 regular season wins.

The New York Mets shut down the Cubs offense and they advanced to the World Series. But the Cubs had plenty of reasons to be excited. They have kept their team intact and added pieces to the roster to strengthen the club. The surprise signing of center fielder Dexter Fowler solidified the outfield. Signing free agent Ben Zobrist to play second and Jason Heyward to play right field helped. Heyward has struggled offensively but adds defense and speed.

Zobrist has been a player who can play several positions and come up with big hits. He also draws walks, which the Cubs needed more of. Zobrist, who won a World Series title with the Royals last season, is exceeding expectations with a .351 average with seven homers and 35 RBI. His average will probably come down but he is a winner and that rubs off on other teammates.

But the “it” factor is Joe Maddon, the Cubs manager. He keeps his team loose and deals with the press, win or lose. He changed the attitude of Cubs players and even some fans who expect some catastrophe to leap out from behind the outfield vines. The bottom line is that the Cubs are in first place with the best record in baseball and a 35-14 record going into Tuesday’s action.

But Maddon’s leadership is rubbing off on his players. They respond to questions saying that it’s a long season and they just have to grind it out. In other words, unlike some sportscasters, they are not beating their chests and claiming they are the best team in baseball. They have a long way to go. Right now, they are playing the best baseball.

The White Sox were once 23-10 in April. After a disastrous week and a half, they are now 27-25 and in third place, trailing first-place Kansas City and Cleveland as of Tuesday. So, what happened? Losing, like wining, can become contagious. TV analyst and former White Sox third baseman Bill Melton mentioned it a month ago that it is great the Sox are winning. However, the back of the rotation was hardly getting through the fifth inning and the bullpen, outstanding at the time, was being overused.

The end result was the disaster Sox fans have witnessed the past couple of weeks. Despite Todd Frazier’s homers, this team has not hit that well. Perhaps it never will. But it should hit more homers when Jose Abreu relaxes and lays off breaking balls off the plate.

The bullpen needs some rest. Starters have to go seven or eight innings. The White Sox are still a contender but they will have to surpass Kansas City and Cleveland. And Detroit is just behind them. Maybe acquiring San Diego’s James Shields would help solidify the back of the order. Shields is a veteran with a great changeup and is a competitor. The Sox are rumored to be interested in him.

The White Sox could add some more winners to their roster. But my advice to Chicago fans is that the season is long. A lot can happen. Relax and take it one game at a time.

Joe Boyle is the editor of The Reporter. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Memorial Day salute to my dad and all veterans

  • Written by Joe Boyle

My father died nearly 11 years ago, but with Memorial Day quickly approaching, he is in my thoughts.

My father grew up during the Great Depression and as World War II broke out, he signed up for duty. I remember him telling me that he was lying on the floor and listening to a Chicago Bears football game when a news bulletin broke in informing listeners of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. My dad said he continued to listen to the game but knew what he was going to do the next day.

That’s how it kind of was with my dad. He may mention something in passing about the war and usually not elaborate. He often would just move on to another subject.

But there were reminders that he served in the Marine Corps in World War II. I recall an album of Marine-related music, including the Marine fight song. As a little kid, I remember playing it on our little portable hi-fi.

He also had pictures that featured some natives of Okinawa, Japan. Again, when asked about the photos, he just said that a friend gave them to him. I also recall he had a machete and a helmet. I remember putting on the helmet when I was a kid. I think one day I asked him where he got them and he said “he found it.” Maybe he did.

I remember my dad telling me about one incident in the war. He said that he and a couple of Marines slowly approached a building that had been mostly ripped apart by gunfire and explosives. My father and the two other Marines slowly entered. While the two other Marines approached other sections of the building, my dad turned and entered another room.

At the end of the room on the other side of the wall, my father turned and was suddenly face to face with a Japanese soldier. My father was armed and the solider, who appeared to be tired and frightened, also had a weapon. My father said he had a knife. My dad did not move and just stared into the eyes of the soldier.

After what seemed like an eternity but was more like 30 seconds, my dad slowly lifted his left arm and held out his hand. His weapon was held tightly in his right hand. The Japanese soldier continued to stare at my father. He could hear the other Marines in the building. He then slowly lifted his arm and gave the weapon to my dad.

At this time, my father called out to the other Marines. My father implied that one of the Marines was a little trigger-happy. He told my dad that they should kill him.

My dad wanted no part of that. I remember him telling me that he said, “No, you don’t do that. He’s a prisoner. We have to take him in.” That’s how my dad explained it to me. What my father did not elaborate on is that this is the right way to do things, the humane way. He knew that it was pointless to try and explain it to the other Marine.

My father was a gunner and took part in many flights in Okinawa. I do recall that someone asked him if he killed anybody in his role as a gunner. He just shrugged and said “maybe.” He did not really want to talk about it.

I do know that he was happy the war ended and he would soon be home. My dad was happy to be home and said all he wanted to do was get married and have a family. That was a common theme among the young men who came home after surviving World War II.

My father was an only child. He married a young woman from the neighborhood near Ogden Park in Chicago and settled down. They had six children.

And on Memorial Day, my father was like anybody else. If he wasn’t working as a Chicago firefighter that day, he could be seen barbecuing in the backyard and maybe playing horseshoes with some neighbors later on.

We didn’t discuss the war much. Our time was spent more on how the White Sox will do any particular season. But on this Monday, I will be thinking about him and other veterans who served and were fortunate to come home, and the others who did not.

And yes, I will probably barbecue and watch some White Sox games this weekend, just like my dad.

Joe Boyle is the editor of The Reporter. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Capturing images and moments in time for years to come

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia-NEW

The Dr. Seuss book, ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go!’ rang loudly in my head this weekend. Friday, my Nikon placed me in the heart of Chicago to capture a senior prom sendoff. The eyes at the door danced with delight every time the prom princess pushed it open for her guests. Their astonishment at her transformation was evident by their dropped jaws and misty eyes. No longer the little girl they once knew, before them stood a beautiful woman.  

Saturday, I traveled to Lake Forest to shoot a surprise birthday party for a woman I believed to be 70 years old. I learned of my ignorance after hearing her spouse gush about their 67 years of marriage. My estimation was way off -- she’s 88!

I fogged up my camera eyecup a few times as I listened to the various voices express the impact she’s had on their lives. The room was filled to capacity. Her loved ones went through great lengths to make the occasion memorable. Their attention to detail was unmatched. Her family’s attire was color coordinated with hers and the party décor. Each table had floral centerpieces made of framed photo vases with pictures of her at numerous stages. I especially loved the two-foot, inedible cake, filled with rolled currency. Technology allowed those unable to attend the festivities to join via video.

Her grateful heart made it difficult for her to remain composed, “I know my time is short. I’m grateful for this day where I can look at each one of you, and tell you how much I love and appreciate you,” she tearfully expressed.

The only part of that gig I wasn’t fond of was the distance it took to get home. My Sunday venue wasn’t close either. It was a Charis Bible College graduation ceremony in Schererville, Ind. Thank goodness I arrived early. I had to skitter into a Walmart nearby to replace my tripod that I’d left in Lake Forest the day before.

The event crisis on that day was realizing my Speedlight flash batteries were dead, just moments before the surprised birthday recipient was about to enter the dark banquet hall. Being that she was walking up the sidewalk didn’t exactly provide time to run out and buy any. Graciously, the restaurant owner produced the four AA batteries needed. My blood pressure deescalated at the sight of Duracell. I’d been given a specific instruction. “Feel free to use your creativity. However, my MUST HAVE is the element of surprise on her face when she walks through the door,” requested the party host.  

The banquet hall in Schererville had plenty of light, but to keep a photograph of a large group crisp, a steady hand is needed. I was actually a little excited about having left my tripod in Lake Forest once I realized my new one was a 2-in-1 Tripod/Monopod to be used for recording video as well. “Sweet,” I exclaimed as I played around with the panning feature.

I don’t know how other Bible colleges do things but there wasn’t anything normal about this Charis Bible College graduation. We’re talking about some high praise unto God going on. At one point, I forgot I was the hired help. I put my camera on the tripod and started getting my praise on right along with the rest of them. I am not ashamed of the Gospel and I dare not ever let a rock cry out for me. As long as I have breath, I will give honor to God, wherever I am, especially among other believers. It was a glorious celebration to be a part of. A great end to an exciting weekend of photography.

The family I took photos for on Friday were people I’d never met. The woman explained, “A friend gave me your card.”

I recalled the name and realized that this particular client hadn’t even viewed her proofs yet. “Oh yes, I know exactly who you’re speaking of. I’m honored she referred me without having seen the quality of my work,” I told her.

“Yes, she mentioned that,” said the woman. “She told me, ‘I haven’t seen her work, but she’s very professional.”

“Wow,” I thought. “That’s such a great thing to hear.”

How many opportunities are lost to extremely skilled individuals who lacked professionalism? We must be mindful of our interactions with people at all times. This particular new client is highly affluent and personally connected to the most powerful people in the United States. An opportunity I gained by a decision to reflect a positive countenance.

I’m happy to serve in the areas God has gifted me. Photography allows me the opportunity to freeze experiences for generations to come and it brings me great joy.

As we approach Memorial Day, many of us have plans to acknowledge those who’ve passed on before us. We either honor or dishonor the legacy of our lost loved ones with the lives that we lead. Many of us still have an open wound from their Heavenly ascent. Nothing brings me more satisfaction than knowing that because God sent His Son, we’ll be granted access to them again. So, until then, let’s impress them with our lifestyle. “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father, which is in heaven.”

I don't need Dr. Seuss to tell me where we might end up. If we don’t know, there's a Bible for that!

Claudia Parker is an Evergreen Park mother, author and runner whose columns appear in The Reporter the second and fourth Thursdays of each month.