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Love goes a long way; serving up food and dignity is a big step

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia-NEW

“What makes an upper-middle class white couple want to serve food in an underprivileged crime-ridden neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago,” I asked myself?

It was 7 a.m. this past Sunday when my husband Don and I ditched our Sunday morning worship service to prepare and serve breakfast at Roseland Christian Ministries’ (RCM) soup kitchen, located at 10858 S. Michigan Ave.

A soup kitchen is a place where free food is served to those who are homeless or destitute. It was our first time; a spontaneous decision prompted by an invitation of a married couple from Beverly, who happen to be our dear friends and former Evergreen Park next-door neighbors.

This missionary couple, too humble to be named, are members of Palos Heights Christian Reformed Church (CRC) under the leadership of Senior Pastor Greg Janke. Our friends serve on one of their auxiliaries that has been sending its members to aid the RCM soup kitchen for years. When we agreed to go, we didn’t know the name of the church or its location. I, being naïve, felt based on who was inviting us that we’d be in a “safe” area of Roseland.

Yeah, not-so-much!

According to several news media outlets, Roseland ranks 15 among Chicago's 77 community areas for drugs, violent crimes and gang activity. Not that I needed statistics to tell me that, I heard it straight from RCM member, Carolyn Zeigler. “I had two nieces killed while jumping rope two blocks from here in August of 2010,” said Carolyn. “The boy that shot them down while they were playing double-dutch had been initiated into a gang to get 10 kills, so he shot into a crowd of kids playing outside.”

There’s a kill quota?

As disturbing as that was, her horrifying stories continued. “These streets took my son too. He was 19 years old, a basketball scholar bound for the NBA before they killed him.”

Just when I didn’t think I could handle another tragic tale, she pointed to a handsome young man’s picture taped to the wall among several RCM member photos. “You see this boy here?” It was 16-year-old Andre Taylor of the Rosemoor neighborhood. “He was one of our members, an innocent kid recently killed after being mistaken for another family member.”

Andre was murdered by suspected gang members while in his front yard, March 14, 2016.

It pained Carolyn to share and she teared up. It was a lot for me to hear as well. I broke the tension with a divergent question, “Where shall I begin?”

There was a lot to be done. People had already begun gathering outside.

Carolyn said she’s been a member of RCM for 34 years and serves in several capacities. This post in particular has her six days a week as an unpaid volunteer. She said sometime she works alone but on this day she has me, Don, the couple that invited us along with one additional white couple from Palos Heights CRC.

This isn’t a light-weight ministry where you hand out a muffin or two. This is a roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-busy ministry. We hauled pots, pans and ingredients to their location. We scrambled eggs, fried sausage, flipped flapjacks and sliced fruit. We poured juice, coffee, and served each patron firsts, seconds and thirds until their bellies were full or the food was gone.

Did I mention cleanup?

We didn’t leave until the place was spic and span. It was three hours of hard labor and our friends told us they and various members of Palos Heights CRC have been serving Sunday breakfast at RCM over 10 years.

Before access to the food was granted, Carolyn orchestrated something that stuck with me. Every person present was asked to introduce themselves and share one thing they were grateful for. Learning each of their names humanized them, made them more than homeless or disenfranchised. It gave them dignity and value. I held a connection with them as I placed sausage links on their plates. That was my role when the assembly line of serving began. Making sure to give eye contact, I greeted each person with, “Good morning, how are you?”

Many people are terrified by the current state of our nation. Between terror attacks, hate crimes, black-on-black crime, blue-on-black crime and black-on-blue retaliation -- what has become of our great land of the free?

What can we do to heal this pain and injustice so we can regain trust in one another?

I’ll tell you exactly how we heal. We accept an invitation into a place unlike ourselves and serve them with love. We allow ourselves to learn from people who’re different. We force fear aside so we can have meaningful interactions with people who have names with desires and aspirations just as worthy as ours.

People want to be acknowledged with respect and dignity regardless of their education, race or social economic class. Every human being deserves the simple liberty of being treated as equal.

I encountered several police officers running errands this past week. I made a point to address each of them, “Officer, thank you for your service,” I’d say. It was received with such appreciation. “Thank YOU!” I’d hear in return. It was as if they were relieved to hear something kind.

There are flaws in our legal system that must be repaired. The egregious crimes being committed on all aforementioned fronts will buckle our nation to its knees if WE as a people do not seek to understand one another. Allow me to challenge YOU to show an act of love to someone you perceive to be different than yourself.

Thank you Palos Heights CRC and RCM for setting a great example. Continue to take the church into the streets.

Let LOVE win!      

Enjoying fireworks from a distance

  • Written by Joe Boyle

 

I hope everyone had a happy and safe Fourth of July. It was a nice long weekend for me and included a barbecue, a round of miniature golf and some relaxation.

Taking photos at the annual Oak Lawn Fourth of July Parade on Monday morning is work but it is mostly fun for me. I get to see a lot of people I know along the parade route.

My wife and I usually attend the Richards High School fireworks show on Fourth of July night. But time got away from us. I suppose it didn’t really matter because there were fireworks going off most of the night around our neighborhood. All you had to do was step outside and you can see an impressive show.

Before I go any further, this is the time to remind readers that fireworks are illegal. However, for people who like to blow off fireworks, a quick trip to Indiana solves that problem. Police have their hands full preventing other crimes. They tend to look away for the most part on Independence Day.

Unless people become unruly or obnoxious, police will leave you alone. However, there is always a group that blow off bottle rockets, firecrackers and other devices throughout the day and night. What angers some neighbors and irritates police who receive calls is that some people will leave debris in the middle of the street, making it difficult for cars to veer around as more fireworks are being blown off.

Fortunately, that was not the case on our block. People were blowing off fireworks throughout the evening but they cleaned up when they were done. I could still hear some fireworks a few blocks away as I turned in, but it did not go on much longer.

As for me, I can take or leave fireworks. I like watching home displays from a distance. I’ve lit a few bottle rockets over the years but I leave the fireworks show to people who enjoy doing it. I like to watch. I enjoy going to shows and there are many impressive ones in the southwest suburbs. Residents could have also gone to Navy Pier on the city’s lakefront this past Monday night. That is if you did not mind dealing with the traffic and the overflowing transit lines crowds afterward.

But there are reminders that fireworks can be dangerous. The incident in Bridgeview on Sunday is one example. The fireworks, due to some sort of malfunction, went off prematurely before the show was supposed to take place and resulted in one man receiving injuries. Fortunately, nobody else was hurt.

I think my father liked fireworks as well. But I don’t recall him running out to Indiana and stocking up on explosives. When we were young, our fireworks show was not much more than some flares my father must have got from the railroad. We would watch them slowing burn into ashes from the steps of our Roseland residence at 100th and Michigan.

We got a little more “wild” a couple of years later when we purchased some “punks,” which we would use to light snakes that would twist around on the ground in a brief fire display. We would also use the punks to light sparklers and smoke bombs. That was high tech for us. We would roll our arms in a circular motion for our own little sparklers fireworks show.

My mother would consistently remind us that we had to be careful. She would have a small bucket with water for us to put the sparklers in when we were done. While were doing that, we would look in the sky to view more sophisticated fireworks shows for us all to see.

We later moved to the city’s Washington Heights neighborhood and the impromptu fireworks shows became more elaborate. By the time I was in eighth grade, many of my friends enjoyed blowing off M80s and cherry bombs as well as firecrackers. I tended to watch from afar but when asked if I wanted to blow some off, I complied. I didn’t want to come off like I was afraid. It was fun but I was not obsessed with the idea of blowing off fireworks all day.

But now, I would prefer to watch other people’s personal shows or go to a local fireworks show. But I must admit that it is more impressive to watch someone light a Roman candle than watching a flare slowly disintegrate.

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. .

Golf is like life, so enjoy good moments

  • Written by Joe Boyle

Summer is now over a week old. Along with some warmer temperatures, there are other signs that summer is here. I notice when I drive ito work there are less cars on the road.

Little activity is going on at the local high school near my home. Sometimes when I leave a little later during the school year, vehicles are lined up at the stop sign as some parents drop off their kids near the school.

As I have mentioned in a recent column, I miss those leisurely summer days hanging out with friends and having fun. But I have found that going to work and not dealing with an overflow of traffic is great, too. While the kids are out of school, many adults are taking vacations. That means fewer drivers on the road.

During the summer, the pace even lessens at newspapers. This is one of the best times of the year to take a few days off. So, I joined those vacationers this past week. I took a long weekend, from Thursday through Sunday, on an annual golf trip. I guess you could say it is a tournament of sorts. We do have a few good golfers who regularly score in the 90s and 80s.

But the majority fall in the category of duffers. They have their moments on one hole and then the next everything seems to fall apart. I would have to say I fall into that category.

I guess golf is a lot like life. You have good days and you have bad days. If you don’t get too high or too low, you may fare well playing golf. I understand better now why golfers over the age of 50 are usually better at the game. It doesn’t always work out that way but dealing with what life throws at you can be tough. If you can handle the pressure at work and life in general, those are the people who can make good golfers.

However, if you only golf once or twice a year it will be difficult to really improve. Most of us have to go to work and that takes up a lot of my time. We have taken part in these golf tournaments dating back to 2008 when we discovered a course in an isolated area in western Illinois. The course was just outside of Navoo, which is known more for its Mormon population than golf. The idea to begin these tournaments came from my brother Terry.

The course was not particularly great but it was affordable and the many participants could let loose after hours of golf with little to worry about. We continued to golf there until three years ago when the course closed, presumably because not enough people golfed there.

We have been teeing up the past three years at a course in MIschicot, Wis., about 21 miles south of Green Bay. The holes are longer and more challenging. But since most of us aren’t that good to begin with, it does not matter. We have a lot of fun. That’s the main thing.

I get an opportunity to see many of my brother’s friends. The majority of them grew up in my old neighborhood. Now that I’m getting older, many of the participants are my nephews. It’s great to see them as well. Now my son also accompanies me on the trip. We have a good time.

I don’t know if I will ever become a good golfer. I believe you have to put the time in and play frequently to show some improvement. At this stage of my life, I don’t know if I can really do that. But I do enjoy it. I mean I’m not going to go out and play baseball or football anymore. Golf is a sport that you can compete in for years to come.

So I spend a lot of time at driving ranges working on certain shots and using certain clubs to get a better feel for them. I have a driving range I go to that is close to home. During the summer, I try and go once a week.

But the most important thing was getting away for a few days. I had some fun and did make some good shots. It gave me confidence to return next year. And I will return the year after that.

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. .

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.