I Claudia -- Heading back to school

  • Written by Claudia Parker



I went back to school.

“College? you may ask?

Nope. Elementary school!

On Aug 3 I became the communications coordinator for the Evergreen Park Elementary School District 124.

I’m super excited but I’ve already ran into an issue.

I don’t know what to wear to work. I’m used to throwing on whatever is near me when I drop my daughter, Donae, curbside at school.

“Mom, why do you always wear sunglasses in the morning-even when it’s cloudy,” she asked? I did not respond. I think she’s on to me.

     “Bye. Have a great day!” I say before nervously driving away, hoping not to be seen. The bus picks up my second daughter, Rhonda-Rene, from our house shortly thereafter. It’s not so easy to dodge them, seeing how I have to help her on the bus.

“Morning,” I shout to the driver. Once Rhonda-Rene’s touched that top step, I flutter off like a butterfly.

I’m usually embarrassed by my disheveled appearance.

When I enter the premises of my new job this year, I hope to appear more appropriate. I’ll be in and out of all five schools.

It’s great that I get to write since it’s like breathing. If I couldn’t do it I’d wither like an unwatered plant. It’s also fun that I get to take pictures seeing how I’m ridiculously addicted to photography. You should hear my husband Don, “You paid how much for that lens?”

This position is perfectly suited for me because of the kids. I love being able to engage the youth in my community. I believe the biggest impacts are made on small levels. I find it crucial that we seek to establish genuine relationships with all children, not just our own.

I started volunteering in D124 two years ago when Donae entered kindergarten and Rhonda-Rene, preschool. I was a fulltime stay-at-home mom who wanted to be hands-on in partnering with the school for my kids’ education.

But after the first class, I began to bond with all the kids. I found them to be inquisitive, intelligent and funny, very funny! One preschooler said to me, “What? Are you one of those good moms or something? Is that why you’re always coming here?”

So preschoolers can quantify what being a good parent is? Well, in this little girls mind, a present parent is a good one.

Not all of them were easy on me though. I got put in check on a day I felt inclined to provide a reinforced directive the teacher had given.

“Come on guys, time to clean up.” I said to two little boys that continued to play against the teacher’s request. One of them looked me straight in the eye and said, “Oh no. You’re Rhonda-Rene’s mom!”

In other words, you don’t tell me what to do Mrs. Parker! He sure told me! I got a little chuckle out of that one.

Someone once told me I should have been a teacher and that I’d missed my calling.


I disagreed totally after seeing what teachers actually do in the classroom. I have huge respect for teachers and the stamina it takes to engage, teach and direct an entire class of 20 plus students. Nope, that’s a calling I do not possess. It’s hard work being a teacher that’s why as a parent I provide as much support to them as possible. It’s not all their responsibility to teach my kids, it’s a collaborate effort.

I encourage all parents to volunteer in some capacity. The schools could really use your help.   

I’m looking forward to getting to know the students as I go back to school myself.


This church gives me joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart

  • Written by Claudia Parker




    Many churches have left a need unmet for those of us who have children with disabilities.

I’m not leaving my church!” I thought to myself as my social worker, Jane Schmit, suggested I visit First Church of God in Oak Lawn, at 4600 W. 111th Street.

     Jane was just trying to help after I expressed my frustrations over not being able to take Rhonda-Rene, who has special needs, to church. My husband Don and I have tried everything short of a dog and pony show to keep her still and quiet. Her disruptions left me so embarrassed; I’d break into a cold sweat.

Our remedy for the past two years has been to leave her home with a respite care provider. However, as of July 1, respite was suspended due to the Illinois state budget crisis leaving us unable to go at all.

 Leaving Rhonda-Rene home never sat well with Don anyway. “It’s not right to exclude her from the family like this! You and Donae go. I’ll stay with Rhonda-Rene.” He’d say.

So, off to church I’d go, oftentimes alone. 

How could a Sunday morning worship service be the cause of division for a faith-filled family?  We decided to take Jane’s suggestion. 

Dan and Nadia Marler of Oak Lawn have been pastoring First Church of God for 22 years. Dan said he actually grew up in the church. He and Nadia have been married 30 years and have two children, Rachel (26) and Taylor (24). “Our kids were raised in this church as well,” said Dan. 

There are about 300 members divided among two Sunday services and in each, there’s a visible presence of various ethnicities of people with different needs. And, to our delight, we found them to be very inclusive of those with special needs. 

 “Our mission is to help hurting people.” Dan said, “We try to be a place of accepting anyone that’s hurting.”

Perhaps their hearts are full of compassion for those hurting due to their own pain.

“I was DES exposed. It’s caused lots of medical problems throughout my life.” Nadia said, “I was told I couldn’t conceive. Rachel was a surprise, a miracle to us. I had a full term baby, whom, at first, seemed healthy.”

DES was the first synthetic form of estrogen. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, those exposed to DES are associated with reproductive complications as well as increased risk of certain cancers.

Dan and Nadia explained, as Rachel began developing, they noticed she was delayed.

“People don’t realize how hurtful their curious inquiries are,” said Dan. “I had become so uncomfortable with their line of questioning I stopped wanting to respond.”

Rachel was almost nine when she was diagnosed with Smith–Magenis Syndrome (SMS), a developmental disorder that affects many parts of the body. The major features of this condition include mild to moderate intellectual disability, distinctive facial features, sleep disturbances, and behavioral problems. Each person with SMS is affected differently, with Rachael it’s also manifested grand mal seizures, that are being controlled by medication.

The first time I met Nadia, I was dropping off Rhonda-Rene in their children’s ministry. I was a little nervous about leaving her because we’d only left her in a church ministry twice in her four years of life.

The first time it went well. The second time, not so much!

“She has special needs. She may have trouble staying seated and she’s unable to speak. Is this going to be a problem?” I asked.

Nadia smiled. “Not at all!” she said. I was shocked Don and I were able to sit through a service together, uninterrupted and still had a happy child upon retrieving her.

Was it beginners luck?

We decided to go back, several times, and by golly, they’re consistent! It wasn’t just Nadia with the special touch either. Andrea Rodman of Gary, Indiana, is the children’s ministry director.

“Andrea loves children,” Nadia said. “She has five of her own. It’s her and our volunteers that keep our youth programs going.”

I could tell when I met Andrea that, that was true. She told me, “Rhonda-Rene is fine. We’ve got her. Don’t worry.”

I almost cried. I do worry. I don’t want her to be a burden to others.

Dan’s sentiments were, “We don’t have a special needs children’s ministry, we have a children’s ministry. We want all children and all people to feel accepted and welcome to worship with us.” 

Don and I are enjoying worshipping at First Church of God. We’ve been members of our own church for nearly 20 years. However, for the sake of our family staying together, perhaps, with prayer, we may consider changing.   

I hadn’t thought of how Rhonda-Rene felt about going to church before. I just wanted a place to take her where she wouldn’t feel rejected.

But after visiting First Church of God again this past Wednesday for Bible study I got a sense she liked to worship. Nadia said, “She was really humming and singing along with ‘Down in My Heart’ she even continued long after we finished.”

Sure enough, Rhonda-Rene, in her own word approximations, sang, “Joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart,” the entire car ride home.

Nadia had me in tears. She told me, “God has a heart for all kids. Keep bringing Rhonda-Rene to church. God has a purpose for her too.”

For information about First Church of God and their services visit


Gorman was the force in getting Rauner elected

  • Written by Ray Hanania

Hanania-GrapevineLiz Gorman, the Orland Township GOP Committeeman and Cook County Commissioner, and I did not get along originally. We were at odds until she showed up at a public discussion about fighting rising taxes and I got a chance to understand her.
I realized Gorman opposed rising taxes as much as I did. I realized she was a “centrist” willing to push back on extremists not just in the Democratic Party on the far left, but also in the Republican Party on the far right. 
Gorman turned out to be the real deal when, in 2008, she became the inspiration for the fight against the one percent sales tax increase that then County Board President Todd Stroger proposed to off-set the county’s wasteful spending.
Gorman fought against the sales tax hike and when it passed with the support of Chicago’s Democratic board members, she led a rebellion to repeal the tax until it was finally gone.
She was also a critical cornerstone of commonsense in renovating the Republican party in Cook County.
Let’s face it, for a long time, “Republicans” were non-existent in Cook County, which is the foundation of the Democratic Party’s control of the state.
What made Gorman different? She had common sense. Her priority wasn’t political ideology, it was commitment to the citizens that she represented.
She didn’t mind taking on the Democrats, but she also didn’t mind taking on the Republicans -- including the far right wing like the Tea Party and others who believed extremism was the key to defeating the Democrats – a losing cause that anyone with common sense would recognize.
In the battle for Governor, Gorman recognized most Democrats were disappointed in the failings of Gov. Pat Quinn, who took office as the running mate of disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Quinn might have won re-election, except that Gorman stepped up to the Republican plate and threw her weight behind an unknown businessman, Bruce Rauner.
Forget about the reality of Illinois -- no single person can resolve the state’s financial troubles, a challenge Rauner now faces. But last year, the choice for Republicans was to support candidates who toed the party ideology or support candidates who used their brains, had common sense and were not afraid to be honest.
Had it not been for Gorman organizing suburban Cook County behind Rauner, Quinn would have easily trounced the traditional Republican Party choices, most of whom were all decent people. Rauner won office, thanks to Gorman.
Sadly, power goes to the heads of even the best leaders, and Rauner stumbled. His first mistake was to not grab Gorman and put her in a top cabinet position. I knew it was over for him then.
And I knew it was over for the taxpayers, too.
Eventually, after serving in her fourth term on the county board, more than 13 years in public service, Gorman stepped down to take a job in the private sector with a Fortune 100 corporation, putting the interests of her family first.
But her loss pretty much signaled an end to the feistiness that blocked Stroger.
At the same meeting in which she resigned, the County Board approved a 1 percent sales hike. Gorman voted “present” only out of respect for Board President Toni Preckwinkle and to not saddle her successor with someone else’s vote. She believes Preckwinkle can solve the county’s financial problems, and then repeal the tax hike. 
The following week, Gorman was succeeded by Palos businessman Sean Morrison, who has big shoes to fill but has a strong record of leadership in Palos Township.
Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall reporter. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

I, Claudia: Use these tips to prevent a nightmare incident

  • Written by Jeff Vorva




Our family just returned from a wonderful vacation in Wisconsin Dells.

Thank goodness this time we all stayed together.

The last time we traveled, a serious situation occurred.

“I need to make you aware of an incident,’’said my husband Don. He was remarkably calm standing at the kitchen sink of our villa, rinsing dishes from just having fed our daughter's Rhonda-Rene (4) and Donae (7) breakfast.

It was the last morning of our three day vacation in Starved Rock, a state park in Utica.

“An incident?” I said in my groggy, just-woke-up voice.

It was a little after 8:30 a.m. I was grateful to have slept in. It was my only request prior to falling asleep the night before. After all, it was my birthday weekend; the ability to sleep in was a priceless gift. That must have been why he allowed me to remain in my slumber while he lived a real-time nightmare.

He spoke quietly with intensity in his eyes saying, “The girls came into our room about 7:00 a.m. but I hushed them out, not wanting them to wake you.”


He sighed expressing, “I got up immediately. I told them I'd be right in their room, but I stopped to use the restroom first. When I walked in their bedroom, I didn't see Rhonda-Rene.”

 Rhonda-Rene has special needs. She’s primarily non-verbal with high sensory needs; it’s common for her to actively explore her surroundings. That's why we chose to stay in a villa as oppose to a regular hotel room. Her needs require extra space. We were in an 1,800 square foot, two-story villa built in a beautiful wooded setting. It had two fireplaces, a living room, kitchen and dining area, two bedrooms, two baths, a patio, full-size washer and dryer and two balconies with amazing views of the woods.

I stared at Don intensely.

As his story unfolded, my heart began to accelerate.

He said, “I asked Donae where Rhonda-Rene was and she shrugged, 'I thought she was with you. Maybe downstairs?' So, I looked downstairs and she wasn't there either. That's when I noticed the front door opened. I went outside and yelled for her but I still didn't see her.’’


At this point, I was beginning to grasp the severity of the situation. My eyes widen. I could hear the tumble of the dryer tossing articles of clothing as Don explained further.

“I yelled for her a few more times and she finally emerged. She was behind those tall, Evergreens trees, way over there, through that field,” he said.

He was pointing toward the opposite side of our location. She had been on a winding road, nearly a city block away. He said he raced over, scooping her into his arms and squeezing her in relief. It was a soggy October morning; the pavement was damp from the dew which had also saturated Rhonda-Rene's socks and bottoms of her pajamas. That's why the dryer was tumbling, Don had gotten her dressed, washed her pj's and set them to dry before I had even awoke.

My refueling was short-lived. It'd be nearly a week before I slept soundly again. I was haunted by various “what if’’scenarios that tortured me like demons for having slept through what could have resulted in tragedy.

The younger version of me would have allowed guilt to creep in. However, the person I am today acknowledges life is a classroom, meant to educate. I prayed for God to reveal the lesson He wanted me to teach others through our experience and the unspoken word I heard in my heart was, “prevention!’’

Here are the things we're doing to prevent Rhonda-Rene's incident from reoccurring. Hopefully, these suggestions will be of help to your family as well.

$11.       Travel with a mobile alarm system- For our own piece of mind, we now travel with battery operated, door/window entry alarm sensors that chime when ajar. There are several brands. They usually come in packs of two or four. Unless you've visited the hotel or resort you're vacationing to, it's unlikely to know what type of security their units offer. I suggest calling ahead. This particular villa didn't have a top latch or chain on the door. With one downward thrust, our daughter was outside.

    1. Travel with a child tracker-these are small devices that attach to the child's clothing while the parent or caregiver maintains control of a hand held activator. In the event the child wanders away, the adult presses the button on the activator emitting a beeping sound until the child is found. The radius on these devices are usually up to 100 feet. Don was hoping for something more permanent, like a GPS device implanted under the skin but no one offers that yet.
    2. Medical alert bracelet- because Rhonda-Rene is experiencing developmental delays as well as a speech impairment called, Apraxia, her ability to communicate is compromised. Therefore, as an added layer of protection she now wears a custom medical alert bracelet at all times.

When I asked Don why he didn't wake me immediately upon learning Rhonda-Rene was missing. He said, “I didn't want to alarm you. I felt I had the situation under control once I found her.”

 My faith tells me it was our Heavenly father who protected Rhonda-Rene until her earthly father found her. 


Despite ups and downs, marriage doesn’t have to be a ‘life sentence’

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia-NEWDon and I will celebrate our 13th wedding anniversary on Tuesday.
Upon mentioning this to a group of friends, a gentleman within my vicinity boasted, “I’ve been divorced 22 years!” I responded, “Well, how long were you married?” His face mirrored confusion.
“You mean, how long was I locked up?” he asked. “I got a judge to reduce my life sentence to six years.”
Twenty two years later, his remarks were like a paint primer trying to cover a stain on his heart. He’s gone the distance alright- but in the opposite direction of my desires.
Our friends, Pastor, Keith Allen and wife, Kathy of Kannapolis, North Carolina celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary June 15th.
They wed in 1985, in their late teens. Our paths crossed on a cruise 10 years ago while celebrating our third anniversary.
We had such a connection we booked a cruise together the following year. Keith being a minister, naturally began counseling Don and I about marriage as the four of us sat submerged in the hot tub on the deck of the ship. We wouldn’t learn until much later in our friendship that he and Kathy had experienced a marital setback in their third year of marriage.

Wives first
“After we had our first child, (they have two girls) we were drifting apart,” said Kathy. “He worked third shift, played on two bowling leagues and went drinking with his buddies- too often.”
Kathy said, in hindsight, she contributed to his detachment. “I was a first time mother; I made everything about the baby. We as mothers have to realize, we are wives first.”
By the time she gained that revelation, it was too late. The door had opened to her having an emotional affair.
“He was a handsome, single guy in management that I worked with. He started showing me attention and I fell for it.” Kathy said, “It didn’t take Keith long to notice I was becoming distant. He came up to my job a couple times unannounced and caught us talking. He wasn’t stupid; he put two and two together.”
Kathy said the relationship, while inappropriate, never went beyond conversation. “All I did was talk to this guy, but it took a toll on our marriage, the trust diminished. It took a year to get it back.”

Happily ever after? Not quite
Bill and Vicki Anderson of Aurora have been married since 1969. They celebrated their 46th anniversary June 21. They have two daughters also, Jennifer and Christina and one grandson, Jacob.
“I believe love is the strongest force there is,’’ Vicki said. “It’s the ultimate blessing a man and woman could have - but keeping love alive is the ultimate challenge.”
She said the beginning of a marriage is a mystery that unfolds incrementally.
“We promised we’d grow old together not having any idea what that meant, we both came from broken homes,” she said.
Bill joined the army and Vicki got a job.
“My goal was to make lots of money, save some, buy a car, a house, have lots of kids and live happily ever after,’’ she said.
Well, their happily-ever-after got interrupted right around the seven-year-itch.
“We were married seven years when infidelity happened with me.” Vicki said, “I left the door cracked for someone to come in.”
Years later, Vicki said Bill allowed someone in an open crack as well.
“Only the Lord could heal the hurt, damage and distrust that has fallen on this marriage,” she said.
Vicki said she and Bill repaired the damage over time by reaffirming their love and trust all over again.
“I’m not proud of sharing this but, if it can help save another couple from divorce it’s worth it,” she said.
I agree Vicki, using our mistakes to reroute others does make sharing worth it. I respect transparency. It’s liberating. Concealment can be toxic.
Don and I have several married friends and not all of their relationships are thriving. Yet, I’ve made a conscious choice to refrain from ever suggesting divorce. Regardless of the issue, it’s not my place to guide an individual to end their covenant.
Kathy agreed.
“If both parties are willing, seek couples therapy and give it your best effort,’’ she said. “Keep an open mind. If you work to salvage your marriage, it can be better than it was.”
“People who run a marathon finish because they want to be able to say, ‘I ran a marathon.’ How much respect does one have for the runner who doesn’t finish the race? None!” Vicki said. “There is a beginning and an end - a finish in everything. It’s the stick-to-it attentiveness that makes the marriage lasting.”
One of the attentive things that Vicki does for Bill today is place love notes in his lunch bag. She said he reciprocates by slipping love notes on her pillow, typically accompanied by a single rose from their rose bush.
 Kathy got downright mushy when speaking of her devotion to Keith.
“There’s not a man more handsome than Keith Douglas Allen. I love him more today than ever.” she said, “If anything ever happened to him, I wouldn’t remarry. He’s the only person I want to grow old with. We think alike--even crave the same food.”
Kathy said they keep their romance fresh with dates on the lake, riding their Harley, and going on cruises.

Nifty 50
Vicki and Bill like traveling also, they’re planning a trip to Ireland for their 50th anniversary.
 Speaking of the 50th…
 Vernon and Gloria Nash of Chicago recently celebrated 50 years of marriage. Don and I were privileged to be among 150 guests who helped commemorate their coveted Golden Wedding Anniversary.
“By the time I was nine, I started praying for my future wife because I wanted to marry a woman like my mother,” said Vernon. “When I was 15, I saw an attractive girl and asked my friend to introduce us.”
Vernon explained, his friend wasn’t paying attention and brought him the wrong girl.
“I took one look at Gloria and told my friend, ‘It’s alright, I can work with this.’” he said.
Fifty years, three sons and five grandchildren later, the Nash’s are still working it.
And so are me and Don.
Happy 13th Anniversary, Babe! From the lyrics of Dave Barnes’, “God Gave Me You,” “We are stitched together. And what love has tethered, I pray we never undo.”