Enjoying a new communion, community

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia Mug Shot-ColorTo be acknowledged is a beautiful thing.
I visited Worth United Methodist Church on assignment during their Sunday worship service a few weeks ago. I was there to probe into their members’ reaction to their pending church closure. Upon my arrival, I settled on the back pew hoping not to draw attention to myself.
But, I didn’t go unnoticed at all.
Ramona Paulumbo of Bridgeview was in the pew in front of me. She moseyed over to help me find my spot in the hymn book. She was like a one-person hospitality committee. She saw to it that I took part in communion. I hadn’t intended to. My plan was to inconspicuously snap a few photographs of the congregation while they took communion but she beckoned for me, so off I went.

At my church, The Apostolic Church of God, we take communion in individual tiny, sealed plastic, hourglass cups. The wine is in one end and a nibble of tasteless cracker in the other. The congregation remains in the pews as ushers pass them down the aisle until everyone has been served.
I can recall being horrified by my daughter, Donae, offering an explanation of communion one afternoon. She was four at the time.
“Church was good this morning.” she said. “I like community day because we get juice and a snack!”
She got a thorough Bible teaching on communion after that!
At Worth UMC, everyone strolled to the altar and stood in a single-file line to receive communion. Their pastor, Sung Kown Oh, literally broke apart an entire loaf of fresh baked bread and proceeded to pass out doughnut-hole sized portions, which we dipped into a wine filled Chalice.
I’m no wine connoisseur, I don’t even drink socially, but, if I had to guess, I’d say theirs was the good stuff.
A couple more dips of that, and I might have gotten tipsy.
At the conclusion of service, I was quickly approached by Patricia Hodges of Palos Hills.
“Uh oh,” I thought. “I better hurry to explain why I have a notepad and camera.”
It had been my intention to inform Pastor Oh, I’d be visiting when we spoke earlier that week, but I’d forgotten. Before she could even speak, I reached to shake her hand. “Hello. My name is Claudia Parker. I’m a reporter, for the Reporter newspaper.” I said.
With a warm smile and a tender touch she replied, “I know exactly who you are.”
I was thinking to myself. “You DO!?”
She continued. “Come.” She waved for me to follow. “We’re going to have refreshments in the fellowship hall.” she said.
Then, it happened again. I introduced myself to another person and I heard.
“Yeah, Claudia Parker, I knew I recognized you.” a voice from behind me said, “She looks different with her hair pulled back doesn’t she?”
It was a pleasant surprise to be recognized. I hadn’t expected that at all.
I said, “I take it many of you subscribe to our paper?” I heard a resounding “yes!” One lady said, “I read your column all the time.”
Helen Kristufek of Worth chimed in. “I used to be a columnist for the Reporter too.” she said. “But, that was many years ago. I’m old, I’m 86. Back then, they were a different paper.”
I felt an instant connection to the group.
Their affiliation to our paper and to me as a writer made it easy for me to talk with them. They treated me like they knew me and made me feel like I was a part of their church family. I walked out of there with pep in my step.
It felt good being acknowledged for my work by a collection of people I had never met.
I began purposefully looking for opportunities to acknowledge good qualities and behaviors I recognized in people each time I encountered them.
I’m not naïve or arrogant enough to believe Worth UMC treated me well because I work for this paper. I believe it’s their common practice. I hope we can all strive to be more open in receiving people we encounter.
Let’s all look for ways to acknowledge the good in people while choosing to show kindness to strangers as if they were family.
After speaking with my new friends at Worth UMC, I learned that many of them are uneasy about the imminent closing of their church.
After 130 years, they’re closing due to rising cost and low membership. Several members expressed anxiety about where and how they might fit into a different church setting.
However, I believe wholeheartedly that the seeds of good they’ve planted will produce good fruit. Good luck to you Worth UMC. Regardless of where you go, I pray you will be met with the same warmth and kindness you’ve shown to others.

  Claudia Parker is an Evergreen Park mother, author, runner whose columns appear the second and fourth Thursdays for the Reporter.

Emanuel isn’t great but Chuy would be worse

  • Written by Ray Hanania

Hanania-GrapevineHanania-GrapevineI pity the people of Chicago. On Tuesday, they must choose between the lesser of two evils:  Mayor Rahm Emanuel or Jesus “Chuy” Garcia. Which will pull Chicago out of its growing financial and social abyss?
The ad campaigns of both are disappointing. All they do is bash each other. Neither tells anyone what they plan to do about Chicago’s problems.
It’s one reason why I am glad my parents fled Chicago in the 1960s. I didn’t have to experience the deteriorating school system, the rising crime or have to ride the crime-ridden CTA system to and from work.
As a suburbanite, I enjoyed more of life. I still found work in Chicago’s downtown, rushing out before sunset.
Yet, I recognize that Chicago is the economic engine that drives northern Illinois and the suburbs. And if Chicago collapses like Detroit did, Chicago’s suburban communities will suffer, too.
The relationship between Chicago and its suburbs is a lot different than Detroit and its suburbs. There’s no comparison. We’re much tighter, and the powers that control Chicago in Springfield control the fate of the suburbs, too.
So, I care about who wins. Personally, my favorite candidate in the Feb. 24 election was Ald. Bob Fioretti. Fioretti had a stronger handle on Chicagoland issues as a member of the Chicago City Council, which deals with $8.9 billion in spending. In contrast, Garcia was a lackluster former Chicago alderman manipulated by slickster Congressman Luis Gutierrez. Garcia is now a member of the Cook County board, dealing with a budget of only $3.9 billion.
I always found it hard to believe that Gutierrez wasn’t playing both sides when he backed Emanuel. Gutierrez and Garcia were always attached at the political hip.
Ironically, looking back, if Gutierrez had endorsed Garcia, Emanuel might have done worse and Garcia would have done better.
But Fioretti was never popular with the leftwing movement that surrounded Garcia, and he couldn’t cut away at Emanuel’s base. Fioretti couldn’t compete with Emanuel’s campaign cash, more than $14 million. But, had Fioretti made it into the runoff April 7, I know he would have won.
 But Fioretti is tragic spilled milk at this point. On April 7, Chicago voters will have to choose between Emanuel and Garcia. As an American Arab, I am no fan of Emanuel, even though I endorsed him four years ago believing that he would be fair.
 Instead, his first act was to abolish the Arab Advisory Commission, then pull the rug out from under the Arabesque Festival. He shut out most American Arabs from his administration and prefers to work with non-Arab Muslims instead.
Garcia has catered to the disenfranchised American Arabs, promising to restore the Advisory Commission, the Arabesque Festival and treat American Arabs like human beings, something Emanuel has not done.
But the future of Chicago is about more than Emanuel’s discrimination against American Arabs. It’s about which of the two is more qualified to run Chicago.
Emanuel isn’t great but Garcia would be worse.
I’d rather see Emanuel win and continue my campaign to convince him to recognize American Arabs rights, rather than see Garcia win and drag the city down. There’s somewhat of a future with Emanuel, but little hope with Garcia. 
Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and President/CEO of Urban Strategies Group media consulting. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . 

Now this is a sign of good communication

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia Mug Shot-ColorMy seven-year old daughter, Donae, and I just finished a Mommy and Me American Sign Language course!
That wasn›t the official course title but that’s what we called it. 
Balancing the needs of my two little girls, Donae, and four-year old Rhonda-Rene, is an ongoing challenge. Donae’s a bright, confident, theatrical, orator with an actual speaking schedule. Rhonda-Rene’s a loving, happy-go-lucky free spirit with minimal verbal ability due to Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS) caused by a mutation of the FOXP1 gene. Like many parents, my husband, Don, and I are faced with balancing their unique needs to ensure each child develops at their fullest potential. 
Taking ASL classes was a great way for our family to bridge the disparities in our girls’ communication. Donae was able to learn the fundamentals of a new language while helping to teach Rhonda-Rene an alternative way to communicate until she can become a verbal communicator.
We concluded the nine-week course March 17. It was offered by the Eisenhower Cooperative 5318 W. 135th Street, in Crestwood.  PAGE-12-with-Cluadia-col-Donae-and-Stephanie-Dustin-Interpreter-for-the-DeathDonae Parker, left and instructor Stephanie Dustin pose after a sign-language class. Photo by Claudia Parker.
We met once per week from 4:00 to 5:30pm. It was only $20 for everyone in our household, but it’s free for Eisenhower Cooperative and member district employees. Member districts include 125-128, 130, 132, 143, 143.5 and 228.
The class is co-taught by instructors Mallory McGreehin, a Hearing Itinerant who goes from school to school servicing deaf and hard of hearing students fully mainstreamed in their home district and Stephanie Dustin, an interpreter for the deaf. 
“Originally these courses were for families of our student’s that were deaf or hard of hearing and our teachers with deaf and hard of hearing students in their classroom.” Dustin said. “But, we expanded our offering as a workshop so teachers could get CPDU credit hours.”
Upon Dustin learning we weren’t affiliated with their district through any of those means she smiled. “How’d you hear about us?” Dustin asked. “We don’t get many people from the community. I guess they don’t know about us.”
“Oh, I can help with that.” I thought to myself. I can’t stand it when a good thing goes unnoticed. “My daughter’s elementary school principal, John Stanton gave me the information.” I told her.  
Rhonda-Rene attends half-day preschool at Evergreen Park’s Northwest Elementary in a Special Education classroom. The entire team of educators at NW have been incredible about offering additional support for her development. It’s a collaborative effort between the school district, private therapists and Don and I to get this little girl everything she needs to thrive.
There are more than just children and adults with disabilities benefiting from ASL.
Babies can gain an advantage in language when taught to sign. I taught Donae a collection of signs when she was about six months old. She gradually learned 50 signs from watching a Baby Einstein “My First Signs” DVD regularly.
It proved remarkably useful. One evening she awoke in the middle of the night crying. I expected to shush her back to sleep, but instead, I found myself adding a layer over her pajamas because she signed the word, “cold.”
At the time, she wasn’t able to verbalize that word. I was grateful for having given her the ability to communicate non-verbally before her expressive language developed.
We discontinued signing once she began communicating verbally. Not that it’s required but having basic signing knowledge helped Donae and I comprehend during the ASL course. We really enjoyed it. It’s geared towards individuals who are beginning signers who want to further their knowledge in sign language. They also have an advanced signing course designed for a signer aiming to become more fluent.
Donae and I aren’t quite ready for fluency. I’d get so nervous when our instructors would ask us to practice sentences; mine were in slow motion.
Donae let me have it one day. “Mom, this is embarrassing. You’ve got to practice more.” She said.
Agitated by her unintended insult I replied. “Excuse me? You’re signing at the same pace as me.”
Undeterred by my rebuke, continuing to practice she blurted. “But, I’m seven.”  
McGreehin and Dustin did a great job keeping us engaged and giving equal attentiveness to everyone in the class. The structure is broken into pieces, there’s a short verbal/signing lecture, group work, games and lots of on-the-spot practice. 
The course is offered twice annually, once in the spring and fall. Registration is handled online through the Eisenhower Cooperative website Contact, Kristen Kozik 708-389-7580 extension 221 for more information.
Donae began bonding with Rhonda-Rene while she was in my womb. Seemingly, at the most inopportune times, she’d come meddling with my pregnant belly.
“Hello? Lil sister, are you in there? She’d ask. “If you can hear me, give a little kick.” It was like surefire magic because right on cue I’d feel those tiny feet kick. Donae would get such a rise out of that. “I’m going to be the best BIG sister ever.” She’d tell me.
Don and I couldn’t be more proud of how Donae is handling being a big sister. She’s identified Rhonda-Rene needs extra help. Instead of allowing herself to be bitter about the extra time and attention focused on Rhonda-Rene, she looks for ways to be involved. She said, “Mom, I’m glad we took this class. Now I know how to help my sister communicate better.”

Claudia Parker is an Evergreen Park mother, author, runner whose columns appear the second and fourth Thursdays for the Reporter.

Comedy sketch writing isn’t all that funny

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia Mug Shot-ColorChasing a dream to earn a sustainable income as a writer is proving to be a hard-knock life for me. Failure is trying to suppress my writing aspirations.
Recently, I cranked open my Toshiba laptop to find an e-mail from the writing program coordinator at Second City. “Thank you for your interest in Writing 5. Unfortunately, your submitted scene didn’t qualify for you to continue at this time.”
For the previous eight months, my cheeks have been in Second City’s seats learning to write sketch comedy. There are six, eight-week terms in the program.
I completed four.
To gain entry to Writing 5, a sketch scene audition is a prerequisite to ensure ones work is worthy of such an advancement. Of 12 classmates, I’m one of three that didn’t make it through.
“What?!” I thought. “I’m a professional writer! How does that happen?”
The e-mail continued: “This doesn’t mean you aren’t a great writer.”
Crossing my arms I mumbledpage-12-with-Claudia-colClaudia Parker, front row, right, poses with a group of comedy sketch writing hopefuls at Second City. Most of her peers will move up a level while Parker was rejected but said that rejection will sharpen her determination to get better. Submitted photo.

submitted   “You’re darn Skippy it doesn’t.”
I read further. 
  “...just that you may need more work on the principles of scenic sketch.” said the program coordinator.
My emotions dipped back to a time when my husband Don and I took our daughters Donae (7) and Rhonda-Rene (4) to Grand Geneva’s Timber Ridge Lodge and Waterpark up in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
At the time, Rhonda-Rene was only two and just getting acclimated to exploring water independently. Forcing the natural progression of her comfort level, I placed her at the top of the toddler slide and scurried over to the bottom to catch her.
Most enthused, I petitioned her to slide down.
“Come to Mommy! Rhonda-Rene! Come?” I suspect, from her vantage point, plummeting into cold water didn’t look appealing.
Ignoring my lure, she abruptly scooched backward and tumbled headfirst down the stairs of the slide.
The stairs were softly padded, as was the toddler surface where she landed.
Nonetheless, a concerned lifeguard escorted us into a warm, towel-filled back room.
He proceeded to examine Rhonda-Rene and completed an incident report. She hadn’t sustained any injuries and didn’t cry but a minute. Yet, I stalled to leave that room. I wear the badge of stay-at-home mom with honor. I take great pride in caring for my family. I didn’t want to face the people who saw me fail to protect my child.
Likewise, I’m a passionate writer. I exercise at this craft like a fitness guru does their body.
Failing to advance to Writing 5 was not only disappointing but embarrassing. I wanted to go find that warm, towel-filled room and not come out. But, there’s a danger in that line of thinking.
When entertained long enough, feelings of failure morph into fear. I don’t believe we fail because we’re supposed to quit. I believe we fail when we need to grow. Those who quit shut off their creative energy stunting their expression of joy that only shines through when it’s shared with the world.
When we stop operating in the purpose of which we were created out of fear, we can become unfulfilled, miserable people.
Failure is not an option for me, I will press forward elsewhere!
But, first, I felt I needed the specifics from the folks at Second City. I wrote a small note to the head of their writing program asking for a detailed explanation for why my scene failed. For peace of mind, I needed to know how far I was off the mark. Turns out, it wasn’t a near miss -- it was more like a WIDE gap.
I responded as such, “I appreciate the raw feedback. I’m going to be honest, I never desired to write comedy. I just wanted to learn how to write for the stage and ultimately film. I came to Second City because of its reputation as being one of the best training centers in the business. Thank you for giving me a playwright foundation. However, for what I need to fulfill my personal endeavors, I think its best I seek my training in an institution not comedy specific.”
As a writer, this experience will sharpen my determination. As a mom, it will become a priceless teaching tool for my little girls down the road. Our kids only listen to us for so long.
After that, they model us. It’s easy to show our children how to celebrate success, but don’t forget to show them how to celebrate opportunities to grow.
In failure, there is growth, for the plants that thirst for watering. And that, I do!

Juicy and frantic memories of Harpo Studios

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Claudia Mug Shot-Color


Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Studios closed their doors after 26 years in the Windy City.

Oprah and her executive staff are taking permanent residence in her OWN network headquarters, located in West Hollywood’s The Lot.

            I’ve sat in the audience at Harpo Studios many times. Some tapings were more memorable then others.

            For example, you may or may not know, President Thomas Jefferson, allegedly, fathered children with his bi-racial slave, Sally Hemings. Well, during this taping, Oprah arranged for some of Jefferson’s decedents to meet a few of their alleged, black family members.

It got juicy! 

            On a different day, I had myself a little speaking-on-camera action during a taping about workplace stress. I’d just gotten braces. I remember totally over-enunciating my words to avoid speaking with a lisp.

            The most awkward taping I attended was when Dr. Phil appeared promoting his book, “Relationship Rescue.” He had the audacity to go on this rant about how men in their 20s shouldn’t marry until their 30s because they haven’t discovered themselves yet. Well, I happened to be with my soon-to-be husband Don, and my not-yet mother-in-law, whom loudly applauded Dr. Phil’s suggestion. For a single woman hoping to seal the deal with her, then in-his-20’s man – it was not good!

            My vote for most disturbing was definitely the taping where Oscar Winner Mo’Nique’s, older brother spoke about molesting her. Don and I were ready to hightail it home to our kids. “If you can’t trust family, who can you trust?” I thought. 

            The last time I entered Harpo studios was for Oprah’s LifeClass, April 30, 2014. I’d only learned of the opportunity for last-minute seats the day before. By some miracle, I was able to secure childcare on short notice. However, getting to Harpo that morning proved strenuous. Rain and rush-hour makes a slow commute. Couple that with not being able to find parking and you’ve got panic. I literally sprinted, in the rain, wearing high-heel boots, a half mile from where I parked, barely making it to the studio before they stopped allowing entry.        

            In previous cases, arrivals were numbered and correlated to entering the studio for seating. I figured I’d be in the top bleachers. Yet, somehow, I landed in the front row, inches from Oprah. Her special guest that day was Bishop T.D. Jakes.

He’s the pastor of a non-denominational church called The Potter’s House with over 30,000 members. Some say he’s one of the most influential black leaders in America. He’s certainly influential to me. I record his services and watch them regularly. He’s authored multiple bestselling books and was there promoting his new title, “Instinct: The Power to Unleash Your Inborn Drive.”

            I was selected with a few others for an on-camera illustration he conducted during the taping. You should’ve seen me springboard from my seat when he asked for volunteers. Gleaning from his intuitive lecture on how to use instinct to seize opportunity, I decided to apply it. The taping had concluded and audience members were coming out of their seats to get pictures with him and Oprah. My window was closing but I caught it. “Oprah, I need to say something.” I said faintly.

            She took steps toward me and yelled to the audience. “Everybody. Quiet. She needs to say something,” Then she looked me square in the eye. “What is it?” Oprah said. The entire audience quieted and huddled around us.

            I was thinking of a more private discussion but okay, I went with it.

            I told Oprah and Bishop Jakes that I’d written a book, “Becoming a Mother While Losing My Own.”

I explained, “I’ve been working tirelessly to get it exposure but lack the platform to do so.”  I stretched with opposite hands, putting cards with my book’s information in each of their palms.  “This is me, reaching to touch the hem of your garment.” I said.

It’s a metaphor I took from a Biblical story to express my faith in their capability to do what my labor, time and resources hasn’t. I don’t remember if Oprah responded, but I recall the baritone voice of Bishop Jakes, after a chuckle, “We’ll look into it.” he said. 

According to my girlfriend, the audience applauded for me afterwards. I don’t remember that, I was in a fog. I retreated into my seat while everyone around me took selfies with him and Oprah. I went into the bathroom to collect myself and a lady approached me. “I was really moved by what you just did. You’re going to get your platform, believe me, it's coming.” she said. 

            Harpo Studios may be gone but my last day there will be etched in my memory forever, I had a powerful experience. I haven't heard from Oprah or Bishop Jakes but they proved something to me that day.

If we just muster up the courage to use our voice, the most influential people in the world will use their influence to make sure we get heard. Knowing that leaves me with an exhilarating hope that one day, my life’s story will reach millions.