Reader’s choice: Who in your community is a source of inspiration?

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Making a difference: For the past four years, Barbara Piltaver of Schiller Park (center, holding leaves) has organized Make A Difference Days. | Supplied photo

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Sun-Times Media asked readers to share with us who in their community inspires them. Here’s a look at some of the nominations we received.


Town marshal: caring, concerned, dedicated

There only comes along a special person once in a while and Jerry Price is just such one of those people. He has been our town marshal for 10 years and has served in law enforcement for 29 years. He retired from that position this year and I feel he deserves to be nominated as a person to be recognized as an inspiration to our community.
The length of his service to this town is only trumped by the extraordinary character of this man. Everyone in this town has known his concern and dedication in keeping our town safe but it is his personal touch that really stands out. Many times he has stopped on his tour through town to just check on the elderly and make their day special by his love and concern for them.
Not many people in the world today take notice of people and what affects their lives but Jerry has been that caring individual throughout his time of service. He has taken the time to talk man-to-man with kids that may have fallen from the right path in life and the concern he shows them has meant a lot in their lives causing them to turn around.
This kind of concern will be truly missed and we pray Jerry’s retirement will give him all of the joy he deserves for a job well done.
— Charles and Beverly Sutton and Wilma Deno, Burns Harbor


Man inspires a sense of hope

Mr. Eli Washington is an outstanding young man who should be recognized for his noteworthy community service. He serves as chairman of the board for the Chesterfield Council, on the board of directors with Seaway Bank Community Development Corp., the Cosmopolitan Chamber of Commerce and trustee at Park Manor Christian Church. One of his most rewarding positions is chairman of the local school council at King College Prep High School.
Mr. Washington is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards including Ora Higgins Youth Foundation Distinguished Leadership and Dollars and Sense Magazine’s “One of America’s Best and Brightest.” Recently the Chicago Defender newspaper presented Eli with the “man of Distinction Award.”
In 2004 Eli initiated the Silas Purnell College Expo — in 2011 there were over 500 students in attendance. A free senior citizen program was also started by Eli. This program has trained over 1,500 seniors in computer technology.
Eli is the block club president who truly cares. He listens to your problems and concerns and helps whenever he can. He cleans the streets and alleys, shovels snow, mows lawns, etc. Eli monitors our blocks and encourages us to report unusual or unlawful activities. He is a wonderful mentor for our children. Realizing the importance of religion in our community he sponsors prayer vigils on our blocks and Church in the Park gatherings at Tuley Park.
Mr. Washington’s positive behaviors inspires and instills a sense of hope, gratitude and well-being in the people who live in our community.
— Delores Hardy, Chicago

Spoken word artist inspires positive actions

I am inspired by a young African American visionary who is an inspiring spoken word artist. His name is DeAndre Hawthorne, and he is better known as Blaq Ice, the founder and president of Blaq Ice Productions.
Blaq Ice exemplifies strong character traits in all that he does. Through his organization he inspires mentees, and up-and-coming poets, providing them with opportunities to showcase their natural gifts and abilities. During 2011 a youth division and two new chapters were added to the organization — one in Joliet and another in Wisconsin.
He inspires others as well as myself with his passion for giving back to the community. His words of hope and encouragement, messages of anti-gang and anti-drug messages are spoken throughout Chicago public and private schools, in institutions such as St. Charles Juvenile Detention Center, women and men’s homeless shelters, community centers and churches. He always declares “we can change one heart, one mind and one verse at a time.”
He truly “talks the talk” and “walks the walk.” His life is manifested in his poetry and his poetry is a manifestation of his life. Blaq Ice is a real inspiration to all.
— Gwendolyn McCray, Chicago

Soup kitchen leader inspires volunteers to ‘give our very best’

The Spoonful of Hope Soup Kitchen, is a community outreach program of the Martin Temple AME Zion Church in Chicago. This program provides a vital service for an impoverished community by providing hot, delicious and nutritious meals for approximately 250 to 300 adults and children each Monday. For many of the clients, it is the only hot meal they receive each week and enables others to eat when their food allowance run out. This program is run by volunteers and directed by Mrs. Betty Davenport.
After retiring from the Chicago Public Schools as a food service administrator, Betty was one of the founding members of this ministry and has served as its director since its inception over 10 years ago. There is a lot of preparation that goes into the acquisition — preparation and delivery of food for the “clients” (as she has taught us to call them). She ensures that the food is of the best quality and that it is aesthetically pleasing.
She has inspired us all to continue this work and to give our very best each time.
— Nancy Ellis, Chicago

Nine-year-old helps the homeless

My son Jakaree N. Fox is 9 and has recently started Homeless Helpers to collect items for the homeless people of Chicago. He asked me if he could do something to keep them warm because they had to be out in the cold.
He has solicited help from church members, YMCA of Chicago, friends and coworkers. He has collected over 120 pairs of gloves, 10 hats and 12 coats. He donated these items to two homeless shelters in Chicago.
His pastor teaches him it’s just nice to be nice!
— Ashante Davis, Chicago


Volunteer service the hallmark of longtime public servant

Throughout his long career in public service, first in the military, then law enforcement and the public schools, Bill Logan always found time for volunteer service. As a third-generation Evanstonian, Bill was influenced by his father’s belief that community service enriches our own lives. Later, as a police officer assigned to protect Dr. Martin Luther King when he visited Evanston in the 1960s, Bill was inspired by Dr. King’s personal words to him, “Always remember, life’s journey is not alone — it’s with and for what you give, and the sacrifice you make for others.”
As a police officer, Bill was dedicated to safeguarding the lives of all Evanston citizens, at a time when he himself could not join the local YMCA, or live in certain areas of the city. He went on to become Evanston’s first African American chief of police, and serve on the board of the same YMCA that once barred African Americans. He became a founder of the Fellowship of Afro American Men (FAAM), a youth basketball and mentoring program that has served thousands of youth of all races for 43 years. Bill achieved national recognition as founder of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), with over 4,000 members who work to improve race relations in their cities and our country.
Since retiring in 2006 as director of Safety at Evanston Township High School, Bill continues to provide leadership to a host of Evanston community organizations. As president emeritus and founder of Chessmen Civic Club of the North Shore, Bill can be seen personally handing out holiday baskets to those in need. He remains deeply committed to the Evanston community, serving as a role model for the next generation of leaders, including two young grandsons who represent the promise of a better future.
— Heidi Randhava, Evanston


Woman makes re-gifting one of her many gifts to humanity

Jennifer Molski of Flossmoor inspires all those around her with her heart and soul. She started a “re-gifting” program nine years ago called “Leave it for Love” ( People can drop off new, unneeded or unwanted gifts (especially after the holidays) at several Chicagoland locations. Jennifer gathers these items for Little Brothers for the Elderly — a volunteer-based, non-profit organization which provides services to relieve the isolation and loneliness facing many older adults in the greater Chicagoland area. This is a great, no-cost way for people to make a difference for often overlooked, less fortunate, older adults. This unique and innovative program is just one of the ways she gives to humanity.
Another reason why Jennifer inspires people is she created a Community Christmas Tree Recycling Program — now in its second year. Christmas trees are collected at the Irons Oaks Environmental Learning Center and mulched to be used on their walking trails throughout the year. This year she also added Christmas Tree Light Recycling to the program. The lights are recycled into plastic, glass and copper. This program helps keep these recyclable items out of landfills, promotes community spirit and helps a local landmark.
— Anthony Manos, Flossmoor


Minister spreads good word and work through community effort

Rev. Larry Ellis is a true inspiration to the community of Joliet, in which he serves since dedicating his life to Jesus Christ more than 10 years ago.
Many days you will find Rev. Ellis in his community, the south side of Joliet, mentoring young people who have seemingly lost their way, always sharing the good news of the Lord.
Rev. Ellis is committed to maintaining the eradication of drugs and gang activity from his neighborhood. He serves responsibly as PTO president at Keith School. He’ works every year on committees with Unity CDC and the City of Joliet for the neighborhood cleanups, as well as the city-wide 30 day Gospel crusade.
In addition to other assignments, Rev. Ellis counts among his achievements the all-male Bible study he teaches each Friday evening and a morning adult Sunday School class each week at St. Mark C.M.E. Church, 348 S. Joliet St., where he serves as a preacher under Rev. Stephen D. Deloney.
Rev. Ellis proclaims that his inspiration is from the Lord, as well as from his Pastor.
— Dorothy Arrington

Volunteer finds many ways to help her community

Thlema Kirkland has had a positive influence not only on her family and her granddaughter, Keyana, but on the Joliet community as well.
“Where does a wife, housewife, mother, career woman, grandmother, organizational leader and concerned community advocate find the time to do all on her agenda? I don’t know for sure, but I feel it must be a special blessing from God. Ever since I was a small child, I along with other family members knew her in these many positive roles. We all were so inspired by our dear mother and grandmother,” said granddaughter Keyana, who nominated Thelma as a “Readers Choice” inspiration to the community.
Being a high school English teacher, she enjoyed working with young people and prided herself on being an effective disciplinarian. She taught for more than 36 years. Many students knew and loved her through her involvement with the Black Student Union, talent shows, Ethnic Teens in Action, Black History Month programs, and the Joliet West Gospel Choir. She also taught in programs sponsored by the Joliet Junior College and Lewis University.
She retired from “active duty” as a classroom teacher in 2004, but did not “retire” for long. After subbing for several years in surrounding school districts, she became an active teacher again by working with small children in a day care/pre-kindergarten early learning center.
“My mother’s and grandmother’s family came from a family where ‘service’ was a mandate. Thus the concept of ‘help/service’ was always emphasized,” Keyana said. “My grandmother was always involved in some type of service or (with) service-oriented organizations, whether in the church, school, college or community. She believed that it was important to give back, for it was the price we pay for God’s gift of life to us. This she remembers and passes on to us.”
Her service and involvement includes the following: her church; fraternal organizations such as The Heroines of Jericho, The Eastern Star; her great sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha; the NAACP and The Hook-Up of Black Women and their families working together. There are also her political efforts, such as being a deputy registrar, and an election judge for more than 15 years. Recently she became a precinct captain. She even ran for a seat on the Will County Board, the Joliet Junior College board, and the Laraway School Board, where she won a seat several years ago.
Thelma has volunteered her services with The Blessing Table, which feeds the needy; Catholic Charities and its Back to School program for young students; the Lamb’s Fold Center for Young Women; the Warren Sharpe Community Center, in helping to provide food, financial and banking services to the parents and citizens of the Southeast community, and the Lions.
“My grandmother also feels very strongly about scholarships in the community, especially those that are designed to help the minority students and those students who come from single-parent homes,” Keyana wrote.
At one time she was instrumental in organizing a Scholarship Match Grant from one of the Joliet-area banks. This allowed her to award $5,000 with a match of $5,000 coming from individual donors, organizations and other banks.
“My grandfather often wonders when she will stop with her concern, generosity and compassion for others. For our family, she has even set up a scholarship fund for interested college-age family members. I was one of the recipients about two years ago.”
“I think my grandmother is like an ‘unsung hero.’ She hopes to lay a foundation for us that will become part of her legacy,” Keyana said.
“She does not necessarily want any fanfare. She just wants us to realize how important it is to care for each other, to give back to the community, and inspire others with your time, involvement and service. This she is doing quite well with her grandchildren, others in her family, and the community.”
— Keyana Kirkland

Seniors council honors leader for community service
The Lake County Council for Seniors is very proud of our president, Doreen Lagoni, because of her tireless work with a variety of community groups and her unfailing good will and dedication to helping others. She is one of the best examples we know of that old adage: “If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.”
Doreen has made significant contributions to LCCS. She is on LCCS Senior Expo committee, the LCCS Senior Volunteer Recognition Luncheon committee, often helps in our office with Client Service tasks which contributes to our goal of education and advocating for seniors to help them lead a safer and more independent lifestyle.
She is also Publicity Chair Publicity Chair for the Grayslake AARP Chapter. And for over 30 years she has served as Chaplain for the Lake Villa VFW Auxiliary.
In Doreen’s role of Bear Magic Of Lake County Chair she has received man awards such as: The Living Tree, located in the Lake County courthouse has a gold leaf in her name as a result of Kids Korner presenting Doreen this award in recognition of the 2,544 stuffed toys donated by Doreen’s Bear Magic organization which is now in it’s 13th year. She was also honored by the Libertyville Sunrise Rotary in April 2011 for her community service.
Doreen was also the recipient of AARP’s Carnation Award because she exemplifies the purpose of this award: to recognize the contributions and achievements of Illinois senior citizens.
— Carolyn A. Guthman, executive director, Lake County Council for Seniors


Woman ‘ending hunger and empowering lives’

Naperville resident Wendy Hayum-Gross’s interests revolve around empowering people and making them feel good about themselves.
Wendy has worked for Mary Kay Cosmetics for more than 25 years. As senior sales director, Wendy leads the “Wonderwomen” group to great personal and financial success.
She mentors her consultants so that they can spread the Mary Kay philosophy and earn financial rewards, while empowering them to live their best lives. Her team is consistently recognized for their achievements and Wendy often speaks at Mary Kay events throughout the United States. She has earned the coveted Pink Cadillac designation multiple times.
As secretary of the board of Loaves & Fishes Community Pantry in Naperville, Wendy shares the vision of ending hunger and empowering lives. She gives generously of her time, talent, and treasure to help Loaves & Fishes. Wendy attends many Loaves & Fishes events to share the joy her involvement has brought her.
Wendy combines her two passions through volunteering several times each year with her Wonderwomen. She has also donated Mary Kay product to help Loaves & Fishes clients feel good about themselves while enduring challenging times.
— Jody Bender, community relations director, Loaves & Fishes Community Pantry, Naperville

Loaves and Fishes CEO making positive change

Charles McLimans is inspirational in his overseeing of the operations of Loaves and Fishes in Naperville. He always has the community at heart and is looking for ways to help people become more self-sufficient. Recently, several new programs titled Pathways to Empowerment began at Loaves and Fishes. Through this program, individuals can receive help with their English, nutritional education, finances, income-tax preparation and public benefits.
People receiving food supplies is up 59 percent as of November of 2011, in comparison to November of 2010. More and more people are needing the assistance that Loaves and Fishes provides, while Charles and the wonderful staff provide even more services.
— Tracey Cowart, Naperville

Chiropractor contributes to city’s family-friendly atmosphere

Cathy Subber has owned Advanced Health Care, located at Ogden Avenue and Rickert Drive in Naperville, for the past 12 years. The day she opened her business, she joined the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce and began giving back to her community.
In addition to developing a thriving practice centered around her patients’ needs, Cathy is a busy mom of two boys. She joined the Naperville Moms Network in its early days and became very active in its activities. When the group’s founder relocated out of the area for a job transfer, Cathy immediately picked up the reins and assumed leadership of this vibrant group of 1,000 women.
Her latest venture is an outgrowth of her passion for the Naperville Moms Network. She is busily converting the unit next to her chiropractic practice into Café ‘n Play. She envisions this as a setting where parents and caregivers can relax and sip coffee, while the kids enjoy playing in a supervised, closed-in play space. Knowing Cathy, she will make this a brilliant success for both adults and children to develop and enjoy friendships in a relaxed, welcoming environment.
Cathy Subber helps make Naperville a vibrant, family-friendly community.
Jody Bender, community relations director, Loaves & Fishes Community Pantry, Naperville


Teen inspires others through community service

I would like to nominate my sister, Kalina O’Brien, for “Progress: Inspiration in Action.”
Kalina is a junior at Oswego High School and has spent many hours in support of various causes. She has accumulated more than 550 hours of community service, all while maintaining honor roll grades, and taking 30 hours of dance per week.
In 2011 she collected over 1600 pounds of donated items, for her second year “Trick or Treat for the Troops” project, which was sent to military serving overseas. This included hundreds of support letters, solicited from local elementary school students. She also attends “welcome home” celebrations for returning deployed troops.
She has served on two mission trips to aide those impacted by Hurricane Katrina; as well as one in Kentucky, to assist those affected by the 2010 flooding.
She has spent many hours at Feed My Starving Children, participated in Relay for Life and Live Out Loud suicide prevention. She collected $300 for Children’s Miracle Network, and gathered and delivered toys to Children’s Memorial Hospital.
Kalina’s commitment to serving has developed into an effort to educate others, on the impact that can be accomplished, through volunteer service.
— Sarah Dugan, Oswego


Woman making a difference in her village

When there’s a problem or need in our village, a need in her church or neighborhood, Barbara Piltaver of Schiller Park responds. She ran for public office in our town to try and right some wrongs and improve our city. She’s also a library trustee.
She’s a lector, Eucharistic minister, parish council, women’s club, and finance council member in her church. She volunteers with the local Loaves and Fishes program that feeds the needy.
For the past four years, she has organized Make A Difference Days in October that services seniors and those with disabilities. Even the local high school spawned their own Make A Difference Day because of her starting it in the area.
She’s an inspiration to me because even though she works a full-time job, she juggles all the extra-curricular activities she’s involved in all the while keeping a positive attitude. Her latest achievement, which I believe she needs recognition for, is starting her own local newspaper for our area which not only promotes local businesses, but keeps people informed of what’s happening in their communities.
— David Stachura, Schiller Park


Unemployed man turned a negative into a ‘giving opportunity’

Some people mope, blame others and fail to grow from adversity. That’s not the case with Sugar Grove resident Chris Walker, who turned a bad situation into a giving opportunity.
Chris didn’t just lose his full-time job in 2009, but he lost a job he truly loved, working in marketing for a senior retirement non-profit organization. While pursuing a new career, he offered to volunteer at the new Sugar Grove Township Senior Center. That volunteering turned into a part-time paying job with Salvation Army.
He served meals and coordinated activities for the Senior Center, but less than a year into it, funding was cut and the Salvation Army’s Golden Diner program was no longer offered. Realizing that there were many seniors in Sugar Grove that would now lose out, Chris discovered a way for the center to move forward.
Chris now hosts a monthly potluck on the final Tuesday of every month. In addition to donating his time at the Senior Center, Chris also volunteers at the Between Friends Food Pantry in Sugar Grove.
He does all of this, in between working several part-time jobs, being a loving father to his two children, as well as a great husband to me, his wife.
— Julie Walker, Sugar Grove