Great People Doing Great Things In The Ward

Featuring:


Katie Shedivy Lowman

Katie Shedivy Lowman

Katie Shedivy Lowman - Kitchen Possible

So this happened yesterday. I was invited to attend a new children’s cooking class at Gads Hill Center. Katie Lowman, founder of Kitchen Possible, (and an advertising exec by day), started this non-for-profit kids cooking program in order to empower kids to make amazing things happen in their lives, by teaching them to make amazing things happen in the kitchen.

This passionate and vibrant 29 year-old is on to something big. The second I walked into the doors of this community center's kitchen, I was awestruck by what I saw: Almost two dozen kids, ages 9 to 12, wearing colorful aprons with matching big grins. They were working in their respective food stations, diligently dicing, mixing, stirring, grilling and tasting their delicious (& healthy) masterpieces. Each kid was proudly able to rattle off how and what they were preparing when I approached them. What made the occasion more special was that today marked this 8 week program’s “Final Dinner,” where every kid got to invite and serve their parents the meals they spent all afternoon preparing. 

“Kitchen Possible teaches kids so many kitchen lessons they can apply to life because they gain so much from learning the ability of working in group; being organized; embracing creativity and trying something new. The most rewarding part is seeing kids feel genuinely awesome from succeeding (in the kitchen).”

Like most 501(c)(3) organizations, the success and expansion of Kitchen Possible is dependent on donations and volunteers. I hope you will consider to learn more about this program: www.KitchenPossible.org. A special thank you to the wonderful team behind Gads Hill Center for offering their space and support to a wonderful program.


George Burciaga - Ignite Cities

Chicago’s own George Burciaga is an international thought leader and subject matter expert in digital transformation, government efficiencies and smart city modeling. 

Inspiring words from a man I consider a good friend and incredible human being. Raised in Pilsen, George Burciaga credits this neighborhood for instilling a sense of strength, loyalty and compassion in him, which have served as his journey’s compass. He’s a testament you don’t put a ceiling over “disadvantaged” communities, but rather, you give these communities the same technology, resources and expectations as everyone else, and watch what happens.

I hope you'll watch this quick video. George has leveraged his story and success to improve the lives of future generations. I’ve learned when purposeful innovators like George set out to change the course of people’s lives for the better, you don’t ask why — you simply get out of the way.

Thank you, George, for the continued service and example you’ve made for the neighborhood that raised us.

It's with much gratitude that I am able to share I was honored with the U.S. Maestro Award, and this is my story. As an inner-city kid, raised by my grandparents in an underserved community, it feels like a full circle moment to be recognized for my professional achievement.

George specializes in the areas of platform disruption, sustainable development, and citizen engagement. George is highly regarded for his recent smart city deployments and engaging presentation formula which disrupts conventional thought.

Entrepreneur, Technologist and CEO. George's deep relationships and knowledge of municipal governments and connective technology internationally makes him a natural leader in the connected city space. George has been recognized at the White House for multiple national awards for his efforts within IT/IoT. He is also responsible for developing global smart city partnerships and deployments.


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Youth Guidance - "Becoming A Man"

This week I joined Chicago Mayor's Office at Benito Juarez Community Academy to take part in what turned out to be an amazingly inspiring school based, support program called Becoming A Man (BAM). This social-emotional learning program offered by Youth Guidance helps at-risk young men in middle and high school navigate the difficult circumstances that threaten their futures, by creating a safe space in which boys are free to explore the challenges in their lives. BAM’s model revolves around mentoring these young men to “think about their thinking,” by giving them the tools to resolve conflicts, express themselves positively, practice integrity and set ambitious goals for their futures. Put simply, BAM’s program is about getting to Chicago’s boys before gangs do, (and minimizing school drop out). The BAM “circle” exercise was particularly moving for me because it invoked a lot of feelings and vulnerability from these wonderful young men. We finished with a closing “BAM out” ritual that ended with a special handshake while touching our chest near our heart, to demonstrate we are all connected. 

To date, Youth Guidance has served 6150 young men in roughly 100 Chicago public schools. Some key achievements include contributing to a 19% increase with on-time graduation rates, and reducing violent crime arrests by 50%. I strongly encourage you to learn more about this outstanding program: http://www.emcf.org/grantees/youth-guidance/. A special thank you to Benito Juarez Community Academy for offering this incredible program at their school, and for inviting me to participate. 


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Alex AnayaABC Pilsen Athletics

I first met Alex back in 2012 when he was teaching a small handful of kids some basketball drills at Harrison Park. He wasn’t part of an organization or club— simply a man who had a passion for basketball & teaching, volunteering his time to help coach some neighborhood kids. There was something uniquely special about his connection with the kids— it was no surprise after a few months, Alex would catch the attention of over 40 neighborhood kids showing up for his free training. He quickly outgrew Harrison Park, and I was more than happy to help him secure bigger and multiple facilities. Fast forward to today, Alex (and his program partner, Meghan Harte) have 180 kids, ages 7 to 17, signed up for their year-round Academics, Basketball & Community program, aptly titled, ABC Pilsen. It’s no question Alex’s passion is genuine because he trains different sub groups of ABC seven days a week, (on top of his full-time day job!). While the initial draw is basketball skill development, kids who sign up are required to meet academic and community service requirements— which they do so willingly because it’s engrained in the culture of this clinic. 

“We use basketball as the vehicle to drive the bigger message about life. We teach kids the proper values about teamwork, hard work and doing things “the right way” on the court, so this will resonate with them as they grow older and make the right decisions in life. We are a product of our community, so it will always be a part of our DNA to give back to our community.”

ABC is a non-for-profit program that runs 7 days/week, and doesn’t turn away any kids. The majority of the resources and time that goes into this organization is donated, so they are always looking for sponsors, mentors & volunteers. Alex’s main goal is to secure his own gymnasium to fully accommodate the needs of ABC’s fast growing membership and offered services. I urge you to learn more about donation opportunities, the clinics and Alex’s incredible story: www.ABCPilsenAthletics.org.


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Michael GarciaSheridan Park Boxing

I like to call Mike the Mayor of Taylor St. because he knows every person in his neighborhood, and everyone knows him. One explanation for this is the fact Mike was born, raised, and never left Little Italy. But the bigger culprit for his popularity is from his days as a professional boxer. During his six year professional career, he went by the name of Mike “The Fly” Garcia, and earned titles as Illinois State Feather Weight & Junior Light Weight Champion. Post boxing retirement, he went on to train professional champions, David Diaz & Andrei Arvloski. 

As impressive as these stats are, I was fascinated by the full circle experience Mike shared with me when I stopped by his youth boxing program. Mike started boxing as an 8 year old at Sheridan Park, and has returned to this same park to teach neighborhood kids growing up just like him. Four days per week, Mike offers training sessions to kids, ages 8 to 17. He also trains an 18 and over group after his youth classes. It’s not everyday a park district program can offer free neighborhood coaching of Mike’s caliber. But that’s the beauty of Mike’s story. He’s giving back to the community that gave him so much. 

“I remember the days the legendary Primo La Cassa use to train me as a kid at this park. Boxing at Sheridan Park kept me out of trouble and offered me a great career. I feel blessed at the opportunity to offer the same experience to these kids today.” 

Learn more about Sheridan Park’s youth boxing program, offered Tuesday through Friday evenings: 910 S. Aberdeen St. - 312.746.5369.


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Luz Maria B. SolisChicago Día de los Niños (CDDLN)

For the past 15 years, Luz Maria has volunteered her time and energy towards her labor of love, the Chicago Dia De Los Niños Parade. With over a 30 year career with CPS as a teacher and Early Childhood Educator, Luz Maria has been a devoted advocate for children. It was during her tenure as a CPS Administrator in 2003 that she was asked to chair the CDDLN Committee, a non-for-profit organization that advocates, celebrates and empowers young children through cultural & educational activities. The CDDLN Committee, in collaboration with CPS, and over 50 Chicago organizations, produce this annual children’s day parade in the heart of Pilsen. Citywide students, parents and community residents take part in this parade that draws in thousands of participants. This year the parade lands on Saturday, April 28th, and as it has done since 2004 through the determined efforts of Luz Maria, it will award college scholarships to DACA students and highlight community leaders who have advocated for early childhood and/or immigration. It has been my honor to co-sponsor this parade, and award DACA scholarships since its conception. A special thank you to my colleagues who will join me in support of this wonderful effort: Susana A. MendozaJesus "Chuy" GarciaChicago City ClerkTheresa Mah  Alma Anaya for Cook County Commissioner

“The purpose of our organization and parade is to bring awareness to the value of children and the importance of education. In Mexico and Latin America, the national Dia Del Niño day is officially recognized on April 30th, and we want to bring this recognized tradition to Chicago.“ LMS.


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Bulldog Racing Team, South Loop

This past weekend I was invited to a reception honoring the Bulldog Racing Team from the British International School of Chicago - South Loop. This team of little engineers, as I like to call them, consist of seven, multicultural, male & female, middle-school students who recently won the F1 (Formula One) School Regional Competition in New York, (against high schoolers!). When I spoke to a couple of these students on Saturday, they passionately used language like “our model’s drag coefficient was low,” and “we used computational fluid dynamics to make iterations to our design” to explain the process behind what they did. Huh?! I likely had a cross-eyed expression on my face when I asked them to break it down for me in layman’s terms. One of the student’s, Sofi Burciaga, did just that as she explained they designed, fabricated (through 3D printing) and tested a race car through this 15-week journey. She also walked me through their competition experience in New York, a competition that lasted well over 10 hours from start to finish, setting up their car display; presenting it to judges for multiple rounds; then racing their (winning) car model. During a presentation these students collectively gave at Saturday’s reception, I listened as each student humbly thanked their family, teachers and sponsors for the support that helped them realize this big accomplishment. 

While it does take a village, we can also agree on the importance of growing and supporting STEM education programs in more schools across the city, which has always been a goal of mine. In the meantime, I’d like to wish these incredible students, Suhani, Tooni, Alex, Tara, Calila, Kapil & Sofi, the best luck representing Chicago at their national competition in Austin this summer, (and hopefully in Singapore for the subsequent international competition). You can learn more about the Bulldog Racing Team: www.bulldog-racing.com.


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Armando Chacon, West Loop

As the son of immigrant parents from Chicago’s south side, Armando credits his childhood school, sports and music programs for keeping him away from the prevalent gangs in his neighborhood. Something tells me this particular upbringing had a lot to do with the passion behind many of Armando’s community endeavors today. 

It’s not likely you haven’t heard of Armando if you live or work in the West Loop. I like to call him the Mayor of West Loop because he’s been involved in a myriad of educational, cultural and small business projects across the neighborhood. As an active LSC community member at Skinner West - Classical, Fine Arts and Technology School, Armando helped us push for the school’s direly needed expansion, (and now has his eyes set on a new neighborhood high school). In 2010, when the former 1.4 acre infirmary was transformed into the new and popular Mary Bartelme Park, Armando seized this opportunity to bring great traditions to the park, including the Xmas Tree Lighting Ceremony and Movies In The Park. As the President of the West Central Association and MB Advisory Council, Armando was instrumental in pushing for the West Loop Green City Market to move into the park two years ago, where it has been thriving since. As a board member for Chicago Children's Theatre, Armando helped the organization solicit its entitlements, something necessary to fund the theater’s new expansion in the West Loop. More recently, Armando has been a key advocate for the Madison Row Initiative, a push to bring more vibrancy and traffic for small business owners down Madison Street. 

I can rattle off a handful of other important community contributions Armando has made to the neighborhood he and his family call home, school and work, but I rather leave you with an interesting memory Armando shared with me recently. He recalls accompanying his father to work as a child. His father worked as a butcher on Lake St. and Fulton Market, when the area was a meatpacking district. He remembers it as a part of town most tourist would never dare walk through, yet a colorful fabric of Chicago’s history. Today, this once decrepit area littered with the smell of raw meat, is an attractive place to live and play, something Armando is particularly proud of as he thinks back to the days he was first introduced to this wonderful neighborhood.


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Isaac Zapata – Tiny Environmentalist

Do you remember the little kid from Jerry Maguire, Ray Boyd? Yesterday I was paid a visit from one of my youngest constituents, 7 year-old Isaac Zapata, and he had his version of “the human head weighs 8 pounds” of information to share with me. Isaac, whose name is very fitting to the profession he wants to be when he grows up, a (nature) scientist, is a human encyclopedia, albeit a tiny one, of Monarch Butterfly knowledge. He had his mom reach out to my office so he could pitch me on his proposal to help preserve the monarch population in our own (Pilsen) backyard. This is necessary to help them complete their generational migration from Canada to Mexico. As it turns out, he nailed his scientific-based proposal, and our office is on board. 

Great job, Isaac, (and mom, Jessica Copilkiahuitl Zapata).


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Daniel Fitzgerald, SAY Chicago Soccer

Yesterday I attended Say Chicago Soccer’s 19th Annual Championship games. Yep, 19 years! I remember when this program first started in 1999 under Lou Langone. I believe they had 40 kids during their inaugural year, and ran their practices/games on a field at Arrigo Park. Today, this 10-week, summer soccer program has 650 kids aged 3 to 15, who make up over 40 teams. All the kids come from neighborhoods across our beautiful 25th Ward, and play their games at the new UIC fields in University Village. I must tip my hat off to the current President of Say of Chicago, Daniel Fitzgerald, for growing the organization to what it is today. Thank you, and your team of parent volunteers, for all you do to enrich the lives of so many youth. Your motto of “Kids Having Fun” was certainly evident. Yesterday’s games were full of such excitement. The 10-12 age group kids went to sudden death penalty kicks that came down to the last player’s kick. Just as exciting for me was witnessing all the great parental involvement with this organization. It was nice to reconnect with many parents who grew up playing neighborhood sports with my daughters. I am proud to help sponsor Say Chicago Soccer, and encourage you to learn more about this wonderful, non-for-profit youth organization: www.sayofchicago.com.



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Maria Guerrero – 19th Street Garden

If you’ve walked down 19th Street, between Loomis and Throop, there’s no way you can miss Maria Guerrero’s majestic garden. It’s unquestionable this life-long, Pilsen resident has devoted endless time and love growing one of the most impressive, home gardens in the city. Many times we focus our attention on the beautification muralists bring to our neighborhood, (which they certainly do). But this garden is Maria’s canvass, and it sure as heck is beautiful. When I stopped by today, she walked me through every nook and cranny of her masterpiece, explained the symbolism of each area, including a Maria de Guadalupe statue she prays to every day, and even picked me some freshly grown cucumbers. (Thank you, Maria!).

So many residents in our ward do their share to colorfully contribute to the beauty of our neighborhoods. This type of pride in your home and community should be celebrated. There are many more beautiful gardens I’ve come across in all the neighborhoods of our ward, so let’s start highlighting them.


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Moshe Tamssot – West Loop Community Garden

Moshe, “the bearded man,” is all about innovation. His 'Master Jack' aspiration means "I want to learn as much as possible about many things, to connect the dots, allowing me to do things no one can see. Instead of privatizing public land, let's make public our private land.” And that’s exactly what he's doing with the (former vacant lot) West Loop Community Garden. Through this garden, he’s introduced a multitude of ways to get the community directly involved: Neighborhood residents look over the growth of their respective GrowPod; kids from neighborhood schools and camps visit the garden to learn and practice the art of gardening; nature lovers come to learn to harvest bees; artist from the neighborhood paint the walls and donate the mosaic art he uses as the Garden’s stage; heck, Moshe even managed to enlist the support of JC Licht and a local union pipefitter to help him build a water collection system on Merit School of Music’s roof, that links condensation from the school’s air conditioning units, as a direct water source for the Garden. This typically isn’t the stuff everyday people think about, much less do, but after speaking with Moshe, it’s no surprise he’s the son of a nuclear engineer from Israel. In fact, Moshe credits his “tough” Sephardic Jew upbringing for his entrepreneurial and innovative spirit today. 

The sky’s the limit with this garden’s potential, which helps maintain the neighborhood’s culture. Moshe rattled off a dozen more community pursuits he has in mind for the Garden. Next in his bullpen of ideas is creating community dinners involving West Loop chefs, and of course sourcing the ingredients from the Garden. The point would be to bring the community together over dinner and friendly dialogue. Another proposed idea is welcoming outside neighborhood fruit & “elote” (corn) push-cart vendors to the West Loop for a higher standard of life. Neighborhoods like Pilsen and Little Village have no shortage of these vendors that would love this 'unchartered land' opportunity. Moshe would love to have them park their carts in the Garden to lessen the physical hardship of their daily back-and-forth commute. Moshe’s philosophy is simple, “If people are getting things done, clear the road for them.”

Needless to say, I left inspired after my visit in the Garden. Moshe is on a path to create direct involvement between residents, small businesses, artists, developers and government. While I know this post isn’t news to my West Loop residents, I hope I’ve encouraged the rest of our 25th Ward neighborhoods, (Chinatown, Pilsen, Little Italy, South Loop and ABLA Homes) to come pay this beautiful garden, and its vision, a visit. 

Learn more: The Garden is located on the northeast corner of Sangamon & Monroe, visit @TrueWestLoop-GARDEN.


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Robert Smith, aka “Mr. Smith” - ABLA Homes

I call Mr. Smith the pillar and guardian of the ABLA Homes community. Born and raised in this neighborhood, and a 39 year CPS educator and consultant, Mr. Smith has devoted a lifetime of passion advocating for the betterment of this community. Youth through seniors benefit from the programming and resources Mr. Smith helped bring to ABLA. Most notable is a program he co-wrote in the mid 80’s, EmployAbility Plus. This program partners with the State of Illinois and Chicago Public Schools to provide job and GED training to community residents before placing them into jobs. For those under 21 who dropped out or discontinued their studies, EmployAbility Plus helps get them back in school.

Mr. Smith is responsible for introducing a large handful of summer programs at the Jane Addams Community Center that have rejuvenated this community: After School Matters Visual Arts Programming; Beautification & Education Community Recreation; Performing Arts Programming, and collaborations with the 12th District Police Department to help foster a cooperative relationship between community and police. As the President of the Fosco Park Advisory Council, Mr. Smith started a Senior Bingo program, one of the park’s most popular activities. I would be remiss not to credit Mr. Smith’s unrelenting persistency to secure a new park on the West side, as a big reason Addams/Medill Park just broke ground on a new, state-of-the-art, athletic facility this summer.

It’s important for communities to have strong and present advocates fighting on their behalf. Kids from ABLA look up to Mr. Smith, parents and adults respect him, and seniors bond with him. One thing is for sure, everyone appreciates Mr. Smith, including (and especially) myself. On behalf of my office and all the residents you help me serve, Mr. Smith, we all thank you.