Since 1995, Friends of the Parks has honored the outstanding volunteers, community groups, and city and county employees who have made significant contributions to their parks. The “Volunteers-in-Parks” Awards & Appreciation Reception, endearingly known as the VIP Awards Reception, helps us acknowledge and celebrate these volunteers and stewards who help make our parks and open spaces great. VIPs are nominated by community members in Chicago, and reviewed and selected by our VIP Committee.

Click here for the 2018 VIP Nomination Form!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Learn more about the 2017 VIP Award winners we honored:

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David Kostelansky – Stewardship Award

For years, this VIP has been a dedicated advocate for the restoration and beautification of Lake Shore Park on behalf of the Streeterville community. In his role as president of the Park Advisory Council, his work to beautify and improve the natural assets in the park are deserving of a VIP award. Not only has he sought grants and volunteers to beautify and maintain the appearance of the park, but his work truly exemplifies that stewardship means not only making the space more beautiful, but ensuring that it is a space accessible to all as well. As stated in Dave’s testimony to the Park District Board in 2016, when Lake Shore Park was rebuilt in 1960, there were no residential buildings in the area south of Chicago Avenue or east of Michigan Avenue to the River. Now, the area has a population of over 30,000 with the highest density in the State of Illinois and the least amount of green space; green and open space here is now so precious. Serving residents, many university students, the Northwestern Medical Campus and the many tourists visiting the Mag Mile, the challenge became not only one of density concerns, but that the Park District had a long term contract with a private business that used Lake Shore Park for softball every afternoon and evening during the summer prohibiting the community from using the Park. By leading the “Return Lake Shore to the Community” campaign, Dave made the community so much more livable and enjoyable, when in fact the space was given back to the community this year. His tireless efforts have resulted in a newly sodded, vibrant and healthy park, along with flourishing garden areas and a state of the art irrigation system. Lake Shore Park was taken out of service for the summer for a major resodding project and opened on a limited basis for Midnight Circus, an event which the park council supported, with funds designated to help fund new playground equipment in Lake Shore Park. Dave reached out and coordinated with the Chicago Fire Department to keep the sod watered and insure that the field stays green. David Kostelansky, for his efforts to beautify, preserve and protect Streeterville parks, was honored with a 2017 Stewardship VIP Award.

Sedonia Phillips – Stewardship Award

In 2014, this VIP learned that there was no park advisory council, or PAC, for Bell Park and organized the community to start one, where she continues to serve as Treasurer. The park had a neglected raised bed garden with wood chips and weeds, and through Sedonia’s efforts, has been revitalized and filled with beautiful perennials – which the children call the “7 Garden” because of its shape. The garden also includes a donation of tulips from the King and Queen of the Netherlands, because of her efforts. She not only brought the park garden to life, but also maintains two flower-filled cement planters at the southern entrances – as well as the two corner gardens near the park’s entrance. Her work has not only beautified the park and its surrounding area, but has instilled a sense of community for the park and its neighbors. In addition to the gardens in the park, Sedonia also maintains her own corner garden across the street from the park – as well as a natural garden in her front yard. This year, she received the UIC Extension’s distinction as being a “Pollinator Pocket,” using native perennials and natural gardening, all the while attracting more and more monarch butterflies and bees to her plants. Not only has Sedonia developed and is maintaining these numerous gardens, she is also a certified Tree Keeper dedicated to the stewardship and care of trees in her park and community. Her knowledge of trees has helped numerous neighbors in proper mulching and trimming branches for better health of the trees. As she is constantly outside in the gardens, she is always speaking to her neighbors – and not one goes by without a hello from “the plant lady.” Sedonia Phillips, for her tireless efforts to beautify Bell Park and for her impact on the Bell Park community, was honored with 2017 Stewardship VIP Award.

Perry Starks – Outstanding Park District Employee Award

This VIP is a fixture at the Garfield Park Gold Dome Field House and has worked on behalf of the park and community for three decades. You will see Mr. Stark regularly walk through the park, and routinely shares his observations with the Park District and the local park advisory council. Perry’s extensive note taking has been instrumental in helping to document issues being reported to Chicago Park District. Besides being a Chicago Park District employee, Mr. Starks is also a founding member of the Garfield Park Advisory Council. Due to the council’s bylaws, as CPD employee, Perry is prohibited from holding an elected office in the PAC. He runs hockey programs in both Garfield and Riis Parks. Over the years Mr. Starks has participated in numerous community planning initiatives including the award-winning Garfield Park Framework Plan, and the New Communities Plan. Perry currently serves as the Safety & Natural Resources committee chair for the Garfield PAC. In his capacity as the chair for the Safety & Natural Resources committee, Perry has lead clean-up efforts, and spearheaded the committee’s “Safety Walks” and “Ride-Thrus” with the Park Supervisor. While some of PAC members try to consider Garfield Park’s needs in a neighborhood context, Perry regularly asserts that the PAC’s mission includes the stewardship of the park itself and his leadership remains an invaluable resource the council and park users. Perry Starks, for his contributions to and impact on the Garfield Park community, was honored with a 2017 Outstanding Chicago Park District Employee VIP award.

LaToya Scott – Outstanding Park District Employee Award

It is hard to describe all that this VIP contributes to Pottawattomie Park, because so much of her work goes unseen. But her attention to the park’s users, especially the many great children in the afterschool programs, is hard to miss. Even though her duties are many as the park’s attendant, she finds the time for the kids in the park and gives them the extra special attention they need. A lot of the students often check in with LaToya, who provides comfort, guidance and much cherished attention. LaToya is dedicated to building a relationship of trust and respect with the kids and young adults who flock to her to share their day and to bask in her kindness. She prioritizes making the park a safe and thrilling environment for all children. For example, one of the park’s children is facing a serious medical condition and is not able to play outside, and it is LaToya who stays by his side and comes up with fun things for him to do while the other kids are out playing and roughhousing on the playground. It was LaToya exalting how brave and tough this young man is that bolstered his confidence, and it is often this level of kindness and attention that makes it easy for Pottawatomie Parks youth to forget their troubles and have fun being kids. LaToya is, for many of the kids who use the park, the mother, auntie and big sister of the park. Her attention to people and their needs is the key element that sustains the park and the surrounding community. LaToya Scott, for enabling many moments of happiness and fun in the lives of park users of Pottawatomie Park, was honored with a 2017 Outstanding Park District Employee VIP Award.

Jeffrey Rogers – Individual VIP Award

Our next VIP has been volunteering his services to the Chicago Park District with his “Boot Camp Styled” youth mentoring program named “BackPacks and Boots.” Dr. Rogers is very active in Dawes Park and is a Dawes Park Advisory Council Member. He incorporated his Youth Boot Camp program in Dawes Parks’  Day Camp this summer and the parents were elated with his work with the youth. One parent even recommended him and the Youth Boot Camp program to a local high school. Dr. Rogers went out and recruit the Black McDonalds Operaters Association to hand out backpacks with supplies to the park’s day campers and community children. Dr. Rogers has a unique approach when dealing with the youth. Not only has he been volunteering his time and energy to Dawes Park, but he consistently ventures into other communities that are overwhelmed with violence and other negative issues. Dr. Rogers seeks youths and teens that are willing to better their social skills, work ethic, life skills and more, by joining the BackPacks and Boots Program. Whether he is at Dawes Park or other locations, one thing is certain, Dr. Rogers is sincere in his convictions about giving back to the community and as he puts it, “ultimately the world”. Oftentimes, he provides his services from one location to another in spite of the lack of monetary compensation.  He believes that the “pay-off” comes when the youth and their families know that their lives matter. Dr. Jeffrey Rogers, for his outstanding impact on youth in Dawes Park and Chicago was honored with a 2017 Individual Volunteer VIP Award.

Stanley Jones – Individual Award

This VIP is a positive representation of Dawes Park and the community in which the park is located. The community felt the tragic loss of a much beloved Dawes Park member a few years ago. In an effort to help promote community healing, Mr. Jones’ passion and dedication went to another level as he worked diligently to promote, organize and co-host the Dawes Park “Community Family Fun Day Celebration”. Mr. Jones and his wife Halethia bought the food and beveR.A.G.E.s, and cooked and served the community until the Movie in the Parks began for the evening. Stanley serves as the President of the Dawes Park Advisory Council and since being in that role, he continues to be very active within the community as well. Mr. Jones spearheaded the Earth Day event, recruiting PAC members, and contributing to the Dawes Park Teen Leadership Connection along with local organizations and residents in the community. Stanley does not cease to create opportunities for the youth, as he continues to host a youth baseball clinic every year during the Community Family Fun events. He is also active in advocating to the Chicago Park District for improvements to the park, and he can be found at the annual park district public budget meetings presenting testimony about the needs of park. In honoring his position as President, he continues to make himself available to all community residents and is always enthusiastic when supporting and participating in Dawes Park activities and events. He is known for his affability and approachability when dealing with park members and community residents, and is a shining example of the essence of Dawes Park. Stanley Jones, for his impact and work to improve and promote Dawes Park, was honored with a 2017 Individual VIP Award.

Mercedes “Meche” Alvarez  – Advocacy Award

Since the inception of La Villita Park in 2015, this VIP has been involved in the development and success La Villita Park. Mercedes, who many community members call “Meche” or “Senora Meche,” is the president of the La Villita Park Advisory Council board. She gives all her time, resources and creative ideas to the park. She puts together countless park fundraisers and local community events that integrate the park into people’s lives. She gives a calm leadership to the park. She does not only provide leadership in advocacy but also is the voice and soul of La Villita park. She is known as an active community leader who goes out of the way to complete tasks not even the Chicago Park District does, she does outreach for events that are going on at the park, and makes sure the people’s concerns about the park are heard and brought to the attention of the Chicago Park District. Having not had a park for many years on the east side of the La Villita neighborhood, she appreciates and advocates for a clean and safe environment at the park. Meche lives by the motto “Sigue Sigue y lo Consigues” which in English translates to “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” This motto has rang true this year, having successfully hosted three Jumbo Yard Sales, organized by Meche, who leads the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization’s Mi Parque campaign that involves hundreds of youth and community leaders in the involvement, support and leadership development of the park. For the last three years, La Villita Park is violence free and has zero homicides, a model of community health and environmental stewardship. She also helped the La Villita PAC begin fundraising for programming at the park and for the first time ever organizing a Mexican Independence celebration at the park with a significant amount of attendance from community members and community neighbors. Mercedes Meche Alvarez, for her advocacy, passion and outstanding impact on La Villita Park and the surrounding residents, was honored with a 2017 Advocacy VIP Award.

Jackson Park Watch – Advocacy Award

This organization, spearheaded by Margaret Schmidt and Brenda Nelms, took the initiative to organize Jackson Park Watch when they didn’t feel their voices were being heard, both within the local park advisory council process in relation to Project 120 and then the Obama library. Just formed over a year ago, they have adopted an approach incorporating a variety of strategies to advocate for transparency of processes and funding. You will see Brenda and Margaret testify before the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners at every monthly meeting. They send out regular emails to a broad group of stakeholders, and they have been willing to take the brunt of the push back from others who don’t agree with them, including the Chicago Park District, the local park advisory council, and the Obama Library Foundation. Overall, they have been a key part of the local groundswell to say that it is legitimate to ask questions and challenge both local informal authority and formal authorities. To date, they have had an impact in calling for and slowing down the framework planning process so it’s a better process. Recently, they took the step of seeking our fiscal sponsorship in order to up their efforts to raise money to pursue legal strategies to challenge the encroachment of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson and Midway Plaisance Parks. Jackson Park Watch, for their advocacy on behalf of Jackson Park and surrounding communities, was honored with a recipient of the 2017 Advocacy VIP Award.

Hamilton Park Advisory Council – Park Advisory Council Award

This VIP organization is a newly formed council with only a history of 3 years. Since it was formed, this committed group of residents and stakeholders has accomplished many things that benefited the park and the community.  The Hamilton Park Advisory Council is an exceptional PAC working closely with local groups, residents and other partners to raise awareness of the Hamilton Park Cultural Center, increase enrollment for programs, and work with the local alderman and the Park District to bring improvements to the space. In three years this PAC has many accomplishments to boast about, including hosting its first fundraiser last year that raised over $3000 to assist with programs and PAC activities at the park. More than 250 residents were in attendance and the PAC had an African Pop Up shop with authentic pieces from West Africa, and not only did this bring residents to the park that never been, but it also allowed for cultural expression from local Englewood artists and art teachers of local schools who showcased their own art work. This year, the PAC created a Summer Day Camp Scholarship to help families in need enroll their young people at Summer Day Camp, this helped more residents learn about the programs and activities at Hamilton Park Cultural Center and increase local interest from residents in the area. Again, these are only just a couple examples of the progress and success the PAC has made in their efforts to improve and promote the park. The Hamilton Park Advisory Council, for their outstanding impact on the Hamilton Park Cultural Center and surrounding community, was honored with a 2017 Park Advisory Council VIP Award.

R.A.G.E. – Community Group Award

This community organization’s members continue to promote the importance of being more involved in the improvement and uses of the local parks in Englewood. Since 2012, the Resident Association of Greater Englewood, or R.A.G.E., has successfully developed a resident led festival for families in the Greater Englewood area. These festivals are known as So Fresh Saturday and have become one of the greatest grassroots initiatives that brings peace and families to the parks. They have transformed these spaces to be a place of art, activism, showcasing local talents and encouraging residents to reclaim these parks in the name of peace. This summer series is in partnership with the Chicago Park District, Nights Out in the Park and R.A.G.E. has touched over 5000 families and young people with these events.  Each year, they have added another park to the tour to highlight the assets, and partner with local park staff and advisory councils to build community in these spaces. At each event, there are local resources available for families and park goers because of the work of R.A.G.E. R.A.G.E. hosts a back to school event each year and during the winter have used the parks to do Black History Month Celebrations, Film Series and even led the charge of awarding the Ogden Park Vikings a $5,000 award for equipment during a local fundraising campaign for the Englewood Quality of Life Fund. The members of R.A.G.E. are mainly local residents and many are either involved in or leading various park advisory councils throughout the neighborhood. R.A.G.E. has also helped form local park advisory councils where there were none. R.A.G.E. is a true advocate for Englewood’s assets, including by working with local aldermen to ensure that the aldermanic menu funds are allocated for the improvement of the parks in Englewood. The Resident Association of Greater Englewood, for their significant contributions to the parks and residents of the Englewood community, was honored with a 2017 Community Group VIP Award.

Logan Square Neighborhood Association – Community Group Award

As a longstanding neighborhood organizing leader and convener of the Logan Square Quality of Life Plan, this community group has led and supported many local efforts around neighborhood parks.  They have actively supported Unity Park over the years, including being instrumental in helping advocate for the creation of then Unity Playlot Park, which held its ribbon cutting ceremony in 1987. The Logan Square Neighborhood Association’s Quality of Life Plan identified the need for additional park space in Logan Square, one of the city’s most park poor community areas. LSNA was among the early promoters of the idea that became The 606, and along the way they organized youth and families to be engaged in planning around the trail and its feeder parks, most note-worthily the Julia de Burgos Park in Logan Square, named because of LSNA’s efforts after a famous Puerto Rican poet.  More recently, LSNA’s youth activists have been leaders in challenging the displacement that is evident along The 606, as the new park investment has attracted rampant real estate speculation and skyrocketing housing prices.  LSNA’s youth organizing around The 606 has led to a proposed ordinance to attempt to minimize the demolition or conversion of multifamily housing along the trail in favor of high end single family homes that tend not to serve longtime residents.  LSNA is a leader in promoting resident engagement as well as tangible solutions to make sure that long-time residents get to enjoy the benefits of park investment. We were pleased to have one of their youth representatives present at our “Parks as Democracy” conference as we considered issues related to development of and potential displacement of residents around linear parks.  LSNA also worked closely with Grassroots Illinois Action (one of our advocacy VIP winners from last year) on a door-to-door outreach campaign along the western end of The 606 to educate homeowners about how to appeal their property tax assessments as property values skyrocketed. The Logan Square Neighborhood Association, for their efforts to preserve, protect, improve and promote parks is Logan Square, was honored with a 2017 Community Group VIP Award.

 

To read about our 2016 VIPs, who were celebrated at our 20th Annual VIP Reception at the Dan Ryan Woods Pavilion on October 23, 2016, read below:

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Daniel Ebel – Stewardship Award

This invaluable VIP became an active participant in the Indian Boundary Park Advisory Council since it was reignited in 2013. He has spearheaded the repurposing of the Keepers of the Fire garden into a true community garden over the past year and a half. It is now accessible to more individuals and fulfills the mission of what a community garden should be. His work in the community garden has benefited the community by opening up the garden by removing fencing and delineating a path where interested park goers can walk through the garden. When he is working in the garden, he welcomes park visitors to join him in his work whether just for a day or for the long term. Daniel has also worked with Park District staff to ensure that the garden is an integrated component of children’s experiences at day camp. Now they have the opportunity to learn about gardening and have a space to use their new gardening skills to grow food they can eat. Daniel has become an invaluable asset to the park not only for his successful efforts to steward the community garden, he is also known for his tech savviness and his efforts to promote the garden and park on social media.

Brown Park Advisory Board – Park Advisory Council Award

Established in 2009, the Brown Park Advisory Council has dedicated itself to promoting and uplifting the park and community. Lead by a collaborative core of volunteers, the park advisory board has recently become known as models and leaders in the community and even the PAC world. It was not too long ago that the organization was able to boast two major accomplishments. First, the Board has recently been successful in advocating for an adjacent vacant parcel to be added to the existing park. Second, this year marked their second annual Picnic in Brown Park, a celebratory and honorary event recognizing Sidney Brown, the first fallen African American firefighter in Chicago, his family and families of the other 12 African American Firefighters who lost their lives in the line of duty since Brown’s death in 1983. Firemen’s bagpipers, honorary guests, entertainment, music and much more have made the event a very special and unapparelled one over the past two years. In addition to these recent accomplishments, they’re working on small beautification projects in the park to continue to make it a lively and safe space in the community. They have also taken on the ambitious goal of fundraising and planning for a two-story field house and pool for community members in the park. The Board holds a unanimous fervor, dedication, and tenacious vision to make this park a magnanimous space and staple for the community. There is little doubt to those who know them or know of their work, that this group will accomplish their goals; big developments lie in the near future at Brown Memorial Park. The group not only values and understands the importance of each board member, but they understand the important role of working with other people, groups and entities as critical to getting things done and building strong relationships.

Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance – Community Group Award

In 2007, the current Women’s Park was operated by Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, and the building was run as a non-profit Art Museum. At the time, the local café vendor was being evicted from the building and there were behind the scenes plans to convert the building into a night-club.  Immediately, the Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance stepped up and became the driving force behind securing of the building at 1801 S. Indiana as a Chicago Park District field house and their work did not stop with when the building finally became Women’s Park.  The success at Women’s Park has led to additional collaboration with the Chicago Park District, the park advisory council, the Alderman’s office and other local partners. For example, the Alliance’s volunteer leadership provides human capital to assist the growth of KICS United Soccer Club for kids that has resulted in a community anchor for Near South side children, while supporting the creation of an international soccer tournament each year in the city. The Alliance’s members have volunteered hundreds of hours to making the Women’s Park & Gardens Field House come to fruition for the benefit of many.  Because of their many partnerships and their volunteer efforts, many children of need are able to participate in a safe and productive learning environment at the park.

Morgan Halstead – Advocacy Award

An avid user of Humboldt Park’s many amenities, where her kids especially enjoy the beach, Morgan selflessly led the campaign to save the Humboldt Park Beach.  Dating back a few years, when the community first heard rumors that the Humboldt Park Beach might close, Morgan made it her cause to be in the know, meeting with community and city leaders and keeping the neighborhood informed through the Humboldt Park PAC, a Save the Humboldt Park Beach Facebook page that she moderated, and other community forums. When this unique inland beach which is the community’s treasure was indeed slated to close, she led the charge to keep the pressure on and ensure that the Park District would find a way to make the beach sustainable and cost-effective.  While the beach was closed for one year, it reopened this summer as a renovated, more sustainable beach, in no small part because of the hundreds of hours that Morgan put in: meeting with the alderman and the Park District; educating the community on the issues; rallying people from all parts of the neighborhood to advocate for the beach, and handling disagreements between community members as they were advising the Park District on the beach plan.  When the beach re-opened to a joyous community this summer, Morgan spearheaded, contributed, and raised money for a weekend-long community celebration.  The context of this work and the way in which Morgan handled it is quite significant. As one of her nominators wrote, “Humboldt Park is going through a demographic shift, and it is an incredibly diverse neighborhood.  At times that diversity can cause divisions, but the beach is one place where everyone who visits is on equal ground and can celebrate together…She was essential in building bridges between the many groups of our neighborhood to unite our community.”

Charlie Billups – Advocacy Award

In addition to his photography talents which he generously offers for many events taking place in Humboldt Park, Charlie has taken bold stances over the last two years to advocate for uses of and leadership for the park that build community rather than promote displacement of long-time, mostly minority or low-income residents in a gentrifying community.  In addition to supporting the Humboldt Park Save the Beach effort which brought together both old-timers and new-comers to the neighborhood and the park, he used his voice to stand up for the Puerto Rican community that came under attack and allowed himself to be a lightning rod of anger from the pro-Riot Fest camp in the debate that led to Riot Fest moving out of Humboldt Park.  Though there were many other players in this effort, Charlie has been singled out for this recognition because of the way he dug in and stayed committed to park issues while others moved on to other struggles. Despite on-going tension at the PAC level and in the community, he committed to actively participating with the Humboldt Park PAC and representing park issues at other community leadership tables.  When it became known that a community resident who anonymously had been actively bashing Latino and low-income residents on local social media networks was also serving in the leadership of the Humboldt Park PAC, he organized a community response which led to the woman’s ouster from the PAC board, to the applause of a diverse set of PAC participants and other community residents.

Grassroots Illinois Action (GIA) – Advocacy Award

Born out of political activism in the last municipal election cycle, the Humboldt Park branch of Grassroots Illinois Action jumped into park-related issues right after the last mayoral election.  The highly-acclaimed “606” park system was just about to open, amidst concerns that many long-time residents in the neighborhood hadn’t been included in the park planning process and that this new amenity would serve to push neighbors out rather than allow them to enjoy it.  The mayor had publicly celebrated the notion that this conversion of an old railroad line into a new tourist destination would help push up property values, and thus revenue for the city.  In that context, GIA led the Humboldt Park neighborhood element of a collaborative effort with the Logan Square Neighborhood Association to conduct a door-to-door community outreach campaign to gather residents’ concerns about The 606, make sure they knew about and used the new park, and invite them to workshops and organizing meetings to help homeowners and renters keep their homes and be able to continue to use the new park.  Meanwhile, the Save the Beach and anti-Riot Fest campaigns were taking place regarding Humboldt Park, and GIA joined in support of community press conferences, a beach sit-in at Humboldt Park, and a protest outside a Chicago Park District board meeting, and assigned a GIA representative to regularly attend Humboldt Park PAC meetings, amongst other activities.

Gary Morrissey – Individual Volunteer Award

Gary is a creative and incredibly hard working volunteer who has been an integral part of the West Ridge Nature Preserve for two years. Gary established the position of Chair of the Education and Programming Committee of the Preserve’s park advisory council and through creative programming has engaged and educated over 10,000 park visitors since the park opened last year. He adapted a ‘festival’ style general public program for the park opening celebration and a series of Family Nature Days.  He has established a highly collaborative relationship with the Chicago Park District environmental educators and has used his connections from other parts of his professional network to enhance and expand the programming at the preserve. Gary introduced us to the concept of a Nature Play Area, a place in the preserve where kids could play creatively in nature.  He led the PAC’s planning team on the concept, which was presented to the Alderman and then implemented in the preserve on an experimental basis.  The production of such an area is now a prime objective of the Chicago Park District. These are only a few of the highlights of Gary’s work over the last few years. Gary shares his passion with such enthusiasm he has developed a cadre of volunteers who are invested in working in the Preserve. To be around someone with such enthusiasm, skill, passion, and quality of Gary Morrissey is a rare honor.  He leads by example, shares everything, guides with compassion and respect, and is an invaluable part of the PAC and the community surrounding the West Ridge Nature Preserve.

Tom Murphy – Individual Volunteer Award

Tom was actually nominated in two VIP award categories, for the stewardship award and as an individual volunteer. He is well-known as the Natural Area Steward for the West Ridge Nature Preserve. In this role as a volunteer for the Chicago Park District, Tom works diligently with the District to maintain and restore the Preserve, while also managing and engaging volunteers in workdays. His stewardship has bolstered the PAC’s efforts to engage community members in family nature days and the development of clean ups and other projects at the Preserve. While organizing many family nature days, he has provided educational opportunities on such topics as fish, bugs, birds, water, trees and more! Tom volunteers a monumental amount of his time to the Preserve, but it is because of this and also his other volunteer efforts that he is an Individual Volunteer VIP awardee today. Tom is an active member of the Edgewater Environmental Sustainability Project board, has been involved in the Bowmanville Community greenspace, and even does water monitoring along Chicago’s lakeshore for local community members. His work is driven by the desire to preserve our open spaces for present and future generations. He is known for having a gentle manner of engaging and educating people, and explaining how important natural resources, sustainability and the environment are to all species of life. But mostly, he is celebrated for encouraging residents to take the time to slow down and enjoy the natural beauty around us, and then to work and protect it; to join the ongoing battle to keep our natural areas, preserves, parks and open spaces debris and invasive species free.

Angela Jackson – Outstanding Chicago Park District Employee Award

This Chicago Park District staffer is known around the community as not only a fantastic person, but also as a fabulous Park Supervisor. Her hard work has benefited Dawes Park as well as the community in so many ways that it is truly a near impossible task to convey in a short speech. She has a vested interest and commitment to the park and the area’s families and youth. She is resourceful and takes advantage of any opportunity to improve her park and offer programming, such as nature days or movies in the park, and she is working with as many partners as she can to make dreams such as new baseball fields or a new annex for the tiny, yet heavily used field house a reality. She is doing most of the work by herself; there are no other full-time staff at Dawes Park and she works tirelessly to maintain her park by walking the grounds and cleaning the bathrooms. Angela is known in the community for her cunning wit and family values, which make her a pleasure to be around and strengthen her ability to make things happen every day at Dawes Park. The area children and residents depend on and have confidence in her. They trust her to keep the youth safe because they know firsthand how much she cares about them having a safe haven. For those who know Angela, or even those who briefly meet her, it is hard to miss her love of and devotion to the park she stewards and the community serves.

Carmen Rodriguez – Outstanding Chicago Park District Employee Award

Carmen is a seasonal employee of the Chicago Park District and has been assigned to oversee Unity Park every summer for the past 10 years. This Logan Square park has no fieldhouse and no year round staff. During the summer the spray pool is running, the rest rooms are open and the park is full of children. Carmen monitors all the activity and does a big job in a small park. Keeping an eye on kids frolicking in Unity’s Park’s spray pool is the most visible part of Carmen’s job.  She knows the neighborhood children very well (and many of their parents), allowing her to prevent problems like fights and injuries in the park. She is firm but fair while enforcing the rules. She stays in close touch with her supervisor and knows when to call the police. She helped find a lost child in a hedge and followed up by asking the garden volunteers if some trimming could reduce any risks in the future.  She has been known to arrive early and stay late to finish cleaning and locking up. Carmen maintains good rapport with members of the Park Advisory Council and often attends PAC meetings and weekend events at the park on her own time. She reliably passes information from the park supervisor to the PAC and vice versa. She helps spread the word about programs in the park. Being a good listener, Carmen often knows things about the park and the people that use it which others miss. Carmen’s contributions are so much more than only monitoring the spray pool.

Tom Drebenstedt – Smoky Sakurada Friends of Friends Award

Tom is a long time volunteer with his local park advisory council at Rutherford Sayre Park. But, his volunteer efforts do not stop there. Tom’s desire to support his own park and PAC led him to Friends of the Park many years ago. After participating in networking meetings and Friends of the Parks and the Chicago Park District’s Park Advocacy Conference, he became interested in work that would impact, support and improve all park advisory councils across the city. He had an idea for a resource fair to be held during the PAC conference, so PACs could learn about other assets that could strengthen their efforts. For 4 years now, Tom has volunteered his time to organizing the resource fair. But even as the PAC conference switched hands to the Chicago Parks Foundation, Tom continued to support Friends of the Parks. Tom approached Juanita and Nicole about an idea for a Park Advisory Council leadership alliance and co-spearheaded the effort to unite PAC members across the city. He is also working with us to make sure our new website has as much information and resources as possible for other park advisory councils. Tom’s volunteer work with Friends of the Parks’ has long been appreciated by past and present staff and Board members, but his honesty, kind demeanor, flexibility, and creativity have become a presence at the Friends of the Parks office.

Jason Quaglia – Smoky Sakurada Friends of Friends Award

A community member of the Dunning Neighborhood on the city’s northwest side, Jason is just one of many unofficial stewards of the Dunning Read Conservation Area, a 23-acre wetland and forest saved from demolition by Friends of the Parks and the community in 2005, and since co-managed by Friends of the Parks with the State and other partners. Jason was one of the leaders of the newly formed Friends of Dunning Read, and organized and led over 10 volunteer workday events this year alone to tackle the invasive species problem at the conservation area. Jason worked with multiple organizations to spread the word and engage new partners in the site, like local beekeepers and elected officials.