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Thornton Township Celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month

Culture is a way to bring families, communities and future generations together. In our
society today, we are so pre-occupied with school, work and family that we tend to stray from
our cultural customs. The Thornton Township Hispanic Heritage Celebration reminded the
community about the importance of culture. The event, which took place in late September as
part of Hispanic Heritage Month at the Thornton Township Senior Center in Calumet City, was
filled with cultural food, history, music and dance.

“Events like these provides different perspectives of cultures and educates the community
on the importance of it in our everyday lives,” said Bert Rivera of Lansing, co-chair of the event
and member of the township Human Relations Commission. He also mentions the importance of
understanding the history of the Hispanic culture and how it originated.

“The more we know about each other, the more we learn to love each other and that’s
what’s most important,” said Rivera. “Learning to respect and accept others for their religious
and cultural backgrounds is an important factor.

The event was a wonderful way to bring families and friends together.

“When I first heard about this event, I thought it was a great opportunity because I’m
Hispanic and it is important that my daughter understands her cultural background,” said Yahira
Isidoro from Griffin, Indiana. “There are always new ways to learn about different cultures and
even cultures that we originate from, and this event shared the true meaning of culture.”
Others mark their calendars every September for the celebration.

“I attend this event every year and similar events because it gives me the opportunity to
explore different cultures and their meaning,” said Wyonnie Woffre from South Holland, IL.
The keynote speaker was Marilu Gonzalez. She has been a District #205 teacher for more
than 11 years and received bachelor’s in education in Physical Education at Chicago State
University and masters in Educational Leadership at Concordia University. She was the head
women’s coach at South Suburban College for eight years and is an alumnus of Thornridge High
School and Coolidge Middle School.

She spoke out about her life growing up as a Hispanic in Harvey IL, and the challenges
she faced throughout her life. She mainly spoke of how important culture is and how it was an
influential factor in her life and the life of others. “Culture is viewing the way other people live,
and through sharing these stories, you wouldn’t believe how strong the impact of sharing culture
is,” she added.

The Thornton Township Hispanic Heritage Celebration was a momentous event that
taught the true meaning of culture and brought together a diverse community.

“It is important to celebrate other peoples’ cultures and history, and to understand how it
all originated gives me a different perspective on the Hispanic culture” said Patricia Patterson
from Calumet City.

18th Annual Taste Of Thornton Township

Betty Jones watched as her grandchildren and others jumped, danced and hugged some of their favorite superheroes and princesses. She could see the joy in the room full of excited children as they spent a few hours living out the south suburb version of Disney World.

“I heard about this event and I greatly appreciate it because it offers opportunities to meet new people from the neighborhood and it gives the children a chance to meet and make friends with other children their age,” said Jones. “The children could not have been happier.”

It was just another aspect of the successful 18th annual Taste of Thornton Township event which took place on a beautiful summer day at South Suburban College, 15800 State Street in South Holland. The morning began with a breakfast, where superheroes and princesses ate with the children and the parents. During this event, children participated in coloring activities, photographs, dance parties and ate breakfast with their families and fictional heroes.

Not only was there an incredible turnout, but it was an opportunity for the parents and the children to enjoy a family-friendly event that was free to the community.

“This is an event that has been a staple at Thornton Township for years and it continues to grow. We add more superheroes and princesses and more entertainment for the kids,” said Paula Counts, a Thornton Township Human Relations Commissioner who helps coordinate the event.” We heard incredible feedback and we appreciate all the kind words that families have told us about the event. They mention how very few events offered are free.”

 At the end of the breakfast, volunteers handed out backpacks to the children to start the school year off with a fresh start. Immediately preceding the breakfast was the festive Taste of Thornton Township where it was filled with local food vendors, crafts, live music and performances, free carnival rides and games, and free petting zoo amongst the free activities and amenities.  There were hundreds of people and families who joined the event and each person appreciated different aspects and qualities about it. Some came for the rides while others arrived later for the live music.

“We had an incredible turnout once again this year. This event gets bigger and better with each year,” said Frank M. Zuccarelli, Thornton Township supervisor. “These kinds of events not only provide a great service but focus on bringing the community together and creating everlasting memories.”

Riverdale Wins Third Annual Taste Of Thornton Township Basketball Tournament

The Third annual Taste of Thornton Township basketball tournament crowned the Riverdale Park District team as champions. This year the tournament was bigger in several ways. Eight teams participants in the double elimination tournament which was the largest ever. In addition, the crowd filled the South Suburban College bleachers. More than 150 people were in attendance for the tournament that combines police, firefighters, those employees and teenagers playing on the same team with the pride of their town. Riverdale Police and Fire Department came in second, while the Harvey Police Department came in third. 

“This tournament was one of the best for many reasons. The large crowd watching the early game really elevated the enthusiasm and energy in the building,” said Ernst Lamothe Jr., township communication manager Typically, communities have police officers and kids playing against each other in a basketball tournament; however, Thornton Township officials, decided the alternative made more sense.

“The way you make a community stronger is working together, loving each other, and knowing each other,” said Frank M. Zuccarelli, Thornton Township supervisor. “We shouldn’t have kids and police officers on opposite teams. We should have them side by side helping lift each other up. This is something we are going to do every year, and it is going to be bigger and better.”

Riverdale Park District lost the first game of the double-elimination tournament and then ran the table and won five consecutive games to win the championship.

“We are so thankful that the township organizes programs like this,” said Kendall Parrott, executive director of the Riverdale Park District. “You were impressed on how coordinated and high-level this tournament was. We plan to be part of it for years to come and hopefully repeat as champions next year.”

The five-on-five basketball tournament, which was held at South Suburban College, is an example of many Thornton Township’s programs that focus on police officers and teenagers learning more about each other.

“You could immediately see that the basketball tournament really brought the officers and teenagers together. They huddled with each other, and encouraged and supported one another throughout the day,” said Lamothe Jr. “We saw police officers, firefighters and village employees putting their arms around teenagers and just sitting down and having good conversations, laughing together and having a great time.”

“We pride ourselves on creating new and exciting programs they both entertain and bring together our residents. This basketball tournament is just another example of that,” added Jerry Jones, Thornton Township board member.

Thornton Township Will Offer STEM and STEAM Programs To Students & Families

Thornton Township Will Offer STEM and STEAM Programs To Students & Families

South Holland, IL – Frank M. Zuccarelli, Supervisor, and Thornton Township Board of Trustees will sponsor STEM/STEAM Programs in Thornton Township. According to Wikipedia, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) is a program designed to group together these academic disciplines. STEM is typically used when addressing education policy and curriculum choices in schools to improve competitiveness in science and technology development. It has implications for workforce development, national security concerns and immigration policy.

According to NPJ Science of Learning, STEAM represents STEM plus the arts – humanities, language arts, dance, drama, music, visual arts, design and new media. For educators, there is now a greater need for (STEM) concepts to integrate with the arts (STEAM) across the wider curriculum. This is because business and industry broadcast that future-ready employees need to have multiple areas of expertise or at least appreciate how a range of skills fit together.

Thornton Township is the largest township in the State of Illinois and will seek to implement programs to target minority students.

Dr. Jerry Weems, head of the STEM/STEAM programs and Thornton Township’s Director of Youth & Family Services said, “Through our innovative STEM/STEAM [grant] proposal, Thornton Township proposes to serve all 17 cities and towns that constitute Thornton Township. Those municipalities include: South Holland, Calumet City, Harvey, Riverdale, Dolton, Phoenix, Blue Island, Lansing, Hazel Crest, East Hazel

Crest, Glenwood, Thornton, Dixmoor, Burnham, Homewood, Markham, Posen and others.”

“Our principal objectives are to foster a learning environment throughout the educational school year and summer months that focuses on enriching the lives of our student participants and their families culturally, socially, scholastically, and physically by offering structured, creative, active, and integrative programming that strategically embeds heart-centered, community-based STEM/STEAM philosophies and curriculum throughout its design,” stated Weems.

The main difference between STEM and STEAM is STEM explicitly focuses on scientific concepts. STEAM investigates the same concepts, but does this through inquiry and problem-based learning methods used in the creative process.

NPJ Science of Learning also states that STEAM education in schools provides students with the opportunity to learn creatively, using 21st century skills such as problem solving. These general capabilities are crucial to growing a future-ready workforce that understands the potential of “what if” when solving problems that occur in real life.

This education also points in the direction of 22nd century skills – connection, care, community and culture.

Weems continues to say, “Our target population is primarily lower and working class African-American, Latino, and White students (boys and girls) from pre-K through high school. The program endeavors to work with over 300 students, their caregivers (approximately 450), approximately 100 youth and adult staff and 50 volunteers. So, we anticipate working with a total of 900 individuals throughout the administration of this grant.”

Thornton Township will sponsor the 2019 Free Summer Camp Program emphasizing STEM. The program will be headed up by India Blakely, Program Developer. According to Ms. Blakely, “This year’s Summer STEM Program (also known as Summer Enrichment Program) has extended in several ways. First, we have expanded our partnerships to include Law & Civics Reading & Writing Institute, 29th District Representative Thaddeus Jones, Illinois Math & Science Academy, Jones Foundation, and South Suburban College. These new partnerships have allowed us to expand our STEM curriculum and capacity. My role as a Program Developer, gives me the opportunity to bring the pieces together to offer high quality programming to Thornton Township residents ages 7 – 13. Not only has our partner base extended, but our core planning and developing team bring knowledge and experience to significantly help the wonderful residents of Thornton Township grow. Our instruction and activities in STEM and other areas of knowledge, are powerful tools.”

According to Thornton Township’s flyer the 2019 Free Summer Camp Program:
June 10 – August 1, 2019
[Mondays – Thursdays], 9AM – 3PM, Ages 7-13 years old;
[Fridays – Saturdays], 9AM – 3PM, All Ages (Early childhood, Youth, Adults, and Seniors).

You must live in Thornton Township.

For Registration:
Parent/Legal Guardian & Youth must be present
Bring Valid State ID/Driver’s License showing Thornton Township address Bring Utility Bill that matches above ID
Bring most recent Report Card, Progress Report, and School Physical

For More Information regarding Summer STEM Program: Contact Ms. India Blakely at 708/596-6040, Ext. 2015.

Women Of Honor Luncheon

Women’s History Month. Frank M. Zuccarelli, Supervisor and Thornton Township Human Relations Commission celebrated Women’s History Month by hosting the 11th Annual Women of Honor Brunch.

The Women of Honor Brunch recognized four women for their contributions to society. The 2019 Honorees are Stacey E. Baca, Darlene Gray Everett, Johnnie M. Lane, and Debra Shore.

“Women’s history month is very important to us because I think we have some incredible women in the area who are doing great work for the love of the work. We want to recognize their achievements,” said Frank M. Zuccarelli, Thornton Township Supervisor. Thornton Township Senior Trustee Joyce M. Washington and Event Chairperson believes it is important to celebrate the contributions of women in our society, and this very important event highlights the contributions of these women in our communities.

Black History Month 2019

With a focus on celebrating the current history of Black excellence Thornton Township held its annual Black History Month event. Taking place at its Youth and Family Service Department in Riverdale, the program featured Melody Winston, vice president of Golden Eagle Aviation. a fixed base operation (FBO) that specializes in jet charters, jet maintenance and fuel services. In 2012, her and a colleague, co-founded Legacy Flight Academy, an annual aviation summer camp for teens interested in aviation, as a way to give back. The Legacy Flight Academy is located in Tuskegee, Alabama.

Aside from her personal involvement and professional responsibilities in the aviation industry, Melody is a seasoned commercial real estate investor. Her latest accomplishment with the Forest Park Plaza is a deal that she played a vital role in brokering to secure a new alternative independent grocery concept, named Living Fresh Market. She began her career serving as a realtor for one of Chicago’s most prestigious realty companies. “She is intelligent, innovative, entrepreneurial, game-changing influencer. She has the motivation and energy to inspire generations- young and old,” said Dr. J.L. Weems, director of the youth and family services department.

In previous years, Thornton Township has featured internationally-known civil right activists and author Dick Gregory and last year rented out two showing in the Lansing theater of Black Panther, the highest grossest North American film in 2018. This year’s also entertainment includes the Najwaa Dance Group, an African dance Entertainment and students from District #205 performing songs and spoken words.

The event was catered by local Lansing restaurant Ooo Wee Chicken & Ribs, 18155 Roy St. There was also a five-minute video presentation on current local and national figures who are making an impact today. “This year we focused on the incredible people who are changing our world right now,” said Ernst Lamothe Jr., communication manager for Thornton Township. “There are so many wonderful people who are currently doing great things for our community now we thought it was important to honor them.”

MLK Event

Thornton Township and community partners Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority (Theta Rho Omega Chapter) and School District 205 assembled at South Suburban Colleges’ Kindig Performing Arts Center to celebrate the life and achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., an influential American civil rights leader. His memory was celebrated by the smooth jazz sounds of the Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School Jazz Band and School District 205 student whom participated in the festivities by sharing their creative appreciation for such an import figure in our nation’s history.

Poets and praise dancers from Thornwood High School performed selections on stage like “Still I Rise” and “The Hate You Give”. The celebration demonstrated the excellence of Thornton Townships youth, arts community, and musicians. We were proud to have our student organizations be a part of it. One audience member, Colby Chapman, a woman looking to make history by becoming the first black, female Alderman of the 2nd ward in the city of Harvey, IL, said “My experience was phenomenal, the performances were amazing, especially the youth, who creatively expressed themselves. It was beautiful to look across the crown to behold a sea of diversity and all those who embody the vision and mission of Dr. King,” Chapman says that she heard about the event via social media and the Thornton Township newsletter.

The keynote speaker, Rev. Dr. Ozzie Smith Jr., the Senior Pastor at Covenant Community Church of Christ serenaded the audience with a melodic selection on the clarinet before delivering a motivational and impactful message to the youth and other attendees at the celebration of life. The majority of the youth in attendance belonged to the Chicagoland chapter of, Top Teens of America, an organization that helps mold our future leaders by offering career and character development training. These youth look to make a difference in the communities in which the live by volunteering.

A parent of one of the future leaders and a resident of Thornton Township, Kiaundra Pope says “I heard so many powerful words of encouragement and it motivated me to further my dreams. It reminded me that it is never too late to accomplish your goals no matter the obstacles or circumstances.” This event showed us that Martin Luther King Jr. Day, is not just a day off, but a day to reflect. Dr. King is most well-known for his campaigns to end racial segregation on public transport and fighting to for racial equality in the United States. He was an advocate of non-violent protest and became the youngest man to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 before he was assassinated in 1968. This event showed us that Dr. Kings’ dream is still alive and being survived by the children in our community that celebrate his life and vision through art, speech and music.

Township Wins Four Statewide Awards

For the third straight year, Thornton Township took home hardware at the annual Township Officials of Illinois Conference in Springfield. Thornton Township, the largest township in Illinois, received four awards ranging from its communication department to its general assistance programs. The honors included best Township Social Media, best Township Communication Messenger of the Year awarded to Communication Manager Ernst Lamothe Jr, best General Assistance Caseworker of the Year awarded to Lakeela Jennings and most innovative General Assistance program.

“We are very proud of the hard work our staff does to provide the highest quality of service to our community,” said Frank M. Zuccarelli, Thornton Township supervisor. “Our motto is people working with people and we truly believe that township government is at the ground floor of providing the necessary programs that communities need. We are honored and humbled by this award and that the Township of Illinois recognizes the hard work we have put in this year to help our local residents.”

The township provides general assistance program offering financial relief for qualified residents. In addition, the township registers voters, helps with homeowners and senior citizen homestead exemption and helps with food, gas and energy bill relief.

“I work with a lot of incredible people that helped me get to where I am. I am just so thankful to work for a great township,” said Jennings.

In addition, the Thornton Township Communication department has received four awards in the past two years. Winning best township government social media back to back years, as well as 2017 best township government Website and best communication department this year.

“What we do at Thornton Township is very special. Our goal is always to serve as many people as possible and get the word out about all our great programs,” said Lamothe Jr. “It is a wonderful feeling that the township officials of Illinois recognized our continuous hard work.”

Thornton Township is made up of all or part of 17 south suburban communities. They are a three-time winner of Township of the Year in 2004, 2008 and 2016. The township also has a robust youth and adult program that features free family counseling and after school tutoring and programs in Dolton, Harvey and Riverdale.

“We understand the importance of working together for a common goal,” added Zuccarelli. “We are here to serve the people and make sure that we build each other up and we build our communities up. We are able to accomplish this because we have a strong board of trustees who care about the community and a strong management team in all areas working to make sure we provide the best services possible.”

Conscious And Unconscious Bias Event

By Ernst Lamothe Jr.
In a room filled with community members, students and legislators, Thornton Township was the site of two acclimated speakers who talked to the crowd about unconscious and conscious bias. Presented by the township Human Relations Commission, the event held at South Suburban College featured Dr. James Lawrence and Jane Elliot, who is most known for her groundbreaking “Blue eyes-Brown eyes” experiment. More than 320 people came to the event.

“We decided to bring Jane Elliot to Thornton Township because she is a dynamic woman who brings an interesting perspective but people need to hear,” said Dr. Jerry Weems, director of youth and family services at Thornton Township. “The community has responded well to us bringing global speakers like Jane and Dick Gregory.”
A former third grade teacher, Elliot has spent most of her life as an anti-racism activist and educator.

“If you want to be a racist, you go and be a racist. But if you bring it to me, you will learn very very shortly that your problem is ignorance,” said Elliot. “It is not skin color but your ignorance about skin color and I will not tolerate it.”

She is known for her “Blue eyes–Brown eyes” exercise she conducted with her class the day after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. She divided the class based on eye color and had the blue-eyed children as the superior group. Elliott provided brown fabric collars and asked the blue-eyed students to wrap them around the necks of their brown-eyed peers as a method to easily identify the minority group. She gave the blue-eyed children extra privileges, such as second helpings at lunch, access to the new jungle gym, and five extra minutes at recess. The blue-eyed children sat in the front of the classroom, and the brown-eyed children were sent to sit in the back rows. The blue-eyed children were encouraged to play only with other blue-eyed children and to ignore those with brown eyes. Elliott would not allow brown-eyed and blue-eyed children to drink from the same water fountain and often chastised the brown-eyed students when they did not follow the exercise’s rules or made mistakes. The following week, she reversed the exercise, making the brown-eyed children superior.

“It is important to have these open conversations about conscious and unconscious bias. We can’t shy away from these important discussions because that’s how we can grow as a nation and grow individually,” said Ernst Lamothe Jr., communication manager at Thornton Township/

Before Elliot spoke, Dr. James, a Chicago-based clinical psychologist, also talked about conscious and unconscious bias.

“When we do unconscious bias corporate training, we talk about this awareness piece and that is one step,” said James., “It is just one step where people are made aware that they are kind of bias and can be kind of racist. But then we expect them after one day that they are going to change their lives and do something new and that is not the case. This has to be more than simply a one day conversation.”

Taste of Thornton Township

Moving to South Suburban College for the first time, the Taste of Thornton Township saw larger crowds that filled the expansive campus full of games, rides and live entertainment. Thornton Township Supervisor Frank M. Zuccarelli looked over the crowd and shouted; 

“We’re having a great time today at the Taste,” he added. “The Taste is one of our largest events and brings people throughout Thornton Township in one place to enjoy great live music, food and family entertainment.”

The almost 90 degree day did not temper excitement for the 17th annual event. This year’s Taste featured free activities for the kids ranging from face painting, carnival rides, and games to back to school haircuts, and book bags with school supplies. The event also had a petting zoo, a large assortment of food and craft vendors, live music from several bands and a classic car show. 

“This year’s Taste was better than last year. More people came out this year than last year,” said Tui M. Muse, Taste chairman and Human Relations Commissioner. The car show was excellent. It was amazing. The food was great and lots of variety. Entertainment was fantastic.”
Several live bands entertained the crowd including a cameo appearance by Trysh Granberry, “America’s Got Talent” contestant, a Dolton resident and Thornton Township General Assistance employee.

Michael Jackson, James Brown, and Tina Turner impersonators dazzled the crowd,” said Joyce Washington, Thornton Township trustee. Washington. “The Seniors enjoyed themselves at the bingo tables. This event is for the community to come together and enjoy food, entertainment, family and friends. We appreciate our great community. ”
People from all over Thornton Township and areas as far as Chicago and Indiana were there. Mayors, elected officials throughout the area were in attendance. 

“South Suburban College being our new venue this year was incredible. We were able to expand like never before,” said Ernst Lamothe Jr., Thornton Township Community Relations Manager.

The packed weekend also featured the second annual Taste of Thornton Township Basketball Tournament. The tournament involved teens and police playing on the same team for the pride of their town. This year, the Town of Markham defeated the Village of Dolton. Defending champion Lansing had to relinquish its title. Police Chief Dennis Murrin Jr. was in attendance with other officers and believed the program was an essential community initiative.

“It was a great atmosphere seeing the teenagers and police officers working together,” said Murrin. “This was something that we definitely want to be apart of each year.”

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