'Cinderella's Closet' helps make prom dreams come true

  • Written by Kelly White

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Photo by Kelly White

Oak Lawn residents (from left) Gloria Renteria, 14; Jocelyn Vail, 14; and Sky Hope Fuchs, 18, show off some of the prom dresses available at Cinderella’s Closet, which will be open to the public on Saturday, Jan. 27 at Oak Lawn Community High School.


Teens at Oak Lawn Community High School, and neighboring high schools, are guaranteed to feel like princesses this prom season.

Through Friday, Jan. 26, the school, in conjunction with the school’s Parent Teacher Student Association, is collecting items for “Cinderella’s Closet.” The closet is an assortment of lightly-used formal dresses, shoes, accessories, and unopened makeup that will be made available for current students in any local area high school. It is not limited to Oak Lawn students.

Donations can be dropped off in the Oak Lawn Community High School's district office during school hours from 7:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. All lightly-used dresses in any style, size, and color will be accepted. Dresses must be dry cleaned prior to drop-off.

The sixth annual event is organized by Maria Vanderwarren, OLCHS’s executive assistant to the superintendent, and Bob Brida, behavior intervention room facilitator and staff sponsor of the SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) club.

“Inspiration for me to start this was to minimize the expense of prom for less fortunate children and for them to be able to attend looking and feeling like Cinderella,” Vanderwarren said. “First, we wanted to provide an opportunity to give students an affordable option for dresses for prom and graduation. Many dresses are bought for hundreds of dollars and are not used after that. This way, parents and students can donate these dresses and they can provide joy and happiness for another student.”

“I am very proud of how Bob has stepped into his new role as SADD sponsor and for Maria's continued guidance and support for such a great cause,” said Marcus Wargin, assistant principal at Oak Lawn High School. “These staff members go above and beyond to make many of our students' prom night one to remember.”

The boutique, featuring all donated items offered at extremely low prices, will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 27 at the high school, 9400 Southwest Highway, Oak Lawn.

“We have both prom and party dresses available for purchase,” Brida said. “Dresses can be found for use for prom, homecoming, graduation, and dances as well.”

All dresses will be sold for a flat rate of $10, all shoes $2, and all unopened makeup will be selling for just $1.

Former students reported to be very grateful for Cinderella’s Closet, as prom can be very expensive, according to Vanderwarren.

The boutique will solely be run by adults, with 12 members from Oak Lawn High's SADD aiding Vanderwarren and Brida.

All proceeds will go to OLCHS's expenses for the SADD Post Prom Lake Michigan Cruise taking place this spring semester. Students will be picked up in buses after prom, taken to Navy Pier, and from there, they enjoy a cruise along the coast of Lake Michigan. Music, refreshments, and hot appetizers are provided. After several hours, the buses will take them back to the school.

Over 200 dresses and over 40 pairs of shoes were available during the 2017 event, with 40 students from various high schools attending, including OLCHS, Reavis High School, Hancock High School and Lincoln-Way high schools. A total of $250 was collected at last year’s event, and this year should be no different, according to Brida.

“By donating to Cinderella’s Closet, students benefit by helping someone in need,” Brida said. “Not only will they help a current student find the dress of their dreams, they will also help fund the post-prom cruise. It is a true act of giving.”

“I'm very passionate about this,” Vanderwarren said. “I want all girls to have memories that will last forever and prom is one of those you never forget. If I make just one girl smile and be able to attend feeling like Cinderella, then all my time and effort was well worth it.”

Large crowd gives injured Hickory Hills firefighter warm welcome home

  • Written by Joe Boyle

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Photo by Scott Stewart, Evergreen Park Fire Department

Roberts Park firefighter Clint Sanders is accompanied by his wife, Sheila, and two children after arriving at his Hickory Hills home on Jan. 10. Sanders was greeted by the Roberts Park Fire Protection District and other local firefighters after arriving home earlier than expected after suffering injuries in a house fire last month.


Firefighter Clint Sanders arrived home earlier than expected after suffering critical injuries in a fire last month.

But what was expected was the large crowd that greeted him when he arrived at his Hickory Hills residence on Jan. 10 with his wife, Sheila, and two children. The large gathering included members of his Roberts Park Fire Protection District, neighbors, reporters and TV crews.

Sanders was injured on Dec. 27 as the Roberts Park Fire Department answered the call to put out a blaze at about 10:30 a.m. in a home in the 8800 block of West Fawn Trail in Justice. Sanders, 44, was transported to Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood with smoke inhalation and burns to his hands and face, according to a hospital spokesperson.

His injuries from the blaze were critical and his lungs also suffered burns in the fire, which is still being investigated. No other firefighters were injured in the blaze. Members of the Roberts Park Fire Department kept in continuous contact with hospital officials to get updates on his condition. Hospital officials said they expected Sanders to make a full recovery.

Hospital representatives were careful in providing a timetable for when Sanders would come home. But Sanders did come home earlier than expected, walking gingerly and with his hands bandaged beyond his wrists.

"I appreciate all the people that looked out over me the last couple of weeks, including my family, my coworkers. (The) hospital staff has been amazing," Sanders said.

Roberts Park Fire Chief Jeff Ketchen has worked with Sanders for over 24 years. He said his dedication and hard work is an inspiration to the department. His arrival home provided an emotional lift for all the firefighters.

“We have been getting updates each day from his family, so we weren’t that surprised when he came home early,” Ketchen said. “But this was great to see.”

Sanders began working with the department as volunteer when he was 16 years old, Ketchen said. A fundraiser that was organized by family and friends was held Jan. 8 at the Roberts Roadhouse in Hickory Hills. The money raised from the fundraiser will assist in paying the mortgage and help with tuition for Sanders’ children. The funds will go to his wife to assist with these expenses while Sanders recovers from his injuries.

While this is a time for firefighters, friends and relatives to celebrate, Sanders will need time to recuperate. But when Ketchen was asked if he expects Sanders to return to duty, he had a quick answer.

“I do, I truly do,” Ketchen said. “He has a passion for the job. It is who he is.”

But Ketchen added that the care he received in the hospital was a key factor in his recovery.

“I can’t say enough about the care he received at the Loyola Medical Center,” Ketchen added. “It was through their hard work and care that he was able to walk out of there in two weeks.”

Roberts Park Fire Department Lt. Robert Spoo has worked with Sanders for over 10 years.

“It was great to see him coming home,” Spoo said. “We all breathed a sigh of relief. He is very dedicated. It’s been his life and what he has been doing since he was 16 years old.”

Rhett Golema, a member of the Roberts Park Fire Department who has known Sanders for over 21 years, referred to him as a “phenomenal person.” He said another fundraiser that will be organized by the firefighters will take place at a later date.

Ketchen said that a Go Fund Me page has been set up by the family. Ketchen said over $46,000 had been raised before the Roberts Roadhouse fundraiser. The goal is to come up with over $100,000.

As for Sanders, he is happy to be home. His wife and children are also pleased he is back.

“We’re overwhelmed,” said Sheila. “The support we have received has just been amazing. It is a family.”

Berrios: We are cracking down on property tax cheats

  • Written by Tim Hadac

A concerted effort to pursue property-tax cheats in Cook County has brought in almost $50 million in the last five years.

The news was announced by Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios at a Cook County Suburban Publishers luncheon held in the Loop late last week. About 40 publishers and their representatives attended.

Berrios, first elected assessor in 2010, said the Fraudulent Exemption Legislation of 2012 was written after he learned from a staff member that the assessor’s office had never done a comprehensive audit of the exemptions it grants (such as to those who live in the home they own, as well as senior citizens).

“So I said, ‘Let’s take a look at it, just to see what’s going on out there,’” Berrios added. “Lo and behold, we found that people are taking exemptions that they’re not supposed to.

“It took us two years to pass the law, but we stayed with it and fought for it,” he said, adding that the unit “doesn’t cost taxpayers any money because it is funded by the interest and the penalties we receive on this money. Then the rest of the money goes to whatever taxing bodies were affected by the erroneous exemption.

“So that’s $50 million, and we’ve only gone through about 12 percent of the county,” he continued. “Do the math, and you’ll see there’s a lot more out there. It’s a unit that saves taxpayers money. That’s money that each and every one of us pays because some people are cheating.”

Berrios said the unit “caught one guy — just one guy — [cheating the County out of] a million dollars. He would take over rental properties and then sign the leases to himself and then turn around and [sublet] those properties to someone else…and he’d take a homeowners’ exemption on each one of them. Now he’s in court, and we’re getting that money back for the taxpayers.”

On time, every time

Berrios recapped his office’s other successes, including the fact that property-tax bills have gone out on time for six consecutive years (with year seven coming up). Prior to his arrival, bills were late for 34 consecutive years—meaning that municipalities, school districts and other taxing bodies had to borrow money to cover the gaps. The absence of having to borrow has saved local taxing bodies tens of millions of dollars in recent years.

“When I began my duties as assessor, I took a look at the office I inherited and saw there were things that needed to be fixed,” Berrios recalled, saying that the typical work output at the office was far below that of the Cook County Board of Review, where Berrios had served for 22 years. “We needed to change the work mentality of the people in the [assessor’s] office…and we did. We got people to chip in, work a little harder. We got them additional training, got them to a point where they were comfortable with what they were doing, so they could do more cases and feel safe about doing them.”

The change in work ethic has yielded results across the board, he said, including on the front lines in his office.

“I had an elderly woman come up to me in the office — about a year ago — and she’s got a book this thick,” Berrios told the publishers. “So I asked her, ‘What are you doing with the book?’ She goes, ‘I used to come here in the old days. I always knew I was going to be here for two or three hours. So I figured I’d bring a book, sit in a corner and read.’ And I looked at her and I said, ‘No, you will not be here two or three hours.’

“She said, ‘Look I don’t want any special treatment.’ I said, ‘There is no special treatment. I’ll walk to where you’re supposed to go, and I’ll guarantee you’ll be out of here in 10, 15 minutes.’ I know that no one wants to wait, especially when you’re coming to a government office to fix a problem that they created.

“Sure enough, she was finished in 15 minutes — no special treatment,” Berrios added. “She stopped by my office on the way out to say thanks.”

Ready to help property owners

Berrios also encouraged all property owners to examine their assessment notices and tax bills carefully.

“When you get that notice in the mail, you should look at it,” he said. “If you think the assessment is too high, you should definitely appeal it. And we’ll help you with it.

“Our office is a service office. There are a lot of ways people can save money, including the senior citizen exemption, the homeowners’ exemption, the veterans’ exemption. If you are a disabled veteran, guess what? You save a bunch of money on your property tax bill. Some veterans can even have a ‘zero’ tax bill if they are 100 percent disabled. It’s something veterans deserve and should take advantage of.”

For more information, call (312) 443-7550 or visit

Sales rise at Worth marijuana dispensary

  • Written by Joe Boyle


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                                                       Photo by Joe Boyle

Sales have improved over the past year for medicinal marijuana prescriptions at the dispensary in Worth

While sales of medicinal marijuana has not reached overall expectations in Illinois, that can’t be said for the dispensary in Worth, where business has been doing quite well.

“The Worth dispensary is doing well and the numbers are good,” said Steven Weismann, CEO of Windy City Cannabis. “But there are many more patients that want, but are being denied access to, medical cannabis.”

Weismann has seen a rise in medicinal sales at the Worth location, 11425 S. Harlem Ave. He also has Windy City Cannabis locations in Homewood, Justice and Posen. He visits the dispensaries each week and sometimes drops in at all four facilities in a day. He is encouraged by the response he receives in Worth and the other centers.

“The people who come in there are incredibly grateful,” Weismann said. “They tell us all the time.”

Worth Mayor Mary Werner also said that sales have improved and the village has grown to accept the presence of the dispensary. This is almost a complete turnaround from a year ago when the mayor voiced concerns during a “State of the Village” address if the dispensary was going to remain open.

“Initially, it was a lengthy process and expensive to get these medications,” Werner said. “I think we have eliminated those concerns. We have seen more sales since.”

Worth is doing better than some other medical marijuana facilities. Weismann is pleased that Senate Bill 10 passed in July 2016 that extended the expiration date for the pilot program from April 2018 to July 2020. Veterans and other individuals who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are eligible for medical marijuana in Illinois. The disorder was added to the list in 2016.

Weismann’s initial worries about the pilot program was that many doctors were hesitant to suggest that patients be treated with medicinal marijuana. Doctors no longer need to recommend medicinal cannabis to patients. Instead, they can now “certify” that there is a doctor-patient relationship and that the patient suffers from a qualifying condition for medical marijuana with the passage of Senate Bill 10.

With the addition of PTSD in 2016, some ailments and diseases that Illinois law recognizes for patients who qualify for medical marijuana use with a doctor’s signature are cancer, glaucoma, HIV, hepatitis C and multiple sclerosis.

Medical marijuana is legal in 23 states and Washington, D.C. The drug still remains illegal under federal law.

While adding PTSD for medicinal treatment is a step in the right direction, Weismann said there are too many other ailments that are not being treated. The Rauner administration has rejected osteoarthritis and migraine headaches.

Werner is more optimistic about the program than a year ago when sales were slim. She helps to organize monthly meetings at the Worth Village Hall where patients provide testimonials about their health improvements through the use of medicinal marijuana.

Weismann said the facility in Worth is exceeding expectations and believes it will improve. However, he believes the Rauner administration could be more cooperative.

“There are many ailments not included in the current program that are included in other state programs,” Weismann said. “I think a great place to start would be to allow cannabis use as substitute for opioid pain medications.

“The governor has taken a very negative approach to medical cannabis, even though studies continue to show that medical cannabis is a safe and life-saving alternative to opioid pain medication,” Weismann added. “We should be encouraging and supporting anything that can help the opioid crisis in our state.”

More information can be obtained by contacting


Local mayors skeptical about GOP tax plan

  • Written by Joe Boyle

President Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers said they delivered an early Christmas present to Americans and local businesses when their tax reduction plan was approved on Dec. 20.

However, some local mayors have stated that the tax plan will have little effect on their communities -- at least in the short term.

“I think with a lot of people we will have to wait and see,” said Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett, who is also the president of the Southwest Conference of Mayors. “It is a little top heavy with tax cuts for corporations, but we will see if it will trickle down to Palos Hills or other areas. I haven’t really talked to people about this. I just don’t know about that.”

Trump has stated that the bill will provide more jobs for Americans. However, critics aren’t so sure. According to an NBC-Wall Street Journal survey, 63 percent believed the plan was designed to benefit corporations and the wealthy. Just seven percent believes the bill will help middle-class America, according to the survey.

Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar said that time will only tell.

“I hope the citizens recognize that we were able to hold the line on taxes and our tax levy,” Tokar said. “You don’t know what to believe. Are the Democrats telling the truth? Are the Republicans telling the truth? I guess we will see when we look at our paychecks later.”

Some large corporations have benefited from the tax plan. AT&T and American Airlines have offered $1,000 bonuses to their employees. Other corporations have stated that they will also offer similar bonuses to employees, including Boeing, Fifth Third Bank and Wells Fargo, according to published reports.

However, many Democrats said that a list of 32 corporations, including Home Depot, T-Mobile and Mastercard, have announced billions in stock buybacks. This means, according to Democrats, that higher dividends and executive bonuses are the likely response instead of wage increases for employees at companies that are receiving the tax reductions. No Democrats voted for the bill.

Worth Mayor Mary Werner also has her doubts but remains optimistic.

“There are literally people who say this is horrible, it will bankrupt us,” Werner said. “And there are other people who think this is great. Huge corporations are happy, from what I hear. “I’m hopeful that it encourages big business to come to our village. But I don’t know about that.”

Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury does not see the new legislation providing vast changes for her village. However, she is concerned about young couples who want to buy homes.

“It’s going to significantly affect home prices,” Bury predicts about the new law. “Oak Lawn has been solid and steady with its home value. It’s not going to impact Oak Lawn, I think, but I don’t know. We will just have to see. It’s going to impact the younger generations who want to buy a home. And I feel for them regarding health care.”

Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton said he has no idea if the new legislation will result in any changes for his village.

“I hope it has a trickle-down effect for people and they come and spend money in our village,” Sexton said. ‘But I don’t know. I guess we will have to see.”

Sexton then paused and had another thought.

“It would be nice for people to be more charitable and help out others.”