Staffing provider brings promise of job opportunities

  • Written by Joe Boyle

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Photo by Joe Boyle

Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar cuts the ribbon for the official grand opening ceremony last week at Paramount Staffing. He is joined by (from left) Lori Hill, deputy clerk for Chicago Ridge; Barbara Harrison, village clerk for Chicago Ridge; Jude Fairbank, vice president for Paramount Staffing; and sales representatives Ryan Zastro and David Narug.

Paramount Staffing was officially welcomed into Chicago Ridge last week during a ribbon-cutting ceremony that was attended by local officials and representatives of the company.

Headquartered in Northbrook, Paramount Staffing actually opened in July at 10137 S. Harlem Ave. A staffing provider in six states, representatives of Paramount said they will bring jobs to local residents and provide much need talent to manufacturing and logistic companies in the area. Paramount Staffing moved to its present site from Summit.

“We like it here very much and it is has more space,” said Gary Cremieux, vice president of sales and marketing for Paramount Staffing. “We will be a great addition to the area. We are going to provide good jobs for hard-working people.”

That was music to the ears of Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar, who attended the ribbon-cutting.

“This is well-needed for the community,” Tokar said.

Also in attendance at the ribbon-cutting ceremony were Chicago Ridge Deputy Clerk Lori Hill and Village Clerk Barbara Harrison.

Paramount representatives said they are a leader in providing industrial staffing solutions on a permanent, temp-to-permanent, or temporary basis. Company reps said that Paramount Staffing has a history of creating job opportunities, strengthen the financial bottom lines of its clients, and help boost the local economy.

Cremieux, a graduate of St. Laurence High School, said that ideally they would like to create full-time opportunities for their clients. The goal initially is to link clients to job opportunities. Some companies may offer part-time or temporary positions. Cremieux said that Paramount can help provide jobs in those capacities with the goal being eventual full-time employment.

Jesus Lazaro, assistant branch manager at Paramount Staffing, said employees assist in attempting to get clients manufacturing and warehouse positions.

“When someone comes in, they will be advised to go to one of our kiosks and look at our website and apply for a job,” said Lazaro, gesturing to the kiosks with computers to allow clients to fill out information. “We then later call them for an interview and look into an opportunity that is a fit for them.”

Jude Fairbank, vice president for Paramount Staffing, said that the clients are thoroughly screened before the interview process takes place.

“We want the best people for these jobs,” Fairbank said. “We also have a hard-working staff that wants to assist these clients.”

While providing opportunities in manufacturing and warehouses, Lazaro also mentioned that Paramount offers on-premises staffing, skilled placements, direct hire, and a certified forklift training center.

Paramount Staffing officials also wanted to point out that they provide a worker friendly and supportive culture. Paramount Staffing was twice recognized as a “Best Company” to work for in America by Fortune Magazine and the Great Place to Work Institute.

Matt Schubert, president of Paramount Staffing, was not able to attend the ribbon-cutting, but stated in a press release that the company looks forward to serving the southwest suburbs.

“There are numerous potential partnerships with businesses, community colleges and trade schools nearby,” stated Schubert. “At Paramount, we take pride in the economic stimulation and job growth our presence brings to the various regions in which we operate. We look forward to bringing a different level of professional to the Chicago Ridge market.”

Cremieux said it was Schubert who actually created the company back in 1999, which is based on a previous enterprise he worked for dating back to the 1960s called Labor World. This is the eighth Paramount Staffing office to open in the Chicago area.

“This is really great,” said Lazaro about the new Paramount Staffing. “It fills our needs very well. We are unique and different from other staffing agencies.”

Tokar welcomes what Paramount Staffing can provide for Chicago Ridge.

“This is a very good company that can help provide jobs,” Tokar said. “That’s a good thing.”

“And I like the fact that we now have a full strip mall with no empty stores,” Tokar said with a laugh.

Paramount Staffing is open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and can be reached by calling (708) 929-4105.

Evergreen Park woman leads relief effort for Puerto Rico

  • Written by Joe Boyle

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Photo by Joe Boyle

Aailyah Gamboa (left), 15, and Marissa Fernandez, 12, check the amount of supplies that were brought in Saturday at the Mongan Dance Academy for the “Southsiders for Puerto Rico” hurricane relief effort.

Evergreen Park resident Myriam Morales was worried about her parents and other relatives after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico on Sept. 20.

She mentioned her concerns a couple of days later to Linda Kay, owner of Mongan Dance Academy, 3521 W. 95th St., Evergreen Park, where her daughter receives dance instruction. Morales said that she had to do something after not hearing from her relatives since the hurricane hit.

Kay’s response was immediate.

“I’ve done some community organizing in the past,” said Kay, a resident of Chicago’s Wrightwood community. “Myriam mentioned that she had not heard from her mother and that’s when I said we could do this. We have gotten a great response as you can see.”

Morales is grateful for Kay’s generosity. The wheels then began to quickly turn and “Southsiders for Puerto Rico” was created.

“We immediately started a website and began using social media to get the word out,” said Morales. “I was hoping that we get some sort of response and could collect some items. I didn’t know what to expect. But as soon as we opened up on Saturday, people continued to drop off supplies. It was amazing. I was blown away.”

Cars continued to stream into the Mongan Dance Academy parking lot all day Saturday. Evergreen Park residents came by to drop off toiletries, canned goods and water. Morales said people came from as far as Chicago’s North Side to provide supplies. Kay helped fold clothes that were put in boxes. Shannon Edwards, Linda’s daughter, also helped bring in supplies.

Morales also received some good news by Saturday. She had been in contact with her parents, aunt and her grandmother, Benedicta Burgos, who turned 100 years old this year. Orquidea Guzman, Morales’ aunt, care for her grandmother. They live in Toa Alta, Puerto Rico. All of her relatives are safe and coping better than most with the aftermath of the hurricane.

Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton also dropped in Saturday to see how the donations were going.

“The ladies did a great job of organizing this,” Sexton said. “We all want to help out when we can. Every little bit helps.”

Morales said the response was equally impressive on Sunday.

“I’m still tabulating how much we came up with,” said Morales. “At last count, someone donated 80 cases of water. We had 1,100 cases of water that we were packing. We had so many people who came in to volunteer. So many people responded. I got to know so many more people through this. This is what community is all about. I know they were doing collections on the North Side and thought what about the South Side? I have gotten to know so many more people and made a lot of new friends.”

Morales was born and raised on Chicago’s Northwest Side and moved to Evergreen Park about two years ago. She said so many people came to donate and see them this past weekend, including Alice Spingola, the principal at Southeast Elementary School in Evergreen Park, where her daughter, Abigail, 9, attends. Abigail’s third-grade teacher, Lori Lurquin, and the school’s building secretary, Mary Williams, also dropped in to show support. They were collecting donations at the school all week.

She said her parents, Radames and Myriam Guzman, were born and raised in Puerto Rico before coming to Chicago. Her parents reside in San German, Puerto Rico during certain times of the year. Morales said she has relatives who live all over the island.

“The last time I talked to my parents before the hurricane they told me they would be OK,” recalled Morales. “They said they went to get a lot of supplies. Then I didn’t hear from them for six days. I did not hear from grandmother or my aunt. I was worried.

“Then I was able to finally get a hold of them,” continued Morales. “They told me they had never been through anything like this. My grandmother said that she remembers this happening once before, but that was 85 years ago.”

Morales is being assisted by two women she knows – Sylk Negron, a photographer, and Ivy Linares, an event planner -- who are community organizers on the city’s North Side. They are working with Alex Talbot, of Interconex Inc., a full-service domestic and international door-to-door household goods transportation company. They planned to send the collected items by ship to a warehouse in San Juan. Morales said the hurricane created challenges because Puerto Rico is an island with much of the homes destroyed and the roads wiped out

Supplies will be provided for affected areas such as Caguas, Utuado, Bayamon and Moca. Morales said the people she is collaborating with have representatives there who have agreed to handle the distribution.

Morales, who is a wedding planner and also used to organize events, said through hard work relief will be provided.

“These goods will be getting there,” said Morales. “That’s why I feel better. People want to know where the supplies are going. I can tell them that they will be going straight to Puerto Rico.”

Whole Foods 365 to join new Plaza development

  • Written by Joe Boyle

Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton received the news Friday that he was expecting. Whole Foods Markets will continue with plans for its more economical version 365 store that will join other retail outlets at the new Evergreen Plaza development next year.

However, that bright moment was dampened somewhat by officials from Dick’s Sporting Goods, who have decided to back out of plans to open a facility at the new Plaza.

“They had something in their contract that that if Whole Foods 365 was not going to open when scheduled, they can back out,” said Sexton. “Hey, what can you do? These things happen. But (the developers) are looking at a couple of retail businesses right now and it looks like we will have something.”

Sexton was confident that when Amazon announced the purchase of Whole Foods in July that the store would still find a home in the Evergreen Park development. The only question in the mayor’s mind is would Amazon want the more upscale and pricy Whole Foods instead of its 365 store that is more economical?

The mayor was willing to accept either option. However, he preferred the 365 store that would be more acceptable to middle class shoppers.

“Their prices are more in line in what our residents can afford,” said Sexton. “I think this is a good fit for us and what I wanted all along.”

The initial fear was that Amazon would eliminate the 365 stores. But last Thursday, Mike Bashaw, the Midwest region president for Whole Foods, said they have decided to move ahead with the smaller format stores. The two companies had to wait until the merger became complete on Aug. 28 before they made a decision.

Amazon officials said they had to take their time to decide in which direction they planned to move. The future plans for Whole Foods will feature 365 stores, which will include the new Evergreen Plaza.

The only drawback was that this allowed to Dick’s Sporting Goods to drop out of the project because the opening of the Whole Foods 365 store will be delayed from the fall until 2018. The 365 store will be 30,000 square feet. It is scheduled to be flanked by Bally House and Carter’s Oshkosh.

Carson’s was the first retail business to open in the new Plaza development at 9800 S. Western Ave. in September of 2016. They have since been joined by DSW, a shoe store, and Five Below. TJ-Maxx is also joining the development. A Dressbarn will also be included in the new Plaza plans.

But Dick’s Sporting Goods would have been another anchor at the opposite end of Carson’s, which is 120,470 square feet. The Dick’s Sporting Goods site is 49,327 square feet.

But Sexton again emphasized that the Lormax Stern Development Company, out of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., that is overseeing the Plaza project, does have a couple of retailers in mind.

“We are moving along,” said Sexton.

Jeff Vorva's Extra Point -- Coach Stu is back thanks to support from the swimming community

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Joel Staszewski coaches a group of club water polo players Thursday at the Brother Rice pool. The Richards teacher and coach has gone through some serious health issues in the past 15 months. 

In the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” a community rallies around likable lead character George Bailey in his time of need.

In real life, Richards teacher and water polo/swim coach Joel Staszewski has a similar story but to hear him tell it, he had a little of the bad-guy Mr. Potter character from the classic film in him.

“I’m so passionate as a coach that my passion kind of rubs people the wrong way,’’ he said. “I’m pretty intense when I coach and we had some rivalries.’’

But in his time of need, friends, family, students, athletes, strangers and a ton of people in the swimming community and even some people he rubbed the wrong way came through for him in his time of need, donating thousands of dollars to him and his family.

“When things are nitty-gritty, you really need people,” the man known as Coach Stu said. “These people are rivals but in the big scheme of things, we’re also friends.’’

Things couldn’t have gotten much nittier or grittier for the coach.

After he had gastric bypass surgery in June, 2016, complications from a bacterial infection gave him stroke-like symptoms.

He couldn’t eat.

He couldn’t speak.

He was in a coma.

He had a temperature of 106 degrees.

Last rites were performed.

Doctors had the family come to the hospital to possibly say “goodbye” to him for the last time.

Oh, and at home his wife, wife Jill and children Emma (age 12 at the time), Timothy (4) and triplets Claire, Nora and Lillian (2) were wondering if they would ever see dad again.

To add to that, good news was still tempered with bad news. When he found out we would live, Coach Stu was told he wouldn’t walk again.

But he’s back.

He’s back in the classroom teaching at Richards and he is back to coaching as he returned poolside in June mentoring the Chicago Area Water Polo Club. He plans on coaching the Richards girls water polo team again in the spring.

Last year at this time, several people, including interim Bulldogs swim coach Cora Umaker, got together to organize all sorts of fundraisers for Coach Stu and the family. Everything from t-shirts to lemonade was sold. The North Suburban Conference swim teams such as Shepard, Argo, Evergreen Park, Reavis and others lent a hand – and money. Mother McAuley’s water polo team helped the cause.

Staszewski said that most of the money went to insurance after his insurance was dropped.

“Without their contributions, I would have never been able to keep my insurance and receive therapy,” he said. “Without that, I wouldn’t be here today. That was huge.’’

He said one of the toughest moments of the ordeal was when he was told he probably would not walk again. He said one of the best moments was when he took a few steps in December.

“I wanted to prove the doctors wrong,” he said. “I’m a stubborn Polack and when someone tells me I can’t do something, I want to prove them wrong.’’

He uses a walker and a wheelchair.

“When I’m coaching, I’ll be in the wheelchair for safety,’’ the 42-year-old coach said. “I have another year of a window to make gains. My long-term goal is to be able to walk with a cane.’’

He spent 11 months away from his Mt. Greenwood home when recovering. Emma, who is an eighth-grader at Cassell Elementary School, had to grow up and mature quickly.

“It was difficult because he wasn’t home,” she said. “It was really crazy without him being home will all the kids in the house. It’s definitely been a challenge. I had to help my mom out a lot. I fed and changed the kids.’’

“I’m proud of the way she stepped up,” Coach Stu said. “That was a huge help.’’

While he knows life will not get back to the normal life he knew before, he is trying to return to as much health as he can. The walking and some speech issues require therapy.

Whether he is more like George Bailey or Mr. Potter doesn’t matter. While he was recovering, there were so many people who said he touched their lives through his teaching and coaching and they returned the favor.

Meanwhile, the Brother Rice graduate who had a successful water polo career at the school admits there were times he was a little bitter about the hand he was dealt that June. But he is also thankful.

“I try not to feel sorry for myself,” Coach Stu said. “I am grateful I’m alive. Things were very hairy for a while. It didn’t look good. I’m glad to be back in class teaching and coaching. I feel like I am able to follow my calling.’’


Trustee Brannigan says ‘I am sorry’

  • Written by By Anthony Caciopo


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Photo by Anthony Caciopo

Sharon Brannigan of the Palos Township Board of Trustees listens to public testimony at the board’s Sept. 11 meeting.


“I am not anti-Arab. I am not anti-Muslim. I am not anti-immigrant. I apologize to anyone who felt offense at my words”

Embattled Palos Township Trustee Sharon Brannigan has broken a long public silence regarding controversy that has embroiled her for months regarding social media postings she made that many consider offensive to Muslims and other people of Middle Eastern heritage.

“I want to issue a clarification of my statement to Arabs, Muslims and people from the Middle East of our community who took offense to comments I posted on my Facebook Page,” she said this week in a statement.

“Although my comments were not intended as being anti-Arab or anti-Muslim, I acknowledge that some residents felt they were and for that I am sorry. After deep reflection, I can honestly say that my words were poorly crafted and my feelings were inadequately expressed. Racism and discrimination is not my intent and is not in my heart,” Brannigan’s statement continued.

“I apologize to anyone who felt offense from my words. I failed to properly express myself.”

Response to Brannigan’s statement was swift from the ad-hoc coalition leading the call, and exerting the pressure, for her resignation or removal from the township board.

“Palos Township Arabs and Muslims remain firm in (their) demand for Brannigan’s resignation,” said Bassem Kawar, advocacy specialist for The Campaign To TAKE ON HATE as part of his own organization’s statement.

The community coalition insists that her apology is “too little, too late.”

“We asked for this apology months ago when it became clear that Brannigan had written racist social media posts attacking the township’s Arabs and Muslims, as well as its Middle East [sic] students,” said Kawar. “She refused back then to apologize, and is only doing this now to try to salvage her political career.  We won’t accept it.”

Brannigan’s postings that have sparked the controversy include now-deleted messages in which she questioned the intentions of Middle Easterners entering the U.S., questioned the documentation status of children entering local schools, and compared First Lady Melania Trump with Muslim women who wear headscarves.

“WE AMERICAN WOMEN ARE REPRESENTED WITH DIGNITY,” she posted in upper-case letters, referring to a visit in May by the Trumps to the Middle East.

Beginning July 10, more than 100 protestors packed Palos Township headquarters, as they would for two more monthly meetings. They also held rallies in the parking lot at 10802 S. Roberts Road. Palos Hills.

The seating capacity of the meeting room is 42 and the crowd on July 10 could not be accommodated, resulting in many of those present being forced to wait in a vestibule or outside the building. The overflow situation prompted concern of fire code violation and possible violation of the Illinois Open Meetings Act.

At that meeting, Brannigan read from a prepared statement which included a partial quote of the First Amendment, her insistence that the comments she made fell under her First Amendment rights, and “My published words on this platform (Facebook) regarding the taxes are for the sole purpose of bringing awareness to the property taxpayers occurring within our township.”

The August meeting, on the 14th of the month, was held at the same location and a similar-sized crowd arrived. Moments before the scheduled start of the meeting, it was cancelled by Township Supervisor Colleen Schumann, citing the lack of accommodation.

This month’s meeting was held on the 11th, also at the same location. At that meeting, a public-address loudspeaker was installed to enable people outside the room to hear the proceedings.

Talk has occasionally surfaced about the potential viability of a mea culpa from Brannigan.

“She needs to immediately start working toward some sort of apology,” said Oliver Kolb, who attended the July 10 meeting.

“It’s what’s right. I do believe she should probably step down, but regardless, an apology is always a first step,” he said.

In this week’s response to Brannigan from The Campaign To TAKE ON HATE, organizers said “Even though Brannigan’s apology letter states that she believes the ‘issues have been distorted’, the coalition remains firm in continuing to call for her resignation as trustee.

 “She also states that she is ‘willing to meet with any Arabs or Muslims in Palos Township’ but she had every opportunity to extend her hand after the statements were discovered, and never did,” said Kawar in the statement.

“In fact, she did the opposite, insisting that she had every right to say whatever she wants. This apology now is insincere and clearly an example of political expediency, and the coalition rejects it.” 

The ad-hoc coalition leading the effort to force Brannigan to resign includes the aforementioned Campaign To TAKE ON HATE, National Network for Arab American Communities, Arab American Action Network, Arab American Family Services, Arab American Democratic Club, AMVOTE PAC, Kiswani Law, P.C., Law Offices of Reem Odeh and individual community residents and activists, according to the coalition’s organizers.

The protestors say they will be present at the next township meeting Oct. 6.