Stories about nonprofit and community organizations that are working to improve the neighborhood and help others.

On the Spot 

By Claire O’ Malley 

Steve English, co-owner of the Blossom Boys on 103rd street, and therapist Patricia Ahern have started a new art and writing group called the Rainbow Youth Connections. Rainbow Youth Connections is a group for LGBTQ teens, but all are welcome.  

The first meeting was on Tues., Aug. 6. My mom and I drove over to the flower shop not knowing what to expect: Would any other kids even show up, would the other kids and people be nice and, most importantly, would there be good snacks.  

It turns out that the answer to all of these questions was YES! There were about 10 other teenagers who showed up for the first meeting, Steve and Patricia, the group leaders, were very welcoming and nice, and the snacks were delicious.  

Everyone was a little nervous at first, so we did some activities to get to know each other. We went around the group, shared our names and our preferred pronouns, and where we were from. There were teenagers in the groups from as far away as Tinley Park and Evanston! After we warmed up a little bit and were more comfortable, we took a snack break.  For the rest of the first meeting, we drew and wrote and talked about whatever was on our minds.  

We met again in August. Food was provided by Fat Tommy’s and we painted, drew or wrote. I think it is really great to have a group like this in the Beverly/Morgan Park neighborhood, where kids can be comfortable with who they are and explore their creativity. Rainbow Youth Connections will meet every other Tuesday at Blossom Boys, 1810 W. 103rd StOur next meeting is Sept. 3.  

(The Villager’s teen correspondent, Claire O’Malley is an 8th grader in the Academic Center at Lindblom Math and Science Academy. Her interests include art and theatre, and she has been a student at Second City for several years.)  


Midnight Circus Back at Ridge Park

By Kristin Boza  

Secure your spot under the little big top when Midnight Circus in the Parks returns to Ridge Park, 9625 S. Longwood Dr., on Sat., Sept. 28 and Sun., Sept. 29 with shows at 2 and 5 p.m. both days. 

Midnight Circus in the Parks brings together incredibly talented artists and performers from all over the globe to perform 90-minute circus shows right in the heart of a community. Aside from entertaining, the organization’s purpose is to raise money that goes right back into the parks to improve them for everyone in the community. To date, $960,000 has been raised to support the parks in various Chicago neighborhoods. 

“We are thrilled to have the Circus come back to Ridge Park this year,” said Mary Jo Viero, Ridge Park Advisory Council (RPAC) President. “The performers are world-class, and the best part is that you are so close to them in the tent. You also don’t have to go downtown to see such a quality show; it’s right here in your own backyard!” 

Only nine parks are chosen to host Midnight Circus in the Parks each year; all proceeds from the local event go directly back to Ridge Park. “It’s been a really great program and we’re so lucky to get it at Ridge. It is a really big deal to get the Circus to perform at a park. The RPAC works to advocate for capital improvements at Ridge Park, and we also raise money for the park’s needs, like shower curtains, microphones, new paint, and the newly installed water bottle filling station,” Viero said. 

Tickets are $20 for kids (ages 2-16) and seniors, and $25 for adults. Children under two are free, as long as they sit on an adult’s lap. Consider organizing a group — the Circus has been a destination for birthday parties, scout troops, and other large gatherings in past years. Tickets are available at To volunteer, contact Mary Jo Viero at 


Third times the charm!

By Talie Leeb 

It may be an old saying, and a trite one at that, but for Ayanna McClain, an 8th grader at Christ the King School, the third time really was the charm.  

Ayanna, an outside hitter for both Christ the King and Chicago Elite’s club volleyball team, had dreamed about attending the Girls Future Select camp for years, ever since a teammate told her about the program, but it seemed like it wasn’t to be.  The first year she tried out she was cut during tryouts, and then when she did earn a spot the second year she wasn’t able to attend after scheduling conflicts arose.  But this year, she finally made it, and Ayanna was on her way to Nashville.  

The Girls Future Select program is an elite training program for young volleyball players across the country, an offshoot of USA Volleyball.  Each summer thousands of girls tryout for the chance to participate in the five day camp that bills itself as an opportunity to advance in the US National Team pipeline.  

For Ayanna, the high level of play and competition was new but, “it was comforting, took my mind off the fact that I was being evaluated, she said. 

At camp Ayanna and the other players followed a strict routine: warmups and drilling skills like passing, hitting, blocking and serving in the morning, a break for lunch, then classes on motivation and nutrition, followed by more drills and scrimmages.  

“I wasn’t used to that level of competition, but it was good competition” Ayanna said.  “Physically, knowing that I just played against girls from all over the country was huge, skillwise I improved, but also I figured it really helped mentally.”  For Ayanna, that mental aspect was the biggest part of improving her game.  

As she is starting the new school year and a new season of volleyball, Ayanna said that everything about camp — the intense drilling, the atmosphere, the new friends — was exactly what she needed to up her game, and that she can’t wait to go back next summer. 

A New Direction Looks to Annual Benefit to Fund Growth 

A New Direction Beverly Morgan Park (AND), the community’s only domestic violence agency, will host its 2019 fundraiser Sat.Oct. 267 to 10 p.m., at Ridge Country Club, 10522 S. California.  Musical entertainmentopen bar and hors d’oeuvres highlight this annual event, along with a grand raffle and silent and live auctions.  The benefit is AND’s largest annual fundraiser and, traditionally, all proceeds help the agency sustain AND’s programs and services, including Legal Advocacy, Education and Counseling, Children’s Therapy and Teen Outreach Program.  

We are counting on this year’s benefit to generate sufficient revenue so we can help more survivors and their families by doing more than simply sustaining our current programs and services.  In 2018, the proceeds from this benefit represented 100 percent of our operating budget. While AND has earned financial support from grants, we are proud to say the community we serve is our primary source of funding. Now it’s time to build on our successes and grow as an organization.  With continued support from our community, we are confident that we can do this,” said Jessica McCarihan, AND board president. 

McCarihan and other board members are moving forward with their strategic planning process to determine new ways for AND to build awareness throughout the community and to offer life-altering guidance and support to victims of domestic abuse. Thboard and staff will participate in a retreat and develop a comprehensive plan for the next three years. McCarihan said AND is working with Executive Service Corp (ESC) to outline the plan by December.  The plan will include new goals and objectives which will improve board governance, strengthen the agency’s organizational processes and structure, and expand programs and services.  

To support the 2019 benefit, individuals and businesses can underwrite a variety of facets of the popular event.  Sponsorships range from $500 to $5,000.  AND also welcomes items for live and silent auctions.  For more informationcontact Monica Carey,, or  McCarihan,  Event tickets are $75 and can be reserved beginning Sept. 1.   

The not-for-profit AND was founded in 2011 and provides legal advocacy, adult counseling services and a children’s therapy program. The AND mission is “to provide counseling, education, support, and advocacy to individuals and families affected by domestic violence.” Learn more at 


Hike, Picnic, Climb, Play at Dan Ryan Woods  

Dan Ryan Woods has been a popular location for family gatherings and a place to connect to nature for generations. More than $3.5 million has been invested in new amenities at the site in the past six years  

“There is a lot of history here. For more than 100 years, Dan Ryan Woods has been a forest preserve. Our administration has worked with many partners on a Master Plan to reimagine Dan Ryan Woods and write a new chapter,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said. The 267-acre Dan Ryan Woods is among nearly 70,000 acres of the Forest Preserves Cook County.  

Since 2013, Dan Ryan Woods, a signature Gateway Site for the Forest Preserves of Cook County, has renovated and reopened the historic Dan Ryan Pavilion to the public as a venue for indoor special events; transformed a former maintenance building into the new Dan Ryan Visitors Center where local residents can purchase picnic permits; repaired limestone aqueducts south of 87th Street that were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s; and added walking paths and new signs to tell the history of this special place and to help visitors more easily find their way around.  

The most recent additions are popular new exercise stairs near the sledding hill and a multi-faceted nature play area, where children of all ages can make thunder or make music, climb the netting, lounge in a leaning hammock, or look out over the landscape in the Treehouse. Young people in the Forest Preserves’ Youth Outdoor Ambassadors program have developed new nature play programming for kids based in adventure, creativity and citizen science.  

Dan Ryan Woods includes open woodlands and native grasses and wildflowers, and is one Cook County’s popular forest preserves. 


Open House Chicago Architecture Tour Returns to Beverly/Morgan Park  

On the weekend of Oct/ 19 and 20, more than 250 of Chicago’s most intriguing buildings will open their doors for the Chicago Architecture Center’s annual Open House Chicago tour. Following a fabulously popular debut on last year’s tourOpen House Chicago will return to Beverly/Morgan Park with even more iconic sites for behind-the-scenes visits.  

One of the world’s largest architecture festivals, Open House Chicago is a free, two-day public event with most sites open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days.  The event offers the rare opportunity to discover hidden gems in architecturally significant buildings all across the city. 

The Beverly Area Planning Association and 19th Ward office work as Open House Chicago community partners to identify Beverly/Morgan Park locations for the event.  

“We are thrilled that people from all over Chicagoland will have a chance to get an inside look at the diverse architecture and historic buildings that make Beverly/Morgan Park so amazing,” said BAPA Executive Director Susan Flood. “Being on Open House Chicago’s map last brought about 3,000 visitors to our neighborhood. We are expecting even more people to arrive here this year.”  

Sites selected for this year’s Open House Chicago will be announced in mid-September.    

Roy DIblik Garden of Living Art to Be Dedicated at BAC 

When Roy Diblik spoke at a meeting of the Garden Club of Morgan Park/ Beverly Hills in spring, the Baffes Theatre at the Beverly Arts Center was teeming with people eager to hear what he had to say. Diblik wrote the book on perennial gardening, and avid gardeners throughout Chicagoland know him for that book  “The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden” — as well as for his work planning and planting some of the city’s most beautiful gardens. Diblik is the plantsman for the Lurie Garden at Millennium Park, and the gardens at Shedd Aquarium and the Art Institute of Chicago. 

Now, at the invitation of the Garden Club, the plant expert has designed and helped to plant the Roy Diblik Garden of Living Art at the Beverly Arts Center. The garden will be dedicated Wed., Sept. 18, 10 a.m., in the BAC courtyard, 2407 W. 111th St. Diblik will attend the dedication.  

“We were astonished when he accepted [the club’s speaking invitation] and he was astonished with our turn out to hear him speak,” said Barbara Gyarmathy of the Garden Club of Morgan Park/Beverly Hills. “He was so taken by the warmth and enthusiasm . . . he offered to design and help us plant the new garden that is now at the BAC.  It is beyond imaging that someone of his caliber would do this!” 

Diblik returned to the BAC in early August to work alongside members of the garden club to plant the garden that he designed around the core ideal of sustainability.  

“We planted everything based on Roy Diblik’s advice, making sure that the garden has four-season interest,’” Gyarmathy said. “We will be planting something new every season and maintaining the garden throughout the year.”  

The garden was designed using all perennials and native plants that were selected for sustainability in an urban setting as well as for their beauty beauty. BAC patrons will enjoy watching this garden grow! The plants are all relatively mature, about three years old, and include hydrangeas, alliums, echinacea, salvia and sesleria, a perennial grass. 

With 35 years of knowledge growing traditional and Midwest native perennials, Diblik specializes in visually appealing and sustainable gardens that are easy to maintain and provide interest during all seasons. He is a partner in Northwind Perennial Farm, Burlington, Wisc., and according to his bio on the website, “believes that gardens should be thoughtful, ecologically directed emotionally outreaching and yet very personal.”  

The Garden Club of Morgan Park-Beverly Hills was established in 1926 as a way for community members to share a passion for gardening. Over their club history, members have helped to establish many community gardens and develop a love of planting and nature among area gardenersClub volunteers have tended Beverly Arts Center gardens as part of the BAC’s ground beautification initiative since 2012. 


Y-Me Softball Tournament Celebrates 25 Years 

By Kristin Boza 

The Ginger Rugai Y-Me Softball Tournament returns to St. Christina Fields/Mount Greenwood Park, 3724 W. 111th St., for the 25th straight year on Sat., Aug. 24. This annual event raises tens of thousands of dollars in a single year that is gifted directly to a University of Chicago breast cancer researcher, Dr. Kay Macleod. This is one of the most collaborative neighborhood events, and honors the 19th Ward’s former alderman, Ginger Rugai, and the struggle of every breast cancer survivor, their families, and those who have lost their lives to the devasting disease.  

Dr. MacLoed’s U of C research lab works on how the metabolism of cell organelles that break down nutrients is linked to the spread of breast cancer with the aim of finding a way to block cancer from advancing. Funds from last year’s Y-Me Softball tournament paid for a centrifuge, a piece of equipment that’s essential to MacLeod’s research.  

The softball tournament is the brainchild of Kathy O’Shea, a former Rugai staffer and owner of Schools R Us in Mount Greenwood. O’Shea had the idea to honor Rugai’s battle with breast cancer; Rugai is now a 30-year survivor.  

“We had eight teams that first year,” Rugai said.  “I can’t recall how much we raised, but it was a great day and a lot of fun. The next year, we had 16 teams, and now we’ve grown to 64It’s unbelievable. We operate on a very lean budget; only t-shirts, insurance and sanitation are paid for by us — everything else is donated by the great local businesses. We offer food and water and pop to the players; and even the little things like golf carts to get the food to the players on various fields are donated to us by the Ag School and Marist High School. It’s those kinds of little things that make it all work.” 

Despite the fun, the day has a lot of ups and downs for the players and their families. “It’s wonderful to hear the success stories of people who are doing well, but it’s also so sad to hear about the diagnosis of a player or someone’s relative,” Rugai said. “The great thing is to see the families of survivors on the sidelines during our ceremony with tears in their eyes and joy in their hearts. They’ve all fought with their faith and tenacity. It’s also great to see the generosity of the women who play who are just there to support the cause and compete and have fun.” 

Local businesses have been in on the action since the start. This year, Open Outcry brewed a special beer, and the proceeds support breast cancer research, and countless other small businesses have donated money or goods.  

“It is always awesome to see a small business donate to the cause. It means so much and we’re lucky to have so many local supporters,” Rugai said. Another new addition to the event this year is local business associations that are encouraging their members to participate in the Shining a Pink Light on Breast Cancer initiative. The 95th Street Business Association, the Morgan Park Beverly Hills Business Association, and the Mount Greenwood Community and Business Association are all taking part. 

“We can celebrate all the advancements and treatments, but we still can’t celebrate a cure,” Rugai said. “That’s why we’re still moving along to raise money to get that cure.” 

To sign up or donate, go to 

Visit Local Parks 

Don’t miss the great stuff happening in parks all around Beverly/Morgan Park. 


Ridge Park 

Ridge Park Cultural Center9625 S. Longwood Dr., is the 4th busiest park in the Chicago Park District. With a full schedule of programmingplus the pool, tennis courts, woodshop, fitness center, Vanderpoel Art Gallery and athletic events, it’s easy to see why the park is a favorite destination.  

Coming up on Tues., Aug. 6, 6:30 p.m., is a free, one hour session of Yoga for first responders and their families.  

On Sat., Aug. 10, 6:30 p.m., Chicago Shakespeare in the Parks will present “The Comedy of Errors,” a family-friendly adaptation of William Shakespeare’s delightful story of lost twins, mistaken identity, and one confusing day in Ephesus. Bring a lawn chair or blanket, pack a picnic basket and meet friends and family for this annual theater-on-the-lawn experience.  

The Ridge Park Advisory Council (RPAC), an all-volunteer group of neighborhood residents, advocates for the park on issues from fieldhouse improvements to programs. The RPAC recently donated new tools to the woodshop, and committed to providing the volunteer-power needed for the return of the Midnight Circus in the Parks, Sept. 28 and 29, with shows at 2 and 5 p.m. both daysTickets are already on sale at 


Summer Activities 

Rolling Rec, the mobile activity operation, invites families to enjoy extra fun at local parks. Look for the Rolling Rec van at Crescent Park, 2200 W. 108th Pl., Aug. 2, 7 and 9, 4 to 5:30 p.m., and at Barnard Park, 10431 S. Longwood Dr., Aug. 1, 6 and 8, 12 to 1:30 p.m.  

Beat the heat at local parks this month! Kennedy Park, 113th and Western has an outdoor pool (sign up for passes at the Chicago Park District website), as well as tennis courts and a playground.  

Beverly Park, 2460 W. 102nd St., has a spray pool and volleyball court.  

Munroe Park, 2617 W. 105thSt., has a spray pool and sand volleyball 

Graver Park, 1518 W. 102nd Pl., has a water play area, handicapped accessible playground, and woodshop.  

Commander Wiser Takes the Helm at the 22nd District Police Station 


Making deep, positive connections with the community is Commander Richard Wiser’s goal as the new commander of the Chicago Police Department’s 22nd District. Wiser has been with the CPD for 29 years, in the Bureau of Patrol for 17 years and the Bureau of Detectives for 12, working in both property and violent crimes.  

“My last two years, I led a team of detectives that conducted investigations city-wide; it was a pleasure working with such professional, skilled, and devoted sergeants and detectives. They should be very proud of the work they continue to do,” Wiser said. 

Wiser is pleased with his team at the 22nd District and aims to build upon the great work they have done in the past. He seeks to encourage more personal engagement with the community. 

“I have always believed that the police are part of the community. These officers are great people and engaging with the public can only improve relationships,” he said. “When conditions permit, I encourage foot patrol by our beat officers; I think we lose our connection to people by driving around in cars all day. Today’s world is becoming too dependent on technology and is losing the personal connection between people.” 

Although he hopes for more face-to-face interactions, Wiser recognizes the important role social media plays in sharing information. The District plans to utilize Facebook and Twitter to alert the community of any information they need to be aware of. 

As a Mount Greenwood resident for the last 30 years, and Beverly/Morgan Park before thatWiser is well in-tune with the needs of Beverly/Morgan Park and Mount Greenwood 

“These communities have always been very strong; the people actively engage in community events and are very demanding of the services they should expect. This community is not afraid to call or complain when they are having issues; they do not accept disturbances or crime conditions as party of ‘city’ life, nor should they. We need good neighbors to tell us what and where the problems are. That is the partnership we have; without the community’s eyes and ears, we would be ineffective,” he said.