Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas joy comes to needy family and kids in the Town of Cicero

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I live in a middle class suburban community where taxes are rising but the property isn't as expensive as many others. It's a nice place with beautiful homes, some more beautiful than others. Still, I consider myself fortunate. Despite all the great stories about the beauty of Orland Park, there are stories all around us and everywhere that make you cry. We  have our  needy families. Increasingly, families are finding it harder and harder to put food on their table, to pay bills or to provide the basics to their children. It's that way in a lot of communities. And government budgets are tight and there's little that many communities can do.

I head up my own company, Urban Strategies Group, which provides media consulting services to about a dozen or so clients. What else does a former newspaper man do in an era where newspapers are collapsing or are being bought up by greed-driven corporations and investment robber barons? You share your writing skills and your communications knowledge.

One of my clients, my most significant one, is the Town of Cicero. Cicero is a beautiful place. I met my wife there. I love the Town. It's lived under a dark cloud for many years before. A few years ago, its former mayor, Betty Loren-Maltese, was sent packing to jail for stealing $12 million from the Town to enrich herself. New homes. New Cars. It was disgusting, according to the judge. Released after nearly 8 years and the majority of her property confiscated by the feds, she spends most of her days in anger bashing people on her Facebook page. Oftentimes, she bashes me. In a way, I feel sorry for her. She's a pathetic remnant of someone who had so much opportunity to do good but instead used her greed to rain money and privilege on herself until they threw her in the hoosegow.

But why waste more time talking about her?

Today, the Town of Cicero has a mayor, Larry Dominick, who is often criticized by the Chicago Sun-Times -- every mayor in Cicero has been criticized from the beginning of time. He's tough and brushes off the attacks, knowing that the Sun-Times avoids similar controversies in communities that the newspaper loves. (It's easy for the newspaper to pick on a community where you have no base and nothing to lose. Here's one of their misleading controversies.) But Dominick has a heart made of gold when it comes to families and little kids. And it makes me proud to see all that he and the Town's board  do for the residents of the Town of Cicero.

I could list all the great things he's brought to the Town that in their zeal to criticize Larry Dominick, the Sun-Times never covers. He built a beautiful government Town Hall. Some people wonder why do the people of Cicero deserve a modernday, beautiful Town Hall? Why? Why shouldn't the people of Cicero have government buildings and services like many other communities? A lot of the criticism is based on racism -- the town is majority Hispanic -- or it is all about politics from hacks thrown out of office who want back in. Why should the people of the Town of Cicero have a great Town Hall they can be proud of? Orland Park has a beautiful one that cost just as much to build. Are the people of Orland Park or Winnetka or Hinsdale or Evanston any better than the people of the Town of Cicero?

I'm not trashing the other communities, or Orland Park. I love Orland Park, too. It has great schools, a popular shopping mall and one of the best Police Departments in the region. But Cicero has all that, too. And a lot more that most people don't even get a chance to read about in today's ailing media.

Dominick brought a lot more. They have a huge community park where every Summer the weekdays and weekends are filled with festivals, concerts, movies, carnivals and fun. He built a huge community center where they hold classes for new citizens, have a huge gymnasium where programs for seniors, families, teenagers and children are held. They celebrated the Houby Day festival there, but they also celebrated holidays for everyone, including a memorial in the memory of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

How many non-African American communities hold ceremonies honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr? Maybe a few, but not a lot.

Under Dominick, Cicero launched a program to hire disabled residents to give them jobs. There are 18 employees with disabilities in the Town who I meet and greet every morning when I go there. Their faces are
filled with smiles. They love to work.

They're building new industry in Cicero, something that isn't happening much in other communities choked with empty storefront businesses and still factories and large industries. Wirtz Beverage Illinois decided that Cicero was worth it, and the are relocating their statewide operations from several facilities to a new central hub in Cicero. More than 1,000 employees, most coming from other communities, will be working there everyday, and seeing firsthand what Cicero has to offer.

A few weeks back, Dominick received a grant to build a professional ice hockey stadium and they named it in honor of a local boy who grew up in Berwyn and on the streets of Cicero, Blackhawk's great Bobby Hull. The new Bobby Hull Community Ice Rink has kids and families on its ice every day. They don't have to break fire hydrants to fill their backyards to build an ice rink like they did recently in another community that I read about in the news.

Senior citizens get councils and meetings in many communities, but in Cicero they get real life. They get support and help to clean their yards and all kinds of programs that keep them busy enjoying their sunset years having spent their lives working. The schools are phenomenal. A few months back, the Town named a section of Austin and 25th Street in honor of Joe Mantegna, outside of the school where several inspirational teachers helped him build the foundation that led to his Hollywood success. He was proud to come back to Cicero and tell the people how much he loved them.

I could go on and on about the great things Dominick is bringing to the Town of Cicero. There's a lot. You can click here to read about all of their stories (in English and in Spanish, too). But what impresses me the most is Dominick's dedication to little kids and families in need.

Two weeks ago, Dominick hosted a Christmas party for 2,500 needy families and their children. The community center was packed. I mean jammed packed with people who brought their kids to get a little cheer. They gave them gloves and hats and toys and a great meal.

This past weekend, nearly 800 families in desperate need, brought their children to meet Santa Claus. The Town gave each family a Ham and each child received a beautiful toy. About 30 of the town's employees volunteered to act as Christmas Elves to greet the children, get their age and go back into Santa's den and bring them out a toy for Christmas.

Yea, there are all the stupid Sun-Times "controversies," stories usually exaggerated way out of proportion -- you wonder what the point of the stories is, except maybe it's more about the newspaper itself collapsing. But I saw the smiles on the faces of all those kids and watched in awe as each one of them clutched toys large and small walking out with their mothers or their fathers excited about the Holiday Season.

That's what Christmas is about. And that's what good government is all about too. A government that cares more about what its constituents want, rather than caring about the politically motivated stories of a dying newspaper that is coughing out its last breaths of yellow journalism.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone.

-- Ray Hanania

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