Thank you to all of our residents and staff who donated to the Shop ‘N Drop Food Drive, in partnership with SaLT: Service and Learning Together and the Highland Park/Highwood Rotary Club!

Pre-packaged food donations were collected to provide groceries to Highland Park and Highwood families facing food insecurities from Monday, August 14 to Sunday, September 10. The Park District collected over 1,000 items to help feed 75 families in need.  Roughly 30 volunteers including 12 Park District employees volunteered on Friday, September 15 to sort and stuff grocery bags and then deliver them to local families in need. 

The food drive and service event have contributed to:

In a thank you email from SaLT organizers, “These numbers are not just statistics; they represent the lives we’ve touched, the families we’ve supported, and the countless hours of service provided by our incredible team of Shop ‘N Drop Superheroes. None of this would have been possible without your collaboration and support.”

A HUGE thank you again to all those who donated and volunteered for our food drive!

For many gardeners, the first signs of fall in the garden bring a mix of emotions—a look forward to the marvelous array of colors and textures that will soon be on full display, and the signal that another gardening season is coming to a close. If you look closely at the goldenrods in the next few weeks you will see an insect bonanza—all shapes and sizes coming together to feast on the last flowers of the season with their abundant pollen and nectar. Asters serve a similar purpose, drawing late season butterflies and many bee species to buzz pollinate their way around the disc florets at the center of each flower. It’s really fun to watch!

This is a perfect time to begin collecting seeds from Baptisia, Penstemon, Echinacea, Eurybia and others that can be cleaned, stored, and stratified (a pre-treatment using cold moist conditions) to be ready for germinating late winter and early spring, or sowing late fall—there will be many more to gather before the heavy rain and winds of fall do their thing. It is also the perfect time to stand back and assess your garden for form, function and to make some choices on any adjustments needed now or for the coming year.

Seeds and bracts of Eurybia macrophylla (big-leaved aster). Photo by Liz Vogel.

First up, we must decide what to do with the current fading flowers, stems and leaves. My advice is to be selective. While even I cannot help myself from cutting back the gnarly remains of some species, plants like Echinacea have parts that provide great function if left in place (or partially in place) over winter and into the following year. Two common species of Echinacea, E. purpurea (purple coneflower) and E. pallida (pale purple coneflower), both appear to provide just as much function after flower as they do while in full bloom. They have large hollow stems that if cut to a height of 18” or more become potential nesting for native bees, and the flowers mature into dark orbs packed full of large seeds that will attract a chattery bunch of goldfinches.

Grasses such as Sprobolus heterolepis (prairie dropseed) or Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem) develop beautiful golden tones with seed heads that sway in the late season winds. These grasses (among others) provide food and nesting for small birds and other animals. So, if you are ok with hosting this bit of wildlife, leave the grasses in place until late winter, at which time you can steady the hedge trimmer, shears or pruners and chop them back to about 6”.

If you are looking to up your late-season spectacle, think asters! Symphyotrichum leaeve (smooth aster) and Symphyotrichum oolentangiense (sky blue aster) are two garden favorites and are beautiful planted in with warm-toned fall grasses. Consider species with structural seed heads such as Monarda fistulosa (bee balm), Dalea purpurea (purple prairie clover), and Parthenium integrifolium (wild quinine) among others. And of course, if you are planning to add something to your garden this season or next, it really should be native—for the bees, for the butterflies, for ourselves and our kids.

Bonus tip:

Leave the leaves! 

There is so much happening in the fallen leaves that collect in the garden: Beneficial insects overwinter in this debris, and many organisms feed on this matter as they help to build heathy garden soil. Make sure your garden looks good to you—and your neighbors—and squeeze in some added environmental benefits whenever possible.

Liz is a professional horticulturist, observer, artist and writer, and co-owner of North Branch Natives, an education-focused native plant nursery.

From September 15 to October 15, we honor and celebrate the rich cultural tapestry, traditions, and contributions of Hispanic communities. This is a time to recognize the resilience, creativity, and diversity that have shaped our nation’s history and continue to enrich our lives today.

In partnership with the Highland Park Public Library, join us in the celebrations by exploring Hispanic art, music, cuisine, literature, and history.

Mariachi Sirenas

Saturday, September 9 | 11am-noon

Join us as we host Mariachi Sirenas, Chicago’s first all-women mariachi band. This popular mariachi band started performing in 2017 and has performed in many music festivals across the Midwest and had TV appearances on WGN DayTime Chicago and ABC 7 News. The group holds great pride in being part of the community of strong women working together to promote the folkloric arts of Mexico and Latin America.

Location: Adult Services Room at the Highland Park Public Library

Cookin’ with Books: Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

Tuesday, September 12 | 7-8pm

Join us in the Library for this month’s Cookin’ With Books program! Try cookin’ something from a different cookbook, then join us to talk about the results. Even if you haven’t read a cooking book, join in to talk about food! Hola, food lovers! Browse our cookbook collection in the Library or Hoopla and select one that honors the contributions and influence of Hispanic and Latino Americans in our cuisine. From tamales to pupusas; rice with chicken, coconut or beans; dulce de leche, arequipe o cajeta… all brings not only great flavors but also fond memories!

Location: Meeting Room 8 at the Highland Park Public Library

El Mago: A Bilingual Magic Show

Wednesday, September 20 | 6:30-7:30pm

Enjoy the magical feats of El Mago in this family-friendly show. Sponsored by the Friends of the Library.

Location: Auditorium at the Highland Park Public Library

Folkloric Dancing

Sunday, September 24 | 2-4pm

Enjoy watching the Ave Maria Dance Ministry group and dance to Traditional Mexican Folklore Music.  Stay afterward to learn a few steps or two.

All ages. Pre-registration is required for this free event.

Location: West Ridge Center

Talaveras Craft (Ages 8-14)

Monday, September 25 | 3:30-5:30pm
Wednesday, September 27 | 3:30-5:30pm
Friday, September 30 | 3:30-5:30pm

Decorate the Library for Hispanic Heritage Month! Create a colorful square based on Mexican talavera tiles. We’ll display your masterpiece!


Sunday, October 8 | 1-3pm

Have fun learning new words while you play Loteria, Mexican bingo.  Winners will receive a goodie bag filled with Mexican sweet treats!

All ages. Pre-registration is required for this free event.

Location: Heller Nature Center

Mexican Sugar Skulls

Tuesday, October 10 | 6:30-8pm

Honor Hispanic Heritage Month and practice your art skills by decorating a Mexican sugar skull.

Location: Lower Level Meeting Room at the Highland Park Public Library

Coffee with a Scent of Books! Lo Que Yo Vi by Laura Esquivel

Thursday, October 12 | 6:30-8pm

Join us with a delicious coffee, tea, and cookies to discuss the book What I saw by Laura Esquivel. If you didn’t get to read the book, join in sharing what you’ve seen throughout your life. This program is in Spanish only. Find it in the Library or as an audiobook: From the house where she was born, the street games during her childhood, the music that has served as the soundtrack of her life to the social movements and the terrorist attack against the Twin Towers —which she had to witness—Laura Esquivel, the Mexican author most widely read in the world, teaches us through a colorful mosaic of writings what his eyes saw, the things he has witnessed in his 72 years of life. — Goodreads

Location: Lower Level Meeting Room at the Highland Park Public Library

Huguito Gutierrez: Music of the Andes

Saturday, October 14 | 2-3pm

Join us for an afternoon full of music from the Andean Region of South America. Huguito Gutierrez is a musician, author, composer, and inventor. He plays wind and string music instruments from the Andes region. He has recorded over a dozen music albums and his performance career has taken him to prestigious venues across Argentina, Chile, France, and the United States.

Location: Auditorium at the Highland Park Public Library

Hispanic Folktales & Churros

Saturday, October 14 | 6-7:30pm

Join us around the campfire, as we listen to folktales about the mischievous coyote and make campfire churros.

Pre-registration is required. Children under two are free and do not need to be registered.

Location: Heller Nature Center

It’s not alchemy. You talk. We listen.

The Park District is always developing and testing new programs based on community feedback and trends — whether it is a new program topic, a different time of day, day of the week, or even a different age group.  Every season, we add several new classes to the list of offerings that we think you’ll enjoy based on resident suggestions. We try to include fitness trends and other recreational activities for adults. We add nature classes and adventures for kids and families. And we’re always looking at when classes are offered, to better fit your schedule. Whether or not the classes run is most often based on how many people register, but sometimes we hold a class with just a few participants and then tweak it to get more responses.

So, we thought you might like to know a bit about how we create and try out new programs.

Julie Nichols, our Recreation Program Manager, has been working on the question ‘what kinds of Park District classes do Highland Park residents want,’ since she joined the district two years ago. “Even though I had worked in Parks & Recreation on the Northshore for many years, it was critically important for me to understand the Highland Park and Highwood communities.”

Throughout the first year, she offered one-day workshops for a number of different programs, as a way of testing and evaluating the response. “I was in the room during all of those sessions, so I could see and hear what the participants were interested in, and what they wanted to add to the park district program lineup.” She invited them to share their feedback, and they did. “Parents and grandparents told me that they were looking for more weekend options, more programs after 5pm, and that they really wanted more art, music, and dance classes.” Discussions also included adding STEM classes, and that resulted in offering Coding and Engineering with Legos. Julie added, “Online surveys don’t really bring in great response numbers. But talking to residents face-to-face really gives me a chance to listen, and for them to know they’ve been heard.”

Julie, along with Chris Holling, the district’s Recreation Supervisor for Youth Enrichment & Arts also hired a new Dance Coordinator and tested response to a brand new dance program. They held a free, one-day workshop where parents and prospective students could meet the instructor and get a feel for what the program would offer. Then they ran a short summer program. Was it a success? Within 9 months the program had 200 dancers participating in a Spring Recital where more than 400 family members and friends came to applaud! We call that show a big hit.

“We were able to deliver what everyone was looking for, all because we listened to people,” said Nichols. “Our niche is to provide something that anyone at any age can try for the first time. Here, you’ll be celebrated for your choice, you’ll learn something in the classroom, and you’ll be inspired to do more. We hope our participants will want to continue and perhaps move to a next level program, but what we provide is the first stepping stone.” That’s how we do it here at your park district.

In her second year, based on more one-on-one discussions, Julie, along with Chris, launched a whole new set of performing arts classes. This summer they ran a specialty camp called Take the Stage, designed for kids ages 1–4. “Campers enjoyed the full range of traditional summer activities, like swimming and sports, but we featured things that we heard would appeal to ‘theater kids,’ including stage direction, music direction, choreography, and prop construction. It was a great success!” Julie’s favorite Take the Stage memory? “Seeing the pride and confidence on the campers’ faces as they performed.” As they looked ahead to creating a fall theater program lineup, Julie and Chris asked the Take the Stage counselors to write a personal note to each family. “Those letters were so important, because we were able to tell moms and dads that their child had shown a particular interest in music, or dance, or acting, and we could recommend that they look at one of the new classes we are now offering this season.” Those include Introduction to Theatre (concentrating on stage direction); Broadway Here I Come (with an emphasis on music, dance, and acting); and a Teen Improv class.

In the talking stage is creating a Teen Advisory Committee, to help the district develop more programs for that age group. Things like becoming a Certified Babysitter, and being certified in CPR. “We know we can learn a lot from listening to teens in the community, and we’re really looking forward to making that happen.”

The Park District serves all ages, and to learn more about another important demographic in our community—those folks without young children.   This summer Julie produced a series called In The Parks — nine free events in nine different parks. Once again, it gave her a great opportunity to talk to active adults and find out what they were looking for from us. “At a recent concert in Memorial Park, where the people were mostly ages 65 and up, we asked questions like ‘where do you find out about park district events and programs’, ‘how do you put it on your calendar,’ and ‘how far in advance do you do that.’” Think of it as trading a free concert for real-time feedback. It’s invaluable, and we are so grateful for the information we get.

Coming up, look for more workshops and more free concerts, including the brand new Dance Team and the Hip Hop Crew doing performances at community events, assisted living facilities, and nursing homes. Giving back. It’s another thing we love to do.

We would also love to hear from you. Tell us your ideas, and let’s work together to make something wonderful happen. You can find us on the website, along with hundreds of programs and events we know you’ll enjoy. Until next time… See you around the parks!

We may have our roots in different countries/cultures, practice different religions, have different skin tones, but one thing we all have in common is our respect for our ancestors, those who have come before us.

The Park District of Highland Park is partnering with the Highland Park Sister Cities Foundation, The Art Center of Highland Park and Working Together to create a community mural. If you would like to participate, please submit a 10 inch x 12 inch drawing depicting ways in which you honor your ancestors.

Select artists will be chosen to paint their pieces with Chicago Muralist, Oscar Romero, at Heller Nature Center during the last week of October. We will have the mural displayed at our Dia De Los Muertos event on Saturday, November 4.

The deadline to submit is September 25, 2023. Submit your art and questions to Jessica Reyes at or mail:

Heller Nature Center
2821 Ridge Road
Highland Park, IL 60035

While the big kids are busy at school, we’ve got plenty of opportunities to keep your little ones active and learning this Fall! From creative outlets to outdoor adventures, here’s a list of ideas to fill those precious hours with your tots at the Park District of Highland Park.

Adventure Into Our Story Trail

Read and walk our featured book along the trails at Heller Nature Center.

Visit One of Our 22 Playgrounds

Be sure to check out our two newly renovated tot playgrounds at Moroney Park and Sunset Woods Park.

Explore Wander Woods

Visit Heller Nature Center and enjoy this unique nature play area.

Play a Round of Mini Golf

Enjoy our challenging 18-hole mini golf course. Fun for the whole family.

Walk the Trails

Did you know we have over 20 miles of walking trails at the Park District? Find a path near you.

Plan a Picnic at the Park

Enjoy a picnic at one of our parks! We have over 40 parks to choose from.

Looking for a program option? We have Weekday, Weekend, and Early Evening Programs

Cooking Up Memories at Home

Heller Honey is on sale! Grab a jar or 2 at the Recreation Center of Highland Park, Heller Nature Center or Madame Zuzu’s and whip up one of these kid-friendly recipes:

  1. Honey Apple Nachos: Give your nachos a makeover and swap out chips and cheese for apples and honey! Cut your apple slices nice and thin and then cover them with Heller honey and your kids’ toppings of choice. It’s a healthy alternative to your traditional nachos, and a sweet treat for snack time!
  2. Honey Oatmeal Energy Bites: These no-bake bites are sure to make you the Queen Bee of the neighborhood! Combine 1 ½ cups of rolled oats, ¼ cup of honey, 1/3 cup of cashew butter, and 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed. Let this mixture chill out in the freezer for about 15 minutes and then roll them into bite-sized balls. Finish them off with a quick roll in some shredded coconut and enjoy!
  3. Honey Fruit Dip: This recipe is as easy as 1-2-3…which is exactly how many ingredients you need to make it! All you need to do for this yummy fruit dip is combine ¼ cup of plain Greek yogurt, ¼ cup of peanut butter, and 2 tablespoons of Heller honey. It’s really that easy!

Before heading out to your favorite Park District of Highland Park facility on Labor Day weekend, check out our hours!

FacilitySaturday, September 2Sunday, September 3Monday, September 4
Centennial Ice ArenaClosedClosedClosed
Deer Creek Racquet ClubClosedClosedClosed
Heller Nature CenterBuilding Open 9am-3pm, Trails Open 7:30am to Dusk Building Closed, Trails Open 7:30am to DuskBuilding Closed, Trails Open 7:30am to Dusk
Hidden Creek AquaPark (closed for the season starting Tues., Sept 5) Lap Swim - 5:30-11am; Open Swim - 11am-6pmLap Swim - 5:30-11am; Open Swim - 11am-6pmLap Swim - 5:30-10am; Open - 10am-5pm
Highland Park Golf Learning Center8am-7pm (weather permitting)8am-7pm (weather permitting)8am-7pm (weather permitting)
Recreation Center of Highland Park (Fitness)7am-5pm7am-5pm7am-Noon
Recreation Center of Highland Park (Indoor Pool)ClosedClosedClosed
River's Edge Mini Golf8am-7pm (weather permitting)8am-7pm (weather permitting)8am-7pm (weather permitting)
Rosewood Beach (swimming beach is closed for the season starting Tues., Sept 5) 10am-6pm10am-6pm10am-6pm
Sunset Valley Golf Club6am-7pm (weather permitting)6am-7pm (weather permitting)6am-7pm (weather permitting)
West Ridge Center8:30am-4pm8:30am-4pmClosed

On Monday, August 21, the Park District of Highland Park hosted a community meeting to share more information about the proposal brought to the Park District by HillCo apartments for consideration to construct a shared parking lot on the Northeast corner of Sunset Woods Park. Feedback collected will be shared with the Park Board of Commissioners. The Park Board will be evaluating an agreement with HillCo on September 13 and 27, and the proposed parking lot will be evaluated by the City of Highland Park Plan and Design Commission on September 5.

Please find takeaways from the meeting below.

Consideration for a Shared Parking Lot at Sunset Woods Park

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Is the proposed garden approved?

The activation of this corner of the park, as proposed by the Sunset Woods Master Plan, has not been approved and the concept has not been further developed. The addition of a garden and new paths is currently an unfunded project. The donation from Hillco would provide the Parks Foundation of Highland Park with $100,000 to go towards development of concept for a park garden and gathering area.

Does the proposed parking lot include lighting?

No, the proposed parking lot does not include lighting.

When will there be more clarity on the easement conditions?

If the project is permitted at the September Planning and Design Commission meeting, the proposed easement agreement would be reviewed and considered for approval by the Park Board on September 13 and September 23, 2023. Park Board Meetings are public and the agendas are posted on the Park District’s website.

Why do the apartments need parking now?

The apartment complex is currently using the School District 112 lot for parking and that lot is no longer available for use due to the temporary location of Ravinia School.

How much do tenants of the apartment complex pay for parking?


Does Hillco have a plan B?

Yes, Hillco has an approved plan for a parking lot that would be in front of their building along Park Ave W and would contain 12 parking spaces. See the approved plan here (page 11). Hillco has indicated they will build only one parking lot. 


How many parking spaces are needed for the Hillco tenants, what is the minimum requirement?

8 spaces.

Will the McCaffrey Trail be impacted?

The parking lot will not impact the McCaffrey Trail.

If parking lot is approved, will there still be pathway access into the park?

Yes, the existing path on the Western and Southern edges of the open lawn space will remain.  

How big is the proposed parking lot?

The proposed parking lot would be about 7,000 square feet, and approximately 4,000 square feet would be located on Park District property.

Why are ADA parking spaces being considered?

If the Park District moves forward with activating the Northeast corner of the park, thus creating a destination, ADA Parking spaces would be required for access. The route from the existing ADA parking on Sunset Road to the Northeast corner and proposed park development concept is not ADA compliant. 

How many parking spaces are included in the proposed plan?

17 spaces in total, with 2 ADA spaces constructed on the Park District side.

Updated at 2:30pm on Wed, Aug 23

An excessive heat warning has been extended for Lake County through 8pm on Thursday, August 24. Our area is expected to have dangerous conditions with heat indexes of 112 to 118 degrees.

The following facilities will be open, and programs will run as scheduled:

All other outdoor lessons and programs scheduled for Thursday will be moved inside where possible for our residents and staff’s health and safety. Other outdoor programs that cannot be moved indoors may be canceled. Pre-registered program participants will be contacted directly by their program supervisor. 

We will continue to monitor the situation carefully and make any necessary adjustments to our operations for the health and safety of our participants and staff. Please check our website and social media for the latest updates. 

Tips for Handling Excessive Heat Conditions

Drink plenty of fluids, stay in an air-conditioned room, stay out of the sun, and check up on relatives and neighbors. Young children and pets should never be left unattended in vehicles under any circumstances. Take extra precautions if you work or spend time outside. When possible, reschedule strenuous activities to early morning or evening. Know the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Wear lightweight and loose-fitting clothing when possible. To reduce risk during outdoor work, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends scheduling frequent rest breaks in shaded or air-conditioned environments. Anyone overcome by heat should be moved to a cool and shaded location. Heat stroke is an emergency! Call 9 1 1.

The City of Highland Park partners with the Park District and Public Library in offering cooling centers to community members in need during heat waves. During daytime hours, all are welcome at the following locations during their normal operating hours (click to view):

 After-hours cooling centers operate on an ad hoc basis to assist residents during emergencies such as power outages. Information about evening cooling centers will be posted on the City’s website when activated. Please bookmark to check to see if after-hours cooling centers have been activated. 
For information on how to identify the warning signs of heat-related illness and what to do, go to the Center for Disease Control.  

In Part 2 of our 3-part series on “Where Community Grows,” we presented four more stories from members of our community who play, work, make friends, stay fit, and enjoy the real sense of community that the Park District provides. In Part 3, we have more inspirational stories from your friends and neighbors.

Where It Begins

Millie Nanus, who is a Mighty Oak, is happy to tell you everything she likes about the ParkSchool program, Safety Village, Imagination Station (“Which was amazing!”), Ice Skating (“I love it!”), and so many more things at the Park District—all while you talk with her mom, Lisa, who grew up in Highland Park and enjoyed the pool and camps. Now, Millie loves gymnastics, and Lisa has done the Mom & Tot gymnastics program with Henry, the youngest. Everyone enjoys the Heller Nature Center, Rosewood Beach (“It’s awesome!”), and the 100 Days of Summer is posted on the refrigerator, of course. The Under the Big Top Dance was a big hit for both Millie and her older sister, Nora, and Lisa liked that this new version is “more inclusive.” This is a family that’s deeply connected to the community through the Park District. Just ask Millie.

Lori Fink‘s daughter Sloane is 5 and has been in the Kinderdance program for 3 years. “If you ask her to pick one activity she wants to do, it’s Ballet,” said Lori. “Rebecca (our Dance Coordinator) is amazing. She’s so calm and patient with the kids, and I’m blown away by how she runs the recitals with hundreds of kids and families. Sloane is super excited to be there, she’s confident about what she’s doing, and I feel like it’s made her a leader.” Lori also said that “the Park District knows that the kids are there to learn and be serious about dance, but also to always have a good time. They understand fun.” Kids come up to Sloane at other events around the District and say Hi! “When I ask her how she knows these kids, it’s often through dance.” Community is having fun with your friends. Jason Fink coaches Little Sluggers and first-grade baseball at the Park District, and AYSO Soccer in Highland Park, extending the family’s connections to the community.

Where it Grows

Judy and Stephen Smiley moved to Highland Park in 1974, and have been Rec Center members for about 7 years. Their children, now grown with families of their own, were always involved with Park District sports and camps. They have wonderful memories of going to Twin Pools (where Hidden Creek AquaPark is now) every afternoon with their neighbors and the kids. Community grows where people get together. All of the parks, including West Ridge, Sunset Woods, and Woodbridge, were part of the regular routine, where families met and kids played.

Judy talked about Baker Ball with particular fondness, and, as everyone who was in the program does, remarked on how Marv Baker knew every kid’s name and every parent’s name, whether on the ballfield or just walking down the street. That’s what community is all about.

What Judy and Stephen like about the Recreation Center is what you hear from all the members: “The staff is so welcoming and friendly, and everything is so accessible.” We appreciate the kind words.

The Next Generation of Community Builders

Lia Sansiper graduated on May 14, 2023, from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, having earned her B.S. degree in Elementary Education. The very next week, in her role as a Camp Director, she was already working on the structure for a brand new summer camp here at the district. It’s a great story that starts back in 2009.

Highland Park is Lia’s hometown, and she was a ‘Park District kid’. One of the things she loved most, and remembers well, was her experience at the district’s summer arts camp called S.W.E.A.T. Shop (later Spotlighters and Take Center Stage) which encompassed making art, creating ceramics, doing theatre performances, and learning American Sign Language (ASL). “I went to it the first time with a couple of my friends when I was going into third grade, and I kept going through sixth grade because I just loved what the camp was about. Everything we did was so memorable, and the counselors were awesome!” She was also enrolled in the After Camp program, which comes up again later in this story. Asked about the ASL class, Lia said “It was really cool learning sign language from the camp directors, and I still remember the chorus of We Are The World by Michael Jackson.” A kid goes to a Park District summer arts camp, learns about sign language, and is inspired to emulate her counselors. That’s what happens in a community.

Lia ‘aged out’ of that summer arts camp, and having been inspired and mentored by great counselors—“Susan was a real influence for all of the years I was there.”—she decided to sign up for the Counselors in Training (CIT) program and was a part of that each summer in 2013, 2014, and 2015. “I wanted to be just like my counselors,” and she wanted to learn “What went on behind the scenes,” at the camps. CITs pay to go to a summer camp, but get training to help counselors with all of that camp’s daily requirements, including check-in, setting up, and cleaning. “Four days a week we had responsibilities, but one day was always a field trip when we got to just be a camper, traveling to places like Six Flags, or going horseback riding.” Those years reinforced for Lia that she “Loved to teach!” Her CIT experience led her to become a full counselor, at Camp Sunshine for ages 4 and 5, where she has been mentoring kids and giving back to the community for the past five years.

The new summer camp that Lia has designed, with her Co-Director, Sarah Aronson, is called SPOT (an acronym for Summer Play at Oak Terrace). It’s for kids ages 6–12 and includes a number of things that were important to Lia when she was a camper. “Every day is packed with fun things to do: art, cooking, sports & games, music & entertainment, and some special events like playing pickleball and enjoying a nature walk.” Art includes both planned and free creative time, and cooking has included making delicious fruit spring rolls and beautiful rainbow waffles. Lia stressed that accessibility was a key component in the development of this camp. Parents can sign their child up for one week at a time, rather than a 3- or 4-week session like many of the other camps, which helps families plan for vacations and other summertime activities, and also makes the camp more affordable. “That’s really important, and so we’re able to have a lot of siblings in SPOT.” It’s a community thing. Most of the activities are held right at the camp (now based at Danny Cuniff Park), but each week campers have a swim day—with lessons and free swim time—at Hidden Creek AquaPark. “The campers love to go on the bus and say hi to Larry the driver!”

And, as if running that camp is not enough, Lia is also now the Director of the After Camp program this summer, bringing that part of her own camp experience full circle. “Over the years, as a camper and as a staff member, I’ve made so many amazing friends here, and we hang out together!” One by one, community grows.

Camper. CIT. Counselor. Director. Educator. We are so proud to have Lia as a member of our Park District team, and to know her as someone who is working every day to help us build a strong, vibrant, caring community in Highland Park.


Did you recognize yourself, a family member, a friend, or a neighbor in these stories? We hope so. And, we hope you’ll share your story of “Where Community Grows” with us. You can find out about everything we do here on our website and take a minute to watch our “Where Community Grows” video.

See you around the parks!