How Our Community Grows at the Park District

July 14, 2023

Community is a simple word. “Our community.” “It’s a community effort.” “Let’s meet at the Community Center.” We all know what it means, and yet it means so many different things. July is “Where Community Grows” month here, which is this year’s annual theme from the National Recreation & Parks Association. We hope you’ve had a chance to watch our video below on how your Park District helps foster community.

We’ve also gathered a series of stories from your friends and neighbors who play, work, make friends, stay fit, and enjoy the real sense of community that the Park District provides. The stories will be shared over the next several weeks here on our website and on our Facebook page. Perhaps you’ll see yourself, your kids, and your family in these words. And we hope you’ll continue to be a part of the community that’s growing here.

Where It Begins

Community is all about people. Here at the Park District, our community starts when kids enter ParkSchool as a Sprout (2-year-olds), like Mia Howard did, or as a Sapling, and then grow into Mighty Oaks. “The teachers and assistants are all so friendly and welcoming,” said Mia’s mom, Rachel. “Mia went to Sprouts 2 days a week, and was so happy when she was able to go 5 days a week as a Sapling. This fall she will be in the Mighty Oaks program, and we’re really looking forward to it.”

Caren Ettleman said that her son Jonah, who graduated from Mighty Oaks this spring, had “an amazing year in class,” and “we love Miss Ginny and Miss Samia.” “I really liked the combination of structured learning and play that ParkSchool has…and all of the kids just run to get to class every day, to be with their friends and their teachers.” Her older son, Lavi, had also been in Mighty Oaks, and she has a niece and a nephew who will be in the ParkSchool programs this year. That’s how it starts. One family, two new friends, a classroom full of joy.

Where It Grows

Andrea Monek has been a member of the Recreation Center for 13 years, after moving to Highland Park and looking at other fitness facilities in the area. She has trained with Karen and Justin, worked out with weights, and studied Yoga. But the class she liked best was Kickboxing, where she made new friends. “Now we walk outdoors in the Preserve, and indoors on the track.” Some of the things Andrea particularly likes about the Rec Center are that “it’s not intimidating, and it creates a sense of community among those of us who go there at the same time every day.”

Both of Andrea’s children, daughter Amelia and son Will were ‘Park District kids,’ enjoying all the parks, programs at Heller Nature Center, going to summer camp, and “practically living” at Rosewood Beach. “My daughter Amelia was 5 when we moved here, and I would bring her to KidFit (now KidsClub) while I worked out.” Last year, Amelia worked as a Park District camp counselor, for 4-year-olds, which led to some babysitting opportunities. That’s one way community grows. Will has studied Karate and Taekwondo, and participated in the District’s Golf Camps. Andrea says, “The Park District is my sanctuary.” We hope many of you feel that way.

The Next Generation of Community Builders

MaVe Ohlwein has one of the most important jobs at the Park District: She’s a lifeguard. She’s kept people safe at the pools for 7 years. Her job now includes planning the ongoing in-service trainings for the guards and making sure all stations are properly staffed. We trust her to make sure our guards are in the right place at the right time, with the right skills. You can trust her to look out for you and your family.

MaVe is also a recent college graduate, with a double major in Spanish and Education, and is about to spend the next year being a bilingual teacher in Spain. So, why has MaVe been a lifeguard?

In addition to caring about kids, she says “I get to meet a bunch of people my age who are not from Highland Park, and foster relationships with people from other communities—Vernon Hills, Lincolnshire, Deerfield, Palatine—which is something I’ve always liked, and I think it’s a great opportunity for everyone.” That’s how you build a larger community. MaVe grew up as a ‘Park District kid,’ playing soccer and field hockey, going to summer camp, taking swim lessons, doing gymnastics and ice skating. Of all those fun things to do, she said, “This was the first job I recommended to any of my friends.” That’s how our community stays strong.

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 on our website.

See you around the parks!