The Collected Works of Dominic Gwinn

Logan Square residents divided over Ald. Moreno’s approach to affordable housing

Posted in Chicago, Politics by Dominic Gwinn on August 6, 2015

The following story originally appeared in EXTRA News, a bi-lingual community newspaper in Chicago, IL, on Aug 6, 2015.

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Protesters argue in front of Ald. Moreno’s office.
Photo by Dominic Gwinn

Dozens of protesters clashed in Logan Square this week while calling for 1st Ward Ald. Joe Moreno to pursue more aggressive affordable housing options in the neighborhood.Moreno has supported big development projects like the “Twin Towers,” a multi-building apartment complex across the from the California Blue Line station, which some residents say will lead to mass displacement of longtime residents. Because of this, organizers from Somos/We Are Logan Square, a community group of residents concerned about the increase of large-scale development in Logan Square, organized a rally against Ald. Moreno on Tuesday evening in front of the alderman’s neighborhood office.

However that group was soon joined by Moreno supporters, though smaller in number, who marched ahead of Somos/We Are Logan Square shouting slogans like, “Moreno amigo, el pueblo esta contigo,” (“Moreno, my friend, this town is with you”), while holding signs up in support of transit oriented development projects, or T.O.D.’s, like the “Twin Towers” project.

While both Moreno’s supporters and the Somos/We Are Logan group had the same message of increasing the supply of affordable housing, their differences collided in front of the alderman’s office where heated shouts and shoving drew the attention of onlookers and police.

“My street used to be populated with families,” commented Logan Square resident and Somos/We Are Logan supporter Justine Bayod Espoz. “I used to know all the little kids on our block, you’d see kids playing outside all the time. If you come to my block now on a Sunday afternoon you won’t see anyone on the street. The rents have increased exponentially in this neighborhood…We have two or three developers sending us letters a week asking us if we want to sell our property.”

Kyle Smith was on the street watching the two groups march in front of the alderman’s office on Tuesday. He’s with the Center for Neighborhood Technology, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization that studies urban economies and environments, and said one thing he’s seen across the city, including in neighborhoods like Logan Square, is the loss of housing units.

“There’s been a movement away from rental towards ownership, and buildings have been torn down, converted. Two flats converted into single family homes, balloon frame homes being torn down and replaced with fewer units on sight,” said Smith. “I think that everyone agrees that gentrification is a major issue, and I think the real way to address it is, one, to add more units to the housing supply through something like T.O.D., and also focus on preservation activities on the side streets.”

Meanwhile Noah Muskowitz, an organizer with Somos/We Are Logan Square, reminisced about the daughter of a tenant he recently worked with in an attempt to avoid their eviction.

“During the course of the eviction, when she was afraid she was going to have to go to a different neighborhood, her grades dropped to a C,” said Muskowitz. “That’s a huge emotional impact for a child. It’s not just, ‘Oh, you have to move’, it’s the displacement of communities that they’ve spent their entire lives supporting. Their access to child care, their access to resources, and when you displace that it completely ruins someone’s life.”

Muskowitz added that he thought it’s incredibly disingenuous for Moreno to act like he’s fighting for neighborhood residents facing displacement when he’s part of the problem.

In response to the protests, Moreno’s office released a statement Wednesday morning saying that the alderman was, “gratified to learn that a group of 1st Ward residents saw fit to express their support for his proactive and substantial efforts to provide more affordable housing opportunities in the 1st Ward.”
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This post is also available in: Spanish

Chicago teachers rally to protect schools from deep cuts

Posted in Chicago, Politics by Dominic Gwinn on July 30, 2015

The following story originally appeared in EXTRA News, a bi-lingual community newspaper in Chicago, IL, on Jul 30, 2015.

Logan Teachers Protest

Chicago teachers are holding their breath once again as the cuts to the education budget begin to trickle out of City Hall, leaving many educators struggling to adjust before the new school year.

The rally came on the same morning as Fitch Ratings, a credit-rating agency, lowered Chicago Board of Education’s rating to BBB, more commonly referred to as “junk” status.

“These cuts are unjust; our children have paid enough,” stated 35th Ward Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa at the rally. “We’ve gone through 50 school closures,. We’ve seen thousands of teachers laid off. We’ve seen cuts to sports and after-school activities; we’ve seen cuts to music and the arts, and now we’re being told that our children and their families are going to have to suffer through more cuts.”

Hector Gonzalez, a bilingual teacher at Kelvyn Park High School, has been teaching at the school for 10 years, but now he’s worried about what could happen next. “We used to look forward to a raise, and now we don’t even have that. Now, who knows if some of us will even have our jobs? I used to say every year, right before my students would leave at the end of the year, ‘I’ll see you next year.’ I honestly was afraid to say that this year because I’m afraid I might not be there.”

Amongst the shake-ups that are causing the ire of many teachers and parents are cuts to handicap student programs, the shifting of school start times and the closing of bus stops for selective student programs. Schools have also been forced to cancel after-school activities, as well as reconsider supplies while enrollments continue to decline in public schools throughout the city.

“We’re going to have to tell kids, ‘I’m sorry; I know you want to stick around and do all these extra things, but we just don’t have them this year,’” commented Gonzalez when asked about after-school programs. “We just can’t afford to pay people for coming into our building to help our kids.”

“We always make it work, somehow,” remarked Jackie Charles, a fourth grade teacher at Darwin Elementary. “I would rather spend my own money on my students than have them not have what we need at the time, and I think that’s how most teachers operate. Schools get by year after year, and we do the best that we can, but I think people are starting to say the best that we can is not good enough.”

This post is also available in: Spanish

Hot Doug’s lives on at Wrigley

Posted in Chicago, Uncategorized by Dominic Gwinn on July 9, 2015

The following story originally appeared in EXTRA News, a bi-lingual community newspaper in Chicago, IL, on July 9, 2015.

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Hungry fans will be able to get their hands on some of Hot Doug’s staples like the “Rick Reuschel,” an atomic pork sausage with chipotle mustard and pepper jack cheese, or the “Dave Kingman,” a bacon cheeseburger sausage with cola BBQ sauce and sharp cheddar cheese.

“It’s just so overwhelming, I’m sure the reality will hit me later, but walking up here today and seeing this? Unbelievably cool,” beamed an elated Sohn upon seeing the new stand that bears his name behind Wrigley’s iconic scoreboard. “I just keep telling myself, “It’s the Cubs!” It’s so great to be a part of this.”

Sohn’s original restaurant closed back in October to long lines of die-hard fans waiting hours to get one last taste of the Hot Doug’s famous food.

“Now I get to do the fun part,” said Sohn. “I get to chit-chat with people, and I get to come up with new menu items, and I don’t have the pitfalls of running a restaurant!”

“When the Cubs and the Ricketts family committed to restoring Wrigley Field through their 1060 project, we promised improved and expanded concessions for our fans, added Crane Kenney, Cubs president of business operations. “We’re thrilled to introduce offerings from an iconic Chicago brand like Hot Doug’s.”

“Right now, it’s sort of the greatest hits,” said Sohn. “We’ll rotate the menu. The plan is every home stand we’ll have one or two new ones each time. I know there’s so many regulars out here that I had to mix it up for them.”P1050733.JPG

This post is also available in: Spanish

Icebox Derby Girls set their marks

Posted in Chicago, Technology by Dominic Gwinn on July 2, 2015

The following story originally appeared in EXTRA News, a bi-lingual community newspaper in Chicago, IL, on July 2, 2015.

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A packed house greeted this year’s contestants at the kickoff for the second annual Icebox Derby, an engineering and academic competition geared towards generating interest for young girls in science, technology and mathematics careers.In partnership with Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago, Girls for Science, Operation PUSH and the Chicago Urban League, 30 girls ages 13 to 19 from across Chicagoland will be assigned to six teams, and compete for a number of prizes such as scholarships, and a grand prize trip to National Flight School in Pensacola, Fla. Each team of five girls will be assigned female mentors from COMED currently working in STEM careers, as well local university students currently majoring in STEM fields.

“I think it’s important for the girls to learn that STEM is for everyone,” commented Haley Widel, a UIC student majoring in bioengineering, and mentor for the Spark Catchers. “There aren’t enough women who are in the STEM fields in general, and I think it’s important for them to be comfortable with it because it’s an intimidating field.”

The race will be held on Aug. 15 at the Field Museum of Natural History. Each team will complete five laps, pausing between each lap to solve a “STEM Stop” challenge question and switch drivers before finishing. Teams will be given bonuses for increased interest through social media sharing via the hashtag, #IceboxDerby.

“Building a regular soapbox derby car is already a challenge, but you give these girls power tools, like a Sawzall and ‘fridge, and it’s a whole other picture. I’m really proud of them!” beamed Jeremy Fountain, father of Samantha Fountain, a member of last year’s winning team, “Sonic Doom.”

A number of improvements over the previous years’ cars have been implemented, according to COMED Engineer Sam Torina. A longer, wider and more uniform chassis has been introduced, as well as hydraulic braking systems and roll cages for increased safety. MP3 players, lights, power indicators and a 1000w battery will also have to be installed before race day.

“We’ve expanded their challenges, so that as they build this year, they’ll also be faced with technical questions, STEM technical questions to earn points,” said Torina. “So, it’s not just the race, it’s what they’re going to learn as they’re building it.”

“I would say take it all in because this is a once in a lifetime experience,” Samantha Fountain, member of last year’s winning team, Sonic Boom, advised. “You really want to slow down. It feels like a long time even though it’s only a few hours, so it goes by real quick and then you’re done with it. I wish I could do it all over again. There’s no other time you can make a racing car out of a refrigerator.”

“Women represent about 24 percent of the STEM jobs, so we’d like to see more women in the area,” stated COMED President and CEO Anne Pramaggiore. “It’s a great area; there are a lot of great jobs, and we look at this as our workforce of the future. We’re really reaching out to these girls to get them engaged, to excite them about these technical careers to start to develop our workforce of the future early.

This post is also available in: Spanish

Sheriff Announces Sentencing Reforms in Cook County

Posted in Chicago, Politics, Uncategorized by Dominic Gwinn on March 19, 2015

The following story originally appeared in EXTRA News, a bi-lingual community newspaper in Chicago, IL, on Mar 19, 2015.

Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart announced a new initiative aimed at reducing Chicago’s over-crowded jails last week.

“I can’t tell you the number of cases we’ve come across where a person is staying in our custody beyond the length of time that the legal statute allows them to be,” noted Dart in response to the number of individuals held in the Cook County facilities awaiting trial.

Dart announced a commission of county officials last Tuesday who will identify five to 10 cases per week where an individual can be moved quickly through the court system, and called for “rocket docket” legislation in Springfield to expedite court proceedings along strict sentencing guidelines for specific crimes like petty theft or trespassing. The initiative would use alternative methods of sentencing, such as electronic monitoring and support for the mentally ill to reduce the overall expense to taxpayers and address the over-crowding in county jails.

The Cook County Jail sits on 96 acres and is one of the largest single-site county pre-detention facilities in the U.S., according to the Cook County Sheriff’s website. It covers more than eight city blocks near the Little Village neighborhood and has ten divisions, a health services facility, two education departments, a privatized food service and commissary agency, and four additional onsite Sheriff’s departments.

The jail has an average daily population of 9,000. An average of 1,400 people are enrolled in the Electronic Monitoring Program that allows “non-violent, pre-trial and short-time sentenced inmates” to remain incarcerated in their homes. Dart noted that the current number of people being held at Cook County facilities is closer to 11,000.

“How do you feel about spending $20,000 for a guy who steals a Snickers bar?” Dart commented on a case of an one individual who spent 114 days in jail for stealing candy bars, costing taxpayers more than $16,000.

“We’re saying move the case ahead. Find the person guilty and get them convicted. Don’t let them sit here,” insisted Dart. “We have a system that is just not, in any way, taking in the human element. These are real people and they deserve to be treated in a certain way. There are people who should not be here.”

Dart’s initiative follows a similar pledge by Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner to reduce the number of incarcerated individuals across the state. In his 2016 budget proposal, Rauner intends to cut state expenditures on Illinois’ 48,000 prisoners through sentencing reforms that would see an increase in individuals with GPS monitors, an increase in mental health support services and probationary cases. Rauner’s initial budget proposal would see the Department of Corrections funding increase to $1.4 billion.

Rauner’s cuts have already been met with controversy, however, discretionary spending freezes to community groups who actively work to halt violence, like CeaseFire Illinois, are forced to refocus resources that are already stretched thin.

This post is also available in: Spanish

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The Worst Kept Secret in Chicago

Posted in Chicago, Politics by Dominic Gwinn on February 12, 2015

The following story originally appeared in EXTRA News, a bi-lingual community newspaper in Chicago, IL, on Feb 12, 2015. 

Logan Square Secret

While 20 inches of snow fell in a single 24-hour period, most Chicagoans threw on a sweater and huddled around their radiators for the relentless wind and snow to pass. But for some of Chicago’s most distressed residents, the snowfall found them in the middle of a life-and-death struggle to stay alive.It should come as no surprise that Chicago has a large population of poverty-stricken individuals. According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates, 22.6 percent of Chicago residents live at or below federal poverty lines. Chicago’s own 2014 Point-in-Time Homeless Count identified 6,294 individuals in one night, 965 of which were found to be on the streets or in public areas.

Despite announcing his “Plan 2.0 to End Homelessness,” which emphasized a decline in overall homelessness as of a October 2014 progress report, Mayor Emanuel and other mayoral candidates have remained quiet during debates on the issue. Throughout the current election, several of the candidates that have policies on the issue have attempted to address homelessness, like Jesus “Chuy” Garcia’s with his municipal I.D. proposal, and William “Dock” Walls’ initiative to reform the Chicago Housing Authority.

Despite this current winter being mild in comparison to years past, there are already sporadic reports of squatters frozen to death in vacant buildings in neighborhoods throughout the city.Many community groups do exist throughout the city, however, often run by churches and local advocacy groups, with the interest of serving the neediest of the community.

The Center for Changing Lives (CCL), based out of Humboldt Park, has served the community for 25 years by providing people with the resources they need to obtain housing and jobs, and help them establish a line of credit so that they can provide for their families, explained CCL’s Community Engagement Coordinator Lissette Castaneda. “We primarily serve the Latino community because we realized that Latino homelessness looks like two or three families doubled or tripled up, and they’re not necessarily the people who are accessing shelter services, and so they are actually often under-counted.”

“The idea, with homelessness in general, is trying to get at the root cause of [homelessness],” explains Castaneda. “That person would come in and their first appointment would be with one of our resource development coaches. Our coach would work with them to develop a larger goal, sort of thinking past the crisis…and help them move forward towards a bigger vision that they have in their life.”

From there, she said, they would meet with a housing and financial coach who would work specifically on their housing and financial goals to find out each families’ needs.

Services provided by these groups are invaluable such as the weekly community dinners at Logan Square’s St. Luke’s Lutheran Church.

Christa Creps, director of St. Luke’s community dinners feels that the community should share, especially in times of need.

“We pass a plate around and everyone gets something to eat,” said Creps. “We have a lot of elderly people, people on fixed incomes, who want to stay in the neighborhood they’ve lived in, sometimes for 14 years. They have less disposable income, so they come to our program. When the weather is bad, we get a different type of person coming in. There tends to be more people who are in trouble. A lot of these people, especially in Logan, [the cold] cuts into their food budget.

During the dinners, RN Marie Claire Narcisse walks up and down the hall at St. Luke’s, volunteering more than just her time.

“This lady, man she saved me,” beams “Carlos” in a new pair of boots donated to St. Luke’s. With a proud arm around a blushing Narcisse, he continues, “She don’t remember ‘cause she does it so much, but I had an infection, and she wrapped me up with her own scarf like it was nothing. Just like that!”

“It’s what I do every day,” said a modest Narcisse. “I work as a nurse…and I was looking to do more. I was doing the same things, every day, and it just wasn’t enough. People would come and then they would go. I prayed, I asked God, ‘What do I do?’ Now I don’t know a client, I know a person.”

This post is also available in: Spanish

Avondale on the Rise

Posted in Chicago by Dominic Gwinn on January 23, 2015

The following story originally appeared in EXTRA News, a bi-lingual community newspaper in Chicago, IL, on Jan 22, 2015. 

While trendy neighborhoods like Logan Square continue to attract growing numbers of twenty-somethings in search of cheap rent and bustling nightlife, Chicago’s quiet Polish Village hopes to maintain its historic working-class roots as new businesses and homeowners start to settle in the area.
“The neighborhood has a good balance of affordability and public transportation,” says Emily Taylor, head of the Avondale Neighborhood Association. “That’s something that we’ve been trying to highlight, the good points the neighborhood has, because it’s like the neighborhood’s been ignored over the past 10 or 15 years.”

As one of the few neighborhoods in Chicago that contains not only residential zoning, but commercial and industrial as well, some developers are viewing the area along the Chicago River’s North branch as something more than just a manufacturing space.

“A lot of those buildings…bow truss type buildings…a lot of them were in foreclosure,” says Dana Fritz, chief of staff for 33rd Ward Alderman Deb Mell. “Now with the economic turnaround, now we’re seeing those properties get purchased and people putting money into them. There are already some established businesses in that corridor. It’s very exciting because you have the river there and you can do a lot of stuff on the river. It’s a physically attractive place. They can bring people in for tours and utilize that river bank as sort of an event space. So not only do you have jobs there from the businesses on the manufacturing side, but you also have a tourism component too. So those businesses are drawing people in, seeing how those products are made, and as an added benefit, they can hang out in the neighborhood.”

Some residents have already noticed a shift in the neighborhood. Dave Roberts, who owns Late Bar on West Belmont, sees population shift as positive and unavoidable due to the neighborhood’s proximity to Logan Square.

“The neighborhood’s changed a lot already, but it’s going to change even more, and change is good.” says Roberts with confidence. “Some people complain about the whole “gentrification” thing, but other cities would kill for that. I worry about where people who live here are going to go, but still, it’s inevitable.”

Alderman Rey Colon, whose 35th Ward cuts through a large portion of Avondale, agrees, but feels the change will be gradual. “Avondale has a lot of single and two-flats; it’s more family-oriented, mostly working class folks. I don’t see that changing at the same pace as Logan…there’s not this momentum or “gentrification,” if you will. I think a part of it is that people are just not familiar with Avondale. Like when you get at Logan Square on the Blue Line, you’re getting off at, “Logan Square.” There’s no Avondale stop; there’s Belmont and Kimball.”

For now, however, Taylor and the neighborhood association are hoping to highlight some existing businesses in the neighborhood. “There’s kind of an eclectic business community; there’s a beekeeping supply store, a maker-share space for people to work out 3-d modeling, and an accordion store. There are a lot of quirky things and we really encourage people to explore Avondale and appreciate what we do have.”

“Avondale Welcomes You, Bienvenidos” – photo by Dominic Gwinn

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Banned books week highlights censorship

Posted in Chicago by Dominic Gwinn on October 9, 2014

The following story originally appeared in The Torch, the student newspaper of Roosevelt University, on October 9, 2014

BannedBooksWeek

On Saturday, Sept. 26, tucked quietly in the back of Logan Square’s City Lit Books, a crowd of roughly 30 men, women and children gathered for a showcase of imagination concocted to indoctrinate the minds of Chicagoans during  National Banned Books Week.Sept. 21 to Sept. 27 was National Banned Books Week.

While Sam Bradwell, a Chicago Public Schools (CPS) parent, plucked away at his upright bass, a raspy cupped trumpet puttered softly as Katherine Larkin read aloud “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

And Deirdre Harrison gave a glimpse into the Iranian revolution. These societal rebels were, in their wiords, “challenging state censorship.”

The American Library Association (ALA) started it back in 1982 with the intention of bringing attention to the harms of censorship on frequently challenged books.

It is part celebration, part social awareness campaign.

All across the country, scholars, teachers, librarians and authors came together to protest and argue that the only bad book is one that suffers from a state-sanctioned embargo.

Chicago’s most recent exposure to censorship took place when Lane Tech College Prep High School suddenly pulled Marjane Satrapi’s 2000 autobiographical graphic novel, “Persepolis,” from its course curriculum in 2013.

The school received serious backlash from parents and civil rights groups that still resonates more than a year later.

“There’s an established protocol for challenging a book. The ALA has all these guidelines of what you’re supposed to do, all these different channels you can go through, and what [they] did was so offensive because they didn’t even know about any of that,” said an angry Bradwell.    “They just sent the guys in and pulled the book from the library. I mean, How many different ways can you do it wrong?”

While Lane Tech has since made the book available for students in its library, “Persepolis” remains absent from the school’s curriculum for, according to CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, Satrapi’s use of, “graphic imagery and language.”

Deidre Harrison’s daughter attended Lane Tech.

And as a parent,Harrison continues to disagree with the school’s move and CPS’ complacency.

Harrison stood before the crowd reading select passages aloud, displaying the scenes for the audience.

“To see a narrative, especially from a girl’s perspective, number one about dress codes, is totally relevant to all of them, and this idea of dress codes reflecting tribes…it’s interesting,” said Harrison. “She’s like, ‘I am religious, but I want to define that for myself,’ so this idea how women, in whatever constructs they are, get to define what that means, what their value is…I think it’s a super relevant narrative. It’s a graphic novel, and there’s not a lot of women-authored graphic novels. Graphic novels are one area where women are doing real interesting stuff.“

At Roosevelt University, English Professor Ji’Hyae Park encourages her students to read “Persepolis” in her ENG 115 class, “Exploring Comics and Film.”

“I chose ‘Persepolis’ because it is a comic that has been adapted into a film successfully, which, therefore, fits into the topic of the course.  Moreover, it’s a great autobiographical comic,” said Park. “While   I do think that comics like ‘Persepolis’ might be more effectively used for certain ages than others in the classroom.  I don’t think it makes sense to ban the book.  From what I’ve read, the images depicting torture are what some people object to. But what they fail to understand is that these are images reflecting a child’s imagination of torture—not a realistic depiction of torture.”

Park also said that she thinks Satrapi is trying to do something different than only show graphic images for their own sake, but instead explore how children attempt to make sense of things that they perhaps do not yet understand.

“She reminds us that even though we try to shield children from violence and torture, they encounter it anyway.  I think it’s better to encounter it in this comic, which doesn’t sensationalize torture, but instead makes readers aware of the politics that make it possible, and how it impacts the everyday lives of people,” said Park.

Restricted access to literary works is certainly nothing new as William Shakespeare, J.D. Salinger, Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne have all been chastised throughout history for conflicting community values and suggestive themes.

Canadian author Cory Doctorow’s young adult novel, “Little Brother,” which encourages readers to challenge authority figures and stresses technological awareness, was recently restricted from Booker T. Washington High School in Pensacola, Fla.

In response, Doctorow and his publisher, Tor Books, sent 200 copies to the school free of charge.

“The brilliant thing about life in the 21st century is that challenging or banning a book just makes it easier to get and all the more intriguing for having been challenged,” Doctorow wrote via email when questioned about the effectiveness of censorship. “If the principal of Washington High wanted to really make sure that every kid in his school wanted to find out just why this book was so dangerous that they shouldn’t be allowed to read it, all he had to do was challenge it.”

Professor Park herself is no stranger to the scrutiny over literary material.

“I did teach a book that was the object of controversy, ‘Blu’s Hanging’ by Lois-Ann Yamanaka, in an upper-level college course on Gender and Sexuality in Asian American literature,” said Park. “The book initially received an award from the Association of Asian American Studies, but it was later rescinded because some people thought it portrayed Filipinos in a racist manner. The way I designed the course, however, was to ‘teach the controversy.’ I intentionally chose books that were divisive and controversial to get students to respond to the literature, but also to understand the academic debates that shape the way literature is publicized and taught…But there is a vast difference between a book like ‘Persepolis’ that is trying to educate readers about the dangers of totalitarian political regimes, as well as the problems of stereotyping an entire people by the deeds of a few in power, than something that sensationalizes torture or violence for its own sake or in an exploitative manner.”

Roosevelt’s History of Veteran Service Alive, and in Good Hands

Posted in Chicago by Dominic Gwinn on October 1, 2014

The following article originally appeared in The Torch, the student newspaper of Roosevelt University, in Fall 2014. 

Roosevelt University’s long history of service to military veterans can be traced back to before its founding in 1944 when President Franklin Dealno Roosevelt signed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Bill,  commonly known as the “G.I. Bill”, which granted unprecedented social welfare programs to every man and woman who served the nation in times of peace or war. Hailed as major economic driver after World War 2, the G.I. Bill has allowed millions of veterans and their dependants access a higher education that they may have otherwise never been able to obtain.

 

Today, as thousands of veterans return home to the families they left behind, many are faced with limitless prospects thanks in part to the same legislation put in place generations ago. At Roosevelt, Peter La Haire is tasked with helping these new veterans take the next step in their already incredible lives. As Roosevelt’s lone Veteran Services Coordinator, Peter tirelessly dedicates himself to all the students who enter his office, be they veterans, their spouses or dependents.

 

“We have 87 veterans that go to school here, along with 30 dependents. My job is to work with them from the time they express interest in the institution.” says La Haire from his modest corner office on the third floor of the Wabash building.  “I work with them through the enrollment process, admissions, financial aid; I coordinate all of the information exchange with the US Department of Veterans Affairs and make sure that all their tuition is being paid appropriately (and that tends to be priority number one). I want to make sure that they do not have to focus on their money, and that they can concentrate on their academic outcome.”

 

La Haire provides these students in need with with more than just advice to student services such as visiting the Academic Success Center, counseling services, or methods of tuition assistance, he reminds them that they are not alone.

 

“You’re coming from an environment where you’re being told what to do, how to do it, or what to do when your done,” La Haire advises, “you come out of the service and you’re told you can do anything that you want and that’s just really overwhelming…First year students coming in have it hard enough after high-school, but when you come out of a military setting in to a higher education setting you get kind of a one-two punch. They’re very very different.”

 

Paul Loebe, a Marine Reservist, current Roosevelt student, and aide in the Veterans Services Office served on active duty for 8 years. “I was stationed in Hawaii and Camp Pendleton, California,” Loebe proudly states. “I served two tours to Iraq, one tour to Afghanistan, and one Expeditionary deployment to the middle east…I think only one of my classes knows, and they only really know because of my backpack. I try not to make a big deal about it.”

 

Loebe, dressed casually smart in a burgundy button–up shirt that is tucked neatly in his khaki slacks, wants to spread Roosevelt’s message of social justice as he laterally transitions from current Mastery of Service (or M.O.S.) in Artillery, to 3D Civil Affairs where he hopes to make  and, “effective and lasting impact.”

 

“Probably what attracts me the most [to Roosevelt] is the mission statement,” Loebe continues with warm smile. “I love what Pete’s done with putting this together. I’m actually trying to see if we can get a veterans [group] started here. One of the things I know I had when I started here is the brotherhood, but suddenly, it’s gone.”

 

La Haire explains that a lot people that veterans struggle with the transition from servicemen to student, and that poor experiences in school or their their military career can derail that transition . “A lot of that comes not necessarily from what happened that was bad about their time in the service, but it’s that they miss the good stuff. They miss the camaraderie.”

 

Mike Vivirito, a senior and Journalism major concurs with feeling of isolation when he recounted his experiences. “I served in Iraq under the 101st Airborne until September of 2006. I drove 220,000 miles from Kuwait, throughout Iraq and into many parts of Syria, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia…You remember in the Army; every morning you got up and did what the other 20 guys around you did? Well in school, you are on your own. You need to take all the organization, dedication, motivation and discipline you learned and apply it to being a great student,” says Vivirito.

 

“Roosevelt has done a very good job with its veterans.”, Vivirito continues,”Peter LaHaie, especially, has been an irreplaceable guide through the G.I. Bill and Veteran Program at R.U. His dedication and follow through have been an unequal tool in my success at R.U. thus far.”

 

As a former Roosevelt student and veteran, La Haire knows first hand the needs for Roosevelt’s service members and reminds students that they are not alone in their new avenues towards success.

 

“I got my Bachelors in 2012, started in 2010,” recalls La Haire with a raised brow and jovial grin. “…When I decided I was going to go to college at 35, I went to school full-time, and I worked full-time…I came, I took the tour, and at the time the best view was out of the library because [the Wabash] building wasn’t here. As soon as the doors opened, that was it! Hook, line and sinker…When I came off active duty, and took off the uniform, I went from having what we consider the, “Ultimate Purpose”: defending this great nation, and we [veterans] can have this sort of identity crisis in that you can wonder, “What’s it all about now?” You’re coming from an environment where you’re being told what to do, how to do it, or what to do when your done, and then you come out of the service and you’re told you can do anything that you want and that’s just really overwhelming…First year students coming in have it hard enough after high-school, but when you come out of a military setting in to a higher education setting you get kind of a one-two punch. They’re very very different.”

 

As an institution that was initially comprised of numerous servicemen and women, Roosevelts current veterans help to add to its nationally revered status as one of the most diverse colleges. While their current numbers may not be as vast as they initially were, it is important to remember that, as times changes, one must honor not just the past veterans, but the sacrifices of the present veterans, be they large or small.

 

“I’m trying my best to make this the Go-To institution for veterans looking to start and complete their higher education, “La Haire stresses, wrinkle in his brow and a fist clenched in honesty. “I want them to know that when they come here they will be well taken care of, that they will be fed, that their needs will be met…When people ask me what I do, I primarily work with [the veteran] population, but the first three words out of my mouth are, “I graduate students”. That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. It’s not just enrolling them, it’s serving them and making sure that they walk across that stage! That what’s brings me to work as a Roosevelt administrator, I’ll do it for any student I come in contact with, but that’s what I do.”

Bit Bash brings indie game developers to Chicago

Posted in Uncategorized by Dominic Gwinn on September 13, 2014

The following story originally appeared in The Torch, the student newspaper of Roosevelt University, on Sept. 13, 2014.

Bit Bash brings indie game developers to Chicago

By Dominic Gwinn

On Sept. 6, over 30 independent video game developers gathered at the headquarters of the Threadless T-shirt company for Chicago’s first indie games conference.

While D.J.s churned out electronic music, and “Blade Runner” was projected against the wall, a crowd of several hundred were able to get their hands on a selection of independent video games from all over the world.
Bit Bash, Chicago’s first large-scale independent games showcase and interactive arts festival, was the brainchild of Chicago’s own artists and developers, Indie City Games.
“It started with a little over 10 initial people invited on an email,” recalls Jamie Sanchez, Bit Bash’s Creative Director and Indie City Games member.

“We just started to ask what kind of ideas merge, and what we can possibly pull off by the end of summer…It took a while for us to determine, as a group, who we wanted in the show–like what games were ‘festival quality.’ We wanted games that maybe had interesting control schemes or were maybe a little subversive for the genre. Things that people wouldn’t necessarily pick up and play at home. We wanted a specific, unique environment.”

As an interactive exhibition, many of the games on display defied the definition of a video game, while others embraced the term.

“Choosatron,” by Jamie Belich, resembled the interactive book series, “Choose Your Own Adventure” by reprogramming receipt tape printer.

As players progress through their tale, they press one of four different buttons, which allows them to create a story that is gradually spat out.

“I did the ‘super hero’ story,” attendee Daniel Beleck said.

“I chose ‘run and help the lady in distress,’ so now she’s impressed with how strong I am, but then a knife falls out of [her attacker’s] pocket. I bend down to pick up the knife, but I’m too slow so he wrestled me to the ground, and…then he kills me. I want to try it again.”
Other games on display, such as Chicago resident Andy Saia’s farcical “Last Tango in Paradise Simulator,” utilized an old “Dance Dance Revolution” pad, bad motion capture animation and a personal passion for dance to amuse and delight.

“You actually don’t control the character, what you control is the tango, and in turn, the tango takes control of you,” Saia said. “It’s a passionate romance simulator…I felt this made a much more immersive experience for a show like this.

While volunteer coordinator Kyle Bailey helped check in the hundreds of attendees, he marveled at the crowd through a sigh of exhaustion.

“I’d say there’s probably over 500 people that showed up today, but I honestly lost track. There’s a lot of kids, a lot of parents, just a lot of first timers and a lot of support.”

“I want them to tell their friends because many of these games are scalable and available on Steam,” said Sanchez. “I want them to go out of their way to indoctrinate their friends, and get their friends excited about these things. A lot of individuals who look at video games think that it’s all “Call of Duty,” “Halo”, or the other AAA titles–like “Skylanders.” We’re definitely showing the creativity of these independent developers. We’re sharing the love.”

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