Monthly Archives: March 2015

No Injuries From Home Fire in Chicago Suburb, Officials Say

Hosue Fire

An Algonquin home fire that broke out in the early morning Wed., March 25, displaced two people but caused no injuries, officials have said.

According to a statement from the Algonquin-Lake in the Hills Fire Protection District, which covers the northwest Chicago suburb, the blaze started in an upstairs bathroom of the two-story home, located on the 1400 block of Braewood Drive.

The flames broke out at approximately 2:35 a.m., and were extinguished at 2:52 a.m. through a joint effort from the Algonquin-Lake in the Hills Fire Battalion and the forces of Barrington, Carpentersville, Crystal Lake, Fox River Grove and Huntley.

The cause is still being investigated.

The Algonquin Building Department declared the building uninhabitable, and no official statement has been made as to when the residents will be able to move back in.
Fire Safety Awareness

John Greene, chief for the Algonquin-Lake in the Hills Fire Battalion, reported that fortunately, in this case the house had working smoke alarms, and the residents were able to evacuate.

The fire can serve as a reminder, however, of the importance of fire safety. Smoke detectors should be changed at least once every 10 years, or in accordance with manufacturer recommendations. The City of Chicago offers a number of fire safety tip sheets online, including some translated into Spanish, Polish and Chinese, to keep all Chicago-area residents safe.

Apartment dwellers may also want to be aware of their building’s safety systems. Late on March 14, a 70-year-old man was killed when a fire broke out in a residential high rise at 300 S. Damen in Chicago. The building did not have fire sprinklers.

The building had passed the Life Safety Evaluation; LSE standards require that all buildings in the city constructed before 1975 without fire sprinklers pass the evaluation, but does not require that sprinklers be installed.

“This tragic fire is another example of how the city’s LSE leaves residents … vulnerable in residential high rises where no fire sprinklers are present,” Tom Lia, executive director of the nonprofit Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board, said in a statement. “Although the LSE measures aim to avoid the spread of fire from unit to unit, it does nothing to protect the individuals in the unit of a fire’s origin, essentially writing off those residents’ lives.”

Despite Warnings That Federal Funding Could Be Withheld, Dozens of Chicago Students Opted Out of the PARCC Test

Happy Friends Studying Together
At the beginning of March, Chicago School District 109 Superintendent Mike Lubelfeld posted a video on YouTube urging parents and students to take the controversial standardized PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) test.

Although students had been the ability to opt out of the test — with plenty of support from parents and school officials as well — Lubelfeld stated that it was imperative to have at least 95% of Illinois students willingly take the test, lest the school district lose significant federal funding due to a lack of student participation.

But despite the superintendent’s message — which was one of many messages from Illinois education officials regarding the PARCC — the Chicago Tribune has reported that hundreds of Illinois students in more than 80 individual Chicago Public Schools have opted out of the test.

According to the Tribune, the PARCC is based on other standardized tests like the Common Core and ISAT. And just as those tests have been considered outdated and ineffective, the PARCC has become equally as controversial.

“The PARCC exams arrive amid growing criticism at least partially due to the large amount of time required to take them,” the Tribune explains. “Anticipated and actual technology glitches further complicate the issue.”

Although school board members and administrators throughout the state have openly questioned the test’s usefulness, they have still encouraged students to take the test regardless.

State officials had already warned weeks ago that if more than 5% of Illinois students decided to opt out of the PARCC, the state could lose a significant amount of federal funding for its public schools — meaning essential extracurricular programs like theater productions and sports teams, which have become integral parts of high school life and encourage community involvement, could face dramatic downsizing. Some five million students participate in athletics programs associated with schools each year.

For Lubelfeld’s school district, this could mean that the district will lose as much as $1 million in funding. Additionally, Lubelfeld noted, a lack of participation could reflect badly on the entire community and school district — especially since the PARCC is technically mandated by the state (despite not being factored into students’ grades, graduation rates, or acceptances into college).

“I don’t see the need for [the PARCC],” Lubelfeld stated. “It’s not our choice but simply a fact that property values and community status are dependent upon our performance on this assessment.”

Under Armour Opens Retail Location in Luxurious Chicago Shopping District

Female hand holding paper shopping bags isolated on white

Sports gear brand Under Armour has opened its flashiest store to date on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, one of the city’s most exclusive shopping areas.

The store, which the company is calling its Chicago Brand House, is located at 600 N. Michigan Ave. and carries a variety of men’s, women’s and youth’s apparel and footwear, as well as some sports equipment.

“Opening a Brand House on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile allows us to establish Under Armour’s presence in one of the most vibrant and iconic shopping destinations around the globe,” Susie McCabe, senior vice president of global retail, said in a news release ahead of the March 6 opening. “The Under Armour Chicago Brand House will be our largest retail location in the world, highlighting our commitment to innovation while providing consumers with an elevated experience when shopping for apparel and footwear, as well as digital devices and wearables.”

This is the first store that will contain a “wearables bar,” highlighting products in the Under Armour Connected Fitness line.

The store is focused as much on customer experience as on products, however. The entrance features a grand rotunda with numerous digital displays, and a Jumbotron made up of 13 million LEDs has an impressive impact. Some areas are designed both for looks and for function, such as the turf installed in the shoe department so that athletes can feel how their shoes might perform under real playing conditions.

The store also features a number of community-specific products, such as T-shirts bearing the names of nearby neighborhoods and apparel featuring Northwestern University and University of Notre Dame branding.

Under Armour is a relatively young company, having been in business only 19 years. It has risen largely due to its strategy of getting young shoppers involved with the brand, either as athletes or as fans, and then retaining them as they grow into adulthood. Studies have shown that 61% of consumers say they prefer to buy from a brand offering custom products and content, something at which Under Armour excels.

This is the fourth Brand House for the company. The other three are located in Baltimore, MD, the company’s hometown; Tyson’s Corner in McLean, VA; and the SoHo neighborhood of New York City.

Under Armour Opens Flagship Store in Chicago


One of the biggest names in athletic wear finally opened their flagship store in Chicago last week. The new store is not only the largest that the company has, but it also has features and departments that aren’t found in any of their other stores.

Under Armour decided to open a flagship store to focus on direct-to-consumer sales. According to NBC Chicago, the store opened for business last Friday.

“Having retail capability helps us for our international expansion and growth,” Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank told theChicago Tribune. “There’s no such thing as wholesale in other parts of the world, so we need to bring it to the customer ourselves.”

The two-story flagship store is the largest that the company has, at 30,000 square feet. It boasts a wearables bar, where shoppers can peruse fitness devices like Pebble and Garmin. Additionally, the store has departments dedicated to hunting and fishing, which is something that Under Armour has never done before.

The shift in American preference for athletic wear is an obvious one. Overall apparel sales in the United States increased by 2%, but active wear sales jumped 9% — to an impressive $33 billion. Though Under Armour sees itself as an underdog in the market, the company hopes the new location will keep sales growing, which is part of the reason Chicago was chosen for the store.

According to Plank, Chicago is a sports-centric city which makes a good fit for the sports-centric store.

The flagship store is in the old Eddie Bauer LLC location at 600 N. Michigan Avenue.

Geofeedia Announces Plans To Expand Business in Chicago Area After Raising Additional $3 Million in Funding

business plan on wall

Just a few years after launching its social media services for businesses struggling to adapt to the digital age, Chicago-based tech company Geofeedia has announced that it has raised a total $6.8 million in funding since 2011.

Geofeedia released an announcement on March 5th that it had acquired an additional $3 million, four months after announcing that it had raised $3.5 million in Series A funding, and is already actively discussing ways that the company can use these funds to expand and give back to the Chicago community.

Currently, the company has offices in both Chicago and Indianapolis, which employ 36 and 15 workers respectively, according to the Chicago Tribune. Geofeedia has already announced that it plans to hire at least 50 new employees with its most recent funds, splitting the new positions between tech analysts and sales jobs in both offices.

According to Crain’s Chicago Business, Geofeedia easily passed its initial investing goals and decided to launch another round of funding during 2014.

“We surpassed our sales goals and our investors wanted to know if we could grow faster if they added more capital,” CEO Phil Harris explained. “We plan to hire key talent here in Chicago to invest in marketing programs and to expand into new vertical segments.”

Currently, Geofeedia has an estimated 10,000 clients, including big-name corporations like McDonald’s, Dell, the AP, BBC, and CNN. After seeing an 857% increase in customer bookings within the past year, ChicagoInno states that the company anticipates its clientele to quadruple over the coming year.

So what exactly is Geofeedia providing to these businesses that’s causing such dramatic success?

Geofeedia has quickly become a B2B industry leader by providing a “platform [which] helps agencies and organizations collect location-based social media intelligence,” the Tribune states. Although an estimated 84% of B2B marketing businesses already focus on social media content creation and distribution, Geofeedia has taken a different approach to this strategy.

Its “social media intelligence” is primarily focused on providing data about regional social media content — rather than creating or distributing the content — which helps businesses see which news stories and topics are trending in certain regions. Geofeedia provides its clients with an easy-to-use platform which collects pieces of content from a wide variety of social media sites and provides real-time analyses of the trends.

Rather than replacing the marketing teams at major companies, Geofeedia capitalizes on accessibility and convenience of raw data so that companies can create their own content — and this type of complex service is something that very few B2B marketing companies have been able to provide.

Although Geofeedia hasn’t provided any specific details on how it will use the newest funds to develop a stronger service, Harris did mention to the Tribune that the company is interested in expanding the tools available to clients on the platform.

Illinois Attempting to Ban Heinous Act of Conversion Therapy


Conversion therapy, a widely used practice that attempts to “cure” a person identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or gender dysphoric, has been called a heinous and dangerous thing to do to the well being of youth and young adults.

Fortunately, one state is doing something about it.

Reparative therapy, as conversion therapy is sometimes called, is a product of the deadly social stigma placed over the LGBT community, the very same stigma that causes higher rates of depression and suicide amongst its members.

A 2009 survey of over 7,000 LGBT middle and high school students between ages 13 and 21 found that, because of their sexuality, eight in 10 had been verbally harassed at school, four in 10 had been physically harassed at school, one in five had been physically assaulted, and six in 10 felt unsafe at school.

As a result of homosexual victimization, LGBT students were far more likely than heterosexual students to report feelings of depression, the number one predictor of suicide. Major depressive disorders actually account for between 20-35% of all suicide deaths each year. However, more than 80% of depressed individuals don’t seek out professional help, so nothing is done to help them until the unbearable weight simply becomes too much.

Conversion therapy is just another form of psychological violence against the LBGT community.

The good news is that House Bill 217 and Senate Bill 111 — if passed by Illinois’s general assembly and signed by Governor Bruce Rauner — would become the Conversion Therapy Prohibition Act, which would make it illegal for persons under 18 to pursue conversion therapy in the Prairie State.

“It is tragic that LGBT youth suffer at the hands of so-called experts whose therapies have been refuted by every legitimate medical and mental health organization,” Chicago Democratic Rep. Kelly Cassidy, who actually introduced HB 217, told earlier this year. “That is why my bill would label the therapy as ‘unprofessional conduct’ and subject the perpetrator to disciplinary action.”

The bad news is that its sponsors need to get more public support. Luckily, a coalition of LGBT advocates have come together to launch an online petition.

“Illinois should be at the forefront of banning this failed and discredited non-therapy that attempts to change the unchangeable, our innate sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, a major sponsor of the petition initiative.

Although there are opponents to the Conversion Therapy Prohibition Act, such as the Illinois Family Institute, several authoritative organizations have deemed the practice of conversion therapy to be not only ineffective, but harmful. Those opposed to the practice include the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric and Psychological Associations.

As Cassidy told Northern Public Radio, “This really is a bipartisan idea that’s based on protecting kids from bad science.”

Vietnam Veteran Paints Tribute to Fallen Soldiers on His Fence to Ward Off Graffiti Vandals

spray paint

Graffiti is a huge problem in many urban areas. In Chicago, one resident decided to fight graffiti with more graffiti.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Dave Prawdzik, a 66-year-old Vietnam veteran, was fed up with the constant graffiti defacing the fence outside of his home. The fence was designed to protect his yard from the elements but unfortunately, it was unable to protect itself from vandals.

Last fall, he decided the best way to prevent more graffiti was to create a permanent and bold graffiti-work of his own.

For years, Prawdzik alerted the city about the graffiti outside of his home. Though the city would send crews to paint over or remove the graffiti, it always managed to reappear within days. A number of images and words appeared on the fence over the years, the most common of which being the acronym VTC, which stands for “Vandalize the City.” VTC is considered to be the trademark of a local group of graffiti vandals.

“They’re not a gang,” said Capt. Marc Buslik of the Chicago Police Department. “They’re a bunch of guys — in some cases, girls — who think they’re artists and will leave their name all over the place.”

Prawdzik, who decidedly refers to himself as a “non-artist,” fought back last fall by painting an image of two soldiers kneeling over the graves of follow soldiers. After its completion, the graffiti suddenly stopped.

“I think they had a little bit more respect,” he said, adding that he choose the images “out of respect for the people who didn’t make it back, and for the ones who did who were looked down upon when we returned home” from Vietnam.

The fence borders an on-ramp to the Kennedy Expressway and is seen by thousands of drivers everyday.

Capt. Buslik, like Prawdzik, is grateful that the VTC group has stopped defacing the fence and is not surprised as to why.

“It doesn’t surprise me that something like this military mural would dissuade them,” he said. “I mean, these aren’t desperadoes. These are street artists. People just trying to get their name out there.”

“They’re not hateful people,” he added. “They’re not mean. They’re not evil.”

Prawdzik has yet to report any new graffiti but still keeps his guard up. “Every day I look around the fence to make sure it’s not tagged. It’s like a ritual for me,” he said.

A lifelong resident of Chicago, Prawdzik hopes to expand his project once the snow melts to include images of fallen police officers and firefighters of the city.

“Hopefully, whoever’s doing this will continue to respect it,” he said.

Chicago Shooting Victim Smiles Again, 10 Years After Losing Teeth


In 2006, nine-year-old Marcus Norris was sitting in his family’ living room, watching TV and eating ice cream with his brothers, when the unthinkable happened: a stray bullet shot through the walls of the quiet house, located in Chicago’s South Side, and became lodged in Norris’s jawbone.

Although doctors were able to remove the bullet, allowing his mouth to heal and appear perfectly fine from the outside, there was still something missing. Norris’s four front teeth, which were knocked out by the bullet, weren’t going to grow back because they had already replaced his baby teeth.

The problem, multiple doctors and dentists explained, was that Norris was still too young to receive a permanent tooth loss solution like dental implants; although his permanent teeth had grown in, his jaw and gums were still developing too quickly for an implant procedure to be worth the cost.

Considering that it costs anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 for the maintenance of just one missing tooth over a lifetime, there was no way that Norris’s family could afford to pay for constant implant replacements for four teeth.

Although Norris never shied away from participating actively in his community and school, he spent nearly a decade making sure that he covered up his missing teeth as much as possible.

When he traveled to the White House in 2013 for an anti-violence mentoring program called “Becoming a Man,” his grimace is contrasted sharply in a photo taken with Michelle Obama, who is smiling warmly as she embraces Norris.

He continued participating in the BAM program, which has been a notable and important addition to one of Chicago’s most dangerous neighborhoods. But no matter how happy he was, Norris never smiled. He even developed an automatic habit of covering up his mouth every time he laughed, according to the Chicago Sun Times.

But thanks to Timothy Jackson, a mentor in the BAM program, Norris is just beginning to smile again, after recently turning 18 and getting ready to graduate from high school in June and attend college in the fall for culinary arts.

Jackson reportedly went to his supervisors at the region’s Youth Guidance program and asked if a fundraiser could be started for Norris so that he could finally receive the dental work for those four missing teeth. It didn’t take much time for the community to raise over $3,000, and the dentists at the Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center quickly volunteered to help out and to cover any remaining expenses.

Norris is still waiting for his permanent implants to be developed and inserted in a surgical procedure — which could take up to six months to complete — but he’s already been given a set a partial dentures, known as “flippers,” and his family and friends have already noticed huge difference in his confidence.

“He’s getting more out of his high school experience now,” Jackson said to the Sun Times.

“You’d never know he was here. You can’t call him quiet anymore!” classmate Marshawn Boyd agreed.

And as for Norris, he clearly knows that the simplest things in life should never be taken for granted. “The best part is I could take my [high school graduation] pictures… and smile without hiding. I’m happy I can smile.”

Chicago-Area Woman Receives First “Smart Ankle” Prosthetic Controlled by App


A Chicago-area woman has become the first in the world to fitted for a Triton “smart ankle,” a prosthetic that she can adjust using a smartphone app.

Vernita Jefferson, 73, is a longtime resident of the Chatham neighborhood. She was diagnosed with peripheral arterial disease in 2007, and had her left leg amputated below the knee due to lack of blood flow.

She was fitted with a standard prosthetic four months after the surgery, but had trouble getting around and doing all the activities she’s refused to give up: spending time with her five children and 20 grandchildren, swimming, and singing in the choir at Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church.

The foot is one of the most complex areas of the body, containing 25% of the body’s 206 bones as well as numerous muscles, ligaments and nerves. This means it’s very difficult for a prosthetic to allow the same range of motion as a natural foot.

What makes the new prosthetic, which Jefferson has had since last month, special is that it mimics the foot and ankle’s ability to adjust heel height. It’s controlled by a microprocessor and syncs via Bluetooth, so Jefferson can make adjustments simply by touching a button on her phone. It also has built-in sensors and makes some automatic adjustments based on how quickly or slowly Jefferson is walking and how much force is being placed on the prosthetic.

This allows Jefferson to walk on a wider range of surfaces and even drive. She used to need a walker just to make her way to the corner store; now, she makes the trip easily with the aid of just a cane.

Jefferson — a self-professed “shoe lover” — can even wear some high heels, instead of being limited to gym shoes.

Jefferson spends some of her time mentoring other amputees, and told the Chicago Tribune March 4 that she hopes the new technology will give more accessibility to a wide range of people.

“It makes a huge difference just to walk up and down stairs,” she said.