By Joan Hadoc
The people of Garfield Ridge and Clearing have much in common and should continue to work together to prevent crime and improve their neighborhoods, members of the Clearing Civic League were told on Tuesday.
"We are brothers and sisters divided only by a set of railroad tracks," said Garfield Ridge Neighborhood Watch President Al Cacciottolo, the featured guest speaker at the CCL's June meeting, held at the Hale Park Field House. About 30 people were in attendance.
Cacciottolo outlined the history of the GRNW, noting that it was founded about three years ago in the wake of an incident that occurred near Archer and Nashville, when several gang members beat a local teenager.
"The police went after these punks; and as they ran away, one of them ran right through the backyard of a woman who today is our team leader," Cacciottolo related. "It was a real wake-up call for our neighborhood, and it was at that point we stood up and said we're not going to let this happen to us."
He claimed that today, after years of GRNW diligence and vigilance, as well as working closely with Chicago Lawn (8th) District Police, "our organization is 85 members strong and crime in our area is down 30 to 40 percent," prompting applause from the audience.
Cacciottolo emphasized that the GRNW owes a debt of gratitude to the Clearing Night Force neighborhood watch group, established in 1996 and which the GRNW and other neighborhood watch groups in the city have emulated.
"They gave us good advice and showed us the way," he said. "We saw how successful they were, and we wanted to do the same."
He also credited Ald. Michael Zalewski (23rd) and his staff for providing ongoing assistance and encouragement.
He outlined several GRNW initiatives to fight crime and blight. The newest was announced Monday: a "good neighbor" program that will link Garfield Ridge senior citizens -- as well as younger people in financial need -- with donated neighbor-to-neighbor services to help keep homes and other property in good shape.
"In any community, there are always a few homes that fall into disrepair over time," Cacciottolo said. "Neighbors complain and demand that the city come out and slap fines on people. But I know that the alderman doesn't want to do that; because in many cases, these are elderly people who want to do the right thing, but just need a hand. We're going to try and provide that help."
He invited everyone to visit the GRNW Web site (garfieldridgenw.com) to learn more about the group.
The GRNW was praised at the meeting by Clearing Night Force member Mary Shilney for working closely and effectively with her group -- and even patrolling a hard-to-reach strip of Clearing that is difficult to reach because of railroad tracks.
CCL Vice President (and incoming president) Joe Rice thanked Cacciottolo and encouraged him to visit other groups in Clearing to spread the good news about the GRNW.
Also at the meeting, CCL members and others feted outgoing President Richard Zilka for his 29 years of service as leader of the group. Laudatory legislative resolutions were read aloud, gifts were presented, cake was served, and two local politicians were on hand to offer personal congratulations: Cong. Daniel Lipinski (D-3rd) and Ald. Marty Quinn (13th).
Lipinski called Zilka "a tireless fighter for the community" and credited Zilka's wife of 54 years, Marie Zilka, for "her important role" in her husband's success and the success of the CCL.
Lipinski recapped several major battles fought by Zilka over the years to improve Clearing and assessed the present day.
"Things aren't very good; well, things aren't perfect here now. But despite all the troubles, it's still a good place to live and raise a family," said Lipinski, who lives in suburban Western Springs.
The group also congratulated and applauded outgoing Recording Secretary Rose Ann McInerney for her 12 years of service to the organization. The CCL is seeking a successor.
There were also assorted questions from the group -- mostly directed at Quinn -- relating to the poor condition of the 63rd Street roadway from Central to Harlem, complaints about work done by utility companies, sewer and water questions, and more.
The Clearing Civic League will take its annual summer break and resume monthly meetings in September, with Rice at the helm. Zilka is expected to remain in the mix, in a kind of advisory "emeritus" role, Rice said. -- Southwest City News-Herald