How to deal with holiday stress

miller02-01The holiday season can be stressful because of the pressure we feel from multiple sources.

These pressures can be as varied as financial stress, relations with siblings or in-laws, time pressures or simply the complex experience of increased family intimacy – however your family is defined. Most of us have longstanding cultural expectations for this time of year; we long for happiness and fulfillment.

As we spend more time with those we are closest to, we think we “should” be happy. That expectation can sometimes leave us feeling disappointment and frustration. And if you are a caregiver, there may be a disparity between your personal goals and your caregiving responsibilities and commitments.

These relationship-based concerns can be exposed at the dinner table or some other event where family members come together.

How can we make the most of the opportunities the holidays present? Here are a few suggestions:

• Even if your primary commitment is to fulfill your caregiving responsibilities, try to save at least a little time each day to take care of yourself. Consider a little private time with your significant other, an hour at the gym, a good holiday book or movie, or a soak in the tub by candlelight.

• If you can, de-focus on spending a lot on gifts and re-focus on having fun together. Take a walk in the woods or along the lake – something that costs little or nothing and provides time to talk, love and be loved.

• Give some of your personal time to those less fortunate. Doing so can be satisfying and may help you appreciate your own less-than-perfect life. After all, who has a perfect life?

• If the holidays remind you of times past with someone who is now gone from your life, let yourself mourn that loss. Think about how much you miss him or her, then do everything you can to make your life better right now.

• Finally, let yourself ponder the fact that you are alive right now, at this moment in the history of this ancient world, and that you and your life are unique. You matter, and even if things are not what you might wish today, you are alive and can make good choices for yourself. No one knows where that act of self-caretaking can lead.

For those who just don’t feel up to any of the possibilities listed above, get help from a compassionate and skilled helper — a professional counselor or religious guide, a neighbor, a friend, or a mental health hotline such as the Warm Line at 1-866-359-7953.

My very best wishes to each of you for this upcoming holiday.

Walter D. Miller, LCSW, is a clinical social worker in New Eastside who specializes in children, adolescents and adults. He may be contacted at 312-856-0230.

Neighborhood yoga, music classes

Parents, you won’t have to go far this winter to find fantastic, life-enhancing enrichment classes for your children. The North Harbor Tower fitness room hosts two classes that allow kids to sing, dance, move and pose as they learn and explore the world around them.

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YOGA

When you first meet Yoga Instructor Keyla Ortiz, her positive energy and excitement for life, kids and yoga is palpable. A typical class starts with breathing, stretching and introductions, and always ends on a calming note. But what happens during the hour between is refreshing and delightful.

“The kids flow with their energy,” says Ortiz, who has worked with youngsters for more than a decade.

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“Feather blowing” (Gagnon)

Ortiz tailors each class to meet the needs of her young students and helps them connect with the world they live in. Through singing, dancing, stories and more, the little yogis enjoy learning and exploring together with their parents or caregivers. An extensive background in pediatric psychology helps Ortiz create and sculpt the program.

“I incorporate everything I learned from my therapeutic years and gear things toward their needs,” she says.

New Eastside resident Natalie Heitmann and her 16-month-old son have been attending Ortiz’s yoga classes for several months. “Keyla’s a fantastic instructor! It’s tons of fun and my son is always happy to be here,” she says. “Everything is age appropriate and is helping his development.”

One age-appropriate activity that Ortiz frequently incorporates during sessions is feather blowing. Kids practice their breathing skills by blowing a brightly colored feather up in the air. Not only does this produce smiles and giggles, but it also helps kids connect their breathing with movement and purpose, which is a big part of yoga.

Ortiz’s classes for ages five and under are held Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 to 11 a.m.  at North Harbor Tower. She also teaches ages six to twelve on Thursday evenings from 5 to 6 p.m.  More information, including prices and packages, is available on her website,  www.keyogui.com.

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MUSIC

Musician and teacher Nina Marder seeks to “promote learning through music” during her Early Childhood Music and Movement classes, which are also held at North Harbor Tower. Though songs, stories, dancing and the use of various props, Marder inspires her young students to develop a love of learning through music.

Her program is based on an early childhood curriculum, so she emphasizes development of academic and lifetime skills through music. “Through music, they can learn anything,” Marder says.

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A future composer (Gagnon)

Early learning skills such as identifying the letters of the alphabet, days of the week, colors and shapes can be mastered through song or interpreted through dance to solidify this critical knowledge. Dancing can also help improve coordination and rhythm.

“Children learn more with movement or through play,” explains Marder.

Her sessions are always interactive and engaging. Using shakers, maracas, parachutes, musical instruments and more, musical exploration becomes vibrantly alive during Marder’s classes.

“I’m passionate about working with children, watching them grow with music and seeing how excited they are,” she says.

Marder’s music classes for babies through preschoolers are held on Wednesdays, beginning at 10 a.m. She is also exploring the possibility of evening and weekend classes for school-age kids. Contact Nina at (847)791-0994 or nmar15@sbcglobal.net for more information.

— Angela Gagnon

Resolving Marital Conflict

miller02-01This very touching question is perhaps the single biggest motivator to people seeking couples’ therapy.  No two people can live together for an extended time without periodic disagreements and upset.  But for too many of us, the disagreements lead to alienation that can cause a marriage to falter and crumble. That does not have to be the outcome.

As with raising children, most of us just wing it as we try to love and be loved by our partners.  We have no education or preparation for this most important relationship and often simply count on what we heard as children, which may not have been a very good model for a successful marriage.

So if their relationship is slipping or deteriorating, the wise couple will seek help to enhance their mutual intimacy.  In couples’ therapy there is one precept that is particularly helpful.  It can also be helpful before the relationship becomes so stressed that professional help is necessary.

If you and/or your partner are feeling distant and dissatisfied with your conflict resolution, agreeing on this precept can help you at home as you address your concerns.  Begin your discussion with a version of this statement: “I love you and when we are done talking today, my primary goal is to feel closer and more loving toward you.”

Then the content of the conflict becomes secondary, and both parties can know their primary goal is to treat each other with respect and kindness, even if the problem is quite annoying and difficult.

Should things begin to heat up again as the conversation continues, it helps to agree in advance to reiterate the primary goal, perhaps take a break and return to the problem after giving each other time to think about it.

If you do the above work before you are hopelessly angry and discouraged, it can make it much easier to resolve problems.  It is also helpful to ask your partner in advance “if now is a good time to talk.”  If not, find a time that works for both of you.  You may find that after  you have eaten a meal together conflict can be more easily resolved.

If after many tries that do not lead to more closeness you cannot find a common motive to work toward a resolution, don’t give up.  That is the time to seek marital or relationship counseling.  Three minds are very often better than two.  It takes work, but couples who learn to deal with conflict by becoming closer have discovered the secret of true intimacy.

— Walter Miller, Community Contributor

Walter D. Miller, LCSW, is a clinical social worker on the New Eastside who specializes in work with children, adolescents and their parents. He may be contacted at 312-856-0230.

How to engage children in conversation

When children have conversations with us on their own terms, it can help make them feel more comfortable talking.

From the perspective of clinical social workers, when we see children or teenagers in therapy we try very hard to help them experience being with us on their terms. We let them regulate the intimacy and trust rather than our being intrusive. This approach can be very helpful in getting to know the children in your life.

art-center-activitiesa-copyLet’s take, for example, a grandfather who does not see his grandson frequently. Understandably, the child, let’s call him Johnny, may be a bit shy.  Ideally, Grandpa will be unobtrusive and respectful of the child’s experience; he would not ask questions that require a direct answer from Johnny. Grandpa might begin by saying, “It’s really good to see you, Johnny.  Maybe we could hang out here a little while.  Would you like to look around the house?  I have a bunch of toys in the living room that your dad had when he was little, and some new ones, too.   And if you are hungry we could take a look in the kitchen and see what we could find together.”

Then Grandpa would take his time, go slowly, and not rush Johnny.

The point is to stay a step behind Johnny and follow his motives.  Grandpa would not introduce his own motives, and he would try to give Johnny whatever he might ask for even if he is a little surprised by the request — unless it might be harmful to Johnny.

For instance, if there was fruit on the table but Johnny asked for ice cream, Grandpa would happily give ice cream.  If there was no ice cream, it might give them a chance to go to the market and get some together.

The point is, if you want to have a comfortable and easy relationship with a child, it is essential for the child to develop trust in you. The more trust there is, the easier it is for children to talk about what is important and, perhaps, troubling to them.

It is best to say yes as often as possible.  And if you have to say no, it helps first to recognize the child’s motives before declining the request. For example, say, “I can understand why you might want that,” and, if possible, offer the child a positive alternative such as granting the request at another time when it works better for both and is safe.  As the relationship of respect develops, trust awakens and the child’s natural human motive to communicate his or her feelings will emerge.

The ideas above are informed by the theory in “The Smart Love Parent” by Drs. William J. and Martha Heineman Pieper. These ideas have been tested over and over and definitely help increase the trust and communication between children and their caregivers.

Walter D. Miller, LCSW, is a clinical social worker on the New Eastside who specializes in work with children, adolescents and their parents. He may be contacted at 312-856-0230.

Service dogs vs. emotional support animals

Getting to know the specific breeds of dogs that our neighbors own can help us to understand the neighborhood we live in. Urban Real Estate managing partner Matt Farrell — a New Eastside resident and loyal dog owner — places a high priority on befriending both the two- and four-legged members of the community.

seeing-eye-dog-clipart-1“While each building has its own criteria for general pets, many of the community’s dogs offer a service far greater than you may know,” he says.

Under the American Disabilities Act, a service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability.  The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.

According to the National Service Animal Registry (NSAR), an Emotional Support Animal (ESA), is NOT regarded as a “working service dog,” but rather as an emotional support animal. “Guide” dogs are classified as working service dogs, and are helpful for those who experience vision problems. “Hearing Alert” dogs are certified if trained to alert you to sounds such as alarms, doorbells, automobile sounds, etc.  They are considered working service dogs, as well.

Medical Assist dogs are certified as working service dogs if the dog is trained to assist when experiencing a physical crisis in which you can’t perform a major life task yourself. Mobility dogs are granted status if the dogs are trained or able to provide stability and support for substantial physical balance problems to you.  Other certifications also exist and are worth researching further to understand the service they provide.

Learn more by visiting the NSAR web site at www.nsarco.com and referring to the American Disabilities Act.

Lurie Garden honey harvest

Every year, beekeepers from the Chicago Honey Co-op collect
about 1,500 pounds of sweet stuff from the hives of
nearly four-dozen honeybee colonies throughout the city,
including two in the Lurie Garden.

They get stung along the way, but the pain is nothing
compared to the reward of working with
nature’s astonishing little sugarmakers.

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“We started harvesting the last week of July,” says Sydney Barton, one of roughly 19 members of the democratically controlled Chicago Honey Co-op that was formed in 2004. “We’ll continue to go until the end of October.”

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Beekeeper Jefferson Shuck

Ms. Barton’s dedication to the trade began in 2003, when a friend invited her to help install a package of “about 6,000 or 8,000 bees” into a hive.

“A package is kind of a rectangular box that’s got screens on either side,” she explains. “The bees are shipped with a queen and sugar syrup to feed them.”

Although she describes the annual honey haul as “not a lot,” it’s enough to keep the Co-op as busy as a bee.

In the nonprofit’s workshop on the Near West Side, Ms. Barton spends 40+ hours each week helping to transform the sticky yield into lip balms, body bars, and glass jars of raw goodness that will be sold through its online store and in select farmers markets.

“Our body products are made with wax that came from the hives,” she says. “We add more ingredients, like cocoa butter and vegetable shortening. The beeswax helps to stabilize the bars.”

She also helps with a line of candles made with beeswax from a Michigan beekeeper that is heated to 160 degrees, liquefied, and poured into molds.

On Saturdays, she and other volunteers load the products — along with signage and a vendor booth — into a bicycle trailer and transport everything to Lincoln Park’s Green City Market. On Sundays, it’s off to the Logan Square Farmers Market.

Then the process of gathering the honey begins again.

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The hives at the Lurie Garden resemble an old bedroom dresser that someone left in a nondescript maintenance area behind a hedgerow. Tucked underneath the elevated walkway that leads to the Art Institute’s Modern Wing, they are easy to miss. But the activity within them is nothing short of miraculous.

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Beehive at the Lurie Garden

The “drawers” of the structure are individual square wooden boxes. Each box holds ten vertical frames that are about the size and shape of a shoebox lid. Each frame is prepared with a wax foundation upon which the honeybees build their entire society. There are areas for the queen and her attendants, the workers, the drones, the pupa, and the honey, which is stored in the uppermost box.

When it’s time to harvest, the beekeeper loosens the honey frames with a pry bar and removes them. A brush helps keep the bees away and, when necessary, a smoker prompts them to move deeper into the hive, an instinct developed over centuries of protecting the colony from forest fires.

The gear worn by the Co-Op’s beekeepers is relatively simple.

“At minimum we recommend a veil, so if you upset the bees, they don’t sting your face,” says Ms. Barton. “Most beginners will wear a whole bee suit, which we don’t bother with.”

Although she estimates that bees have stung her about a 100 times, she insists that the insects are harmless. “Their goal in life is to forage and get nectar and pollen,” she says. “When a beekeeper is working a hive, the bees are not paying attention to what he’s doing. When I’ve gotten stung it’s only been when I make contact with frames and I’ve accidently smashed a bee with my finger.”

After collecting the honey frames and removing the wax that covers the honey located on either side, the beekeeper arranges them like spokes on a wheel inside a cylindrical machine called an extractor. When the extractor is powered up, it spins the wheel and creates enough centrifugal force to pull the honey out of the wax, where it flows down to the bottom and through a honey gate.

“It’s like a faucet attached to the side of the extractor that you open to get the honey out,” explains Ms. Barton.

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Honey for sale at the Logan Square Farmers Market

The technique is more labor intensive than the process followed by many large commercial suppliers, which often heat the honey to make it flow more easily.

“Their main interest is getting it into jars as soon as possible,” says Ms. Barton. “They call their honey pasteurized — okay, great — but you’ve also killed all the good stuff inside of it. You also lose the flavor.”

The good stuff includes a lot of residual pollen, one of the ingredients that has made beekeeper Jefferson Shuck a honey believer for years.

“I always had really bad allergies,” he explains. “It’s said that when you ingest the pollen in the honey, it helps your immune system fight pollen in the air. That works for me.”

Mr. Shuck came to Chicago from Missouri to pursue a career in massage therapy — “I wanted to make Chicago a healthy place,” he says. But after becoming involved with the Chicago Honey Co-Op, determined that he was not only helping people feel better, but also improving his own wellness. “You have to move intentional and slow,” he says. “It’s like tai-chi.”

When the harvest ends, he’ll help prepare the colonies for winter.

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Lip balm by Chicago Honey Co-Op

Before the cold arrives, the beekeepers will reduce the height of the hives to about three-feet — roughly 25% smaller than their summer size. This leaves the bees less area to heat, which they accomplish by beating their wings. The queen, who stops laying eggs in November, remains at the center. The rest will constantly rotate towards the middle so that everyone gets a chance to warm up. They’ll also leave the hive with about 70 pounds of honey for the bees to nourish themselves.

Despite all the preparations, the colony is not guaranteed to survive. Mr. Shuck is currently attempting to locally raise a number of queens, which usually come from California and the South, to Chicago’s climate. “It’s a really big and complicated process called grafting,” he explains.

To help complete the first phase, he is seeking a modest $300 via gofundme.com/chicagoqueens. If that proves successful, he’ll ask for more next year.

“Beekeeping is like a rabbit hole of information,” he says. “You just go down.”

To contact the Chicago Honey Co-op, call (312) 508-8142 or visit chicagohoneycoop.com.

—Daniel Patton, Staff Writer

Summer swimming lessons for everyone

With temps heating up, swimming may be just the thing to help stay cool all summer. There are lots of opportunities in New Eastside to get comfortable in the water, learn water safety techniques and perfect your stroke.


The British Swim School
, a franchise organization that has been in operation for the past 35 years, comes to North Harbor Tower several times a week with a “swim school in a box” concept that is customized to each specific location where the program takes place.

SWIM0002webJohn Hale, Operations and Marketing Director, says BSS focuses on survival first in a small, intimate setting, which is unique to the industry. “Using muscle memory, we train children as young as three months to turn (over in the water) and cry for help,” he says.

Older children might work on turning, coordination, breathing, and stamina. For adults, BSS adapts to specific goals like treading water, triathlon training, overcoming fear or lap swimming.

Coach Kathy Kelly and her team of four instructors have been offering her swim program at the Aqua pool for the past five years. Kelly says they teach all ages starting at six months, but perhaps their biggest growing group is adults who are afraid of the water and want to learn to swim. “Swimming is not just a sport, it’s a life saving skill,” she says. “It’s also one of the best all body exercises you’ll find.”

There are also private instructors like Rachel Horol, who has been sharing her aquatic expertise in individual New Eastside pools for the past three years. “I offer private and semi-private swim classes, focusing mainly on early childhood independence, safety and stroke development,” she says. “Swimming independently, reaching goals, and conquering the fear of water are such personal achievements that, when a child succeeds, it gives them confidence in other areas of life.”

If indoor swimming pools don’t provide enough fun, summer beach season is upon us and Ohio Street Beach is likely the perfect training site for open water swimming. It’s possible to swim a half mile north towards Oak Street Beach without being more than a short distance from the seawall and shallow water. There are lockers, restrooms and Café Oliva right on the beach to help with refueling after a challenging open water swim.

Whatever your water goals might be for the summer, there are an abundance of local options to help you achieve them. Contact the instructors for more information on scheduling, pricing and other information.

— Angela Gagnon, Staff Writer

Resident opens city’s largest floatation / deprivation studio

When Gloria Irwin rented a place at the Chandler three years ago, she thought it would make for great weekend getaways from her suburban Indiana home. The neighborhood — as well as her three children and her boyfriend — quickly agreed.

“We love Lakeshore East because it gives such a neighborhood feel in the city,” she says.

Little did she know what dramatic and excellent changes life had in store for her.

At the time, she was an IT professional who had found an abundance of success analyzing large quantities of information for the likes of Harrah’s Entertainment and Trump Hotels and as the owner of her own business. She found that the New Eastside helped her reduce the stress by offering peaceful places to stroll, bike, and, most importantly, walk her five year-old Bichon Shih Tzu, Lola.

“If you’re stressed out and you go over to the dog park, you cannot help but feel happy,” she says. “It is my happy place.”

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Float Sixty owner and founder Gloria Irwin

Then her boyfriend asked her to try “something new,” a from of therapeutic rejuvenation that involved floating in a giant tank full of saltwater and darkness. Alone.

She hesitated.

“We had been dating for four years at this time,” she explains. “He had been exposed to this. He kind of talked me into trying.”

The experience changed her life.

“I got the best sleep of my life that night,” she says. “So I did it again to make sure it was really that effective.”

That was April 2015. Within a year, Gloria would leave the IT industry and open Float Sixty, Chicago’s largest flotation and sensory deprivation studio.

Each of the facility’s five individual suites offer state of the art tanks filled with ten inches of warm water and 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt, which contains magnesium, a natural muscle relaxer.

“The environment is most akin to what you would experience floating in the Dead Sea,” she says.

Although her studio has proven its worthiness to people who push their bodies to the limit for a living — Jeremy Roenick, Matt Forte, and Jonathan Toews are all clients — the rejuvenating effects of an hour spent floating in one of the tanks is something that Ms. Irwin believes everyone can use.

“Afterwards, you feel energy and everything’s more hi-def and more clear,” she says. “You’re a lot more calm.”

The studio is so busy that Ms. Irwin and her staff must do their personal floating after hours, but Float Sixty still offers a neighborhood discount for all New Eastside first-timers.

Turns out that her boyfriend’s advice was worth taking. Perhaps that’s part of the reason she said yes when he asked her to marry him last November.

Float Sixty · 303 W. Erie St. · (844) 356-2860 · www.floatsixty.com.

— Daniel Patton, Staff Writer

Bloch Cancer Survivors Garden, a neighborhood oasis

Nestled between the Maggie Daley and Peanut Parks is a small oasis known as the Bloch Cancer Survivors Garden. It is a secluded refuge where people can sit quietly to reflect upon loved ones who have suffered from cancer, ponder their own mortality or simply enjoy the majestic beauty of nature.

The garden was built in 1996 on approximately 2.25 acres of land. Two 40-foot Corinthian columns, which were salvaged from Chicago’s 1905 Federal Building, grace the entrance. Prior to being put in the garden, these columns were used to reinforce a breakwater under the Lake Michigan shoreline during the 1980s.

IMG_3371dThe gardens are funded by the R.A. Bloch Cancer Foundation, which was founded by Richard and Annette Bloch. The couple dedicated their lives to helping others suffering with the disease after Richard waged and won a war with lung cancer.

Features that promote healing are incorporated into the landscaping, including 14 bronze plaques carrying messages of inspiration, and a “positive mental attitude” walkway lined with greenery and flowers.

A sculpture of eight life-size bronze figures arranged in a maze, represents the trials of cancer treatment. There is a pavilion, which signifies the road to recovery, with plaques that define cancer and ways to help overcome it.

The Bloch Cancer Survivor’s Garden has overcome its own challenges over the years, including crab apple trees that were attacked by rabbits, the theft of the inspirational plaques, and even a consideration of moving the garden to gain access to Lake Michigan.

The garden’s annual replanting budget is an estimated $60,000, which has traditionally been managed through the Parkways Foundation, the park district’s nonprofit arm. Although revenue generated by renting the garden for weddings and private events may offset costs of maintaining it, its fiscal situation remains controversial and relies considerably on private donations.

Anyone wishing to make a donation should contact the Chicago Park District (773) 685-7235.

— Ophelia Dodds, Community Contributor

Visionary “green fitness space” may replace old skate park

The idea behind the recently proposed “Green Fitness Space” in Grant Park is to start a revolution. From personal wellness to community participation to corporate health care, the lifestyle concept designed by Chicagoans Omari Jinaki and Ross Arena aims to change how the world thinks about staying in shape.

Jinaki and Arena presented their idea to a meeting of the Grant Park Conservancy and the Grant Park Advisory Council on Northerly Island in February. If the proposal gains approval, it could mean that the old skate park near the intersection of Balbo Ave. and Columbus Dr. will become a thing of the past, replaced by a multipurpose facility covering 36,000 square feet.

Besides offering calisthenic-based exercise equipment, the space will boast an organic garden, a staff of professional fitness instructors and, most importantly, an all-inclusive free admission policy.

“Health is like a basic human right,” says Jinaki. “Nobody should have to pay to be physically active.”

Jinaki combines a passion for fitness with an Ivy League MBA and a knack for organizational excellence. His ability to lead projects has helped him succeed as an associate director at Ogilvy & Mather’s New York office, an ad agency where he worked until returning to his hometown of Chicago last year.

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The former skateboard park where advocates want to build a Green Fitness Space (photo: Daniel Patton)

Upon arriving back in the Windy City, he noticed a lack in the type of public fitness areas that had become part of his everyday life in the Big Apple. He was so impressed with New York’s community-building effects that he actually helped secure and design one for his

Inwood Hill Park neighborhood with funds from the city’s discretionary budget last year. He was inspired to do the same thing in Chicago.

He presented the idea to Bob O’Neill, President of the Grant Park Conservancy, who not only recommended the unused location of the former skateboard park, but also recognized the concept as “a new idea that’s never been done anywhere else in the world.”

“It’s part of a bigger picture,” he says. “We want to do something that really attracts people to get healthier. We want this to be a beautiful space.”

The location is exactly what Jinaki had envisioned, largely because it is accessible to people “who would normally feel intimidated by sports where you have to buy equipment,” he says.

Arena, who earned a PhD from Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine and heads the Department of Physical Therapy at UIC, has long advocated for national wellness. When he heard about Jinaki’s concept in a local newspaper, he recognized it as a potential shot in the arm for America’s quality of life.

He incorporates public health and wellness into a community outreach class that has been part of UIC’s curriculum for years. In addition to enlightening students, the class helps him perfect the method for bringing fitness to the masses. He is also growing an organic garden on campus, one that he hopes will become the model for what ultimately grows in Grant Park.

The presentation was so well received that O’Neill has since asked the firm that designed the skateboard park, Altamanu, to sketch out a few ideas for the green fitness space. He hopes to present those to the public within the next few months.

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