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.


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.

New Eastside soccer enthusiasts head to West Loop

soccer-ball5As a soccer enthusiast, I appreciate Chicago’s ability to accommodate my obsession. Home to the U.S. Soccer Federation, Chicago has a vibrant soccer scene, even during the cold months. The 12,000-sq. ft. indoor Mercy Soccer Center in the West Loop, where I play in a soccer league, has been my salvation for the past few winters.

Inside the Mercy Soccer Center is artificial turf that contains impact-absorbing rubber pellets. Although these pellets occasionally find their way into my shoes, it is preferable to braving the snow and ending up with cold, wet feet.

I generally travel to the center by cab and return home to the New Eastside on foot, often without wearing my coat. Since the amount of warmth generated from an hour of sprinting raises my body temperature so much, I can wear short sleeves in a snowstorm and revel in the odd looks of passersby.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of playing in leagues, such as those offered by Mercy Soccer Center, is that games often resemble a United Nations conference. In terms of player numbers, soccer is the most widely practiced sport in the world. According to FIFA’s most recent Big Count survey, there are 265 million players, or roughly 4 percent of the world’s population, actively involved in soccer. Oftentimes, a single game will feature players from Western Europe, Eastern Europe, South America, Asia, and Africa. For an hour, we can join together in play and can forget the troubles of the outside world. How can one not love a sport that brings so many people together?

Mercy Soccer Center · 160 S. Aberdeen St. · Chicago, IL 60607

— Matthew Reiss, Community Contributor

Staying true: New Year’s Resolutions

By Daniel Patton | Staff Writer

The will to exercise more and spend less may be strong on the first of January, but most studies show that half of such resolutions won’t make it past March. Sometimes the best way to follow through on goals set during midnight champagne toasts is to hire a specialist.


Drew Scacciaferro
Personal Training Director, Lakeshore Sport & Fitness

IMG_1666b“The major challenge of the New Year’s resolution is waiting until the New Year to make it,” explains Drew Scacciaferro. “You’ve got to make a decision now. Not tomorrow. Not the next day.”

Scacciaferro has been a personal trainer for 12 years. Besides holding a degree in the field, he wields nearly a dozen professional qualifications including Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), “the gold standard” of the largely unregulated fitness industry. The most frequent desire he hears from new clients in early January is “absolutely weight loss.”

But Scacciaferro never advises his clients to strive for the typical New Year’s “outcome-based goal” like “I want to lose fifty pounds.”

“There’s no specificity or timeline or behavior-based changes,” he says. Instead, he walks new members through a “discovery process” to identify effective individual fitness solutions.

“It’s critical to making that connection,” he says, “asking a series of strategic questions about lifestyle, nutrition, behavior and mindset.”

While weight loss may be discussed, Scacciaferro works with each client to develop an ongoing routine that focuses on “preventive health care” and rarely identifies a particular individual poundage reduction target.

“When you set behavior-based goals, it’s very specific,” he says. “‘I’m going to walk for fifteen minutes three times each week and decrease portion sizes by one spoonful at every meal.’ The numbers, in the end, will take care of themselves.”

Programs include one-on-one, duet, and small group training. Membership includes access to the extensive facility, which includes a pool, a basketball court, a boxing room, squash courts, the country’s tallest rock-climbing wall and 100 complimentary fitness classes per week. On at least one occasion, it doubled as a filmset for Chicago PD.

Illinois Center, 211 N. Stetson · (312) 856-1111


Dr. Dawn Webster
Chiropractor, Universal Wellness Source

No matter how frequently someone works out, according to Dr. Dawn Webster, vigorous exercise can actually complicate individual health under certain circumstances.

“Sometimes hitting the gym is not the definition of wellness,” she says.

“Weekend warriors out running, training, hitting the gym… if their posture is off, they leave themselves really receptive to injury.”

Dr. Dawn holds a PhD in Chiropractic from Cleveland University in Kansas City and a decade of experience in the field. She joined Universal Wellness Source in Lakeshore East — one of the company’s four Chicago locations — when it opened three years ago. She guides new patients on the path of self-improvement year round.

“It could be January or June, but at some point people say ‘this is the year to get my health together,’” she says. “Especially in this neighborhood, because people work long hours and get so stressed.”

Initial consultations involve a thorough neurological exam, a structural exam and a series of X-rays. Recommended treatments include corrective as well as chiropractic care. Although the goal is often “to restore the full natural posture back to the person,” the results generally exceed the back-realignment cliché.

“When you start working on chiropractic, you start working with every aspect of your health in general,” she explains. “The most common thing people notice first off is that they are able to move more freely.”

When it comes to her own wellness, Dr. Dawn definitely practices what she preaches.

“We’re bent over all day long,” she says. “Of course I see a chiropractor.”

333 E. Benton Pl. · (312) 565-0655


Claretha Yeager
Jade Path Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine

IMG_1942aClaretha Yeager admittedly takes longer than most specialists in helping clients achieve their post-holiday goals, but the acupuncturist has a record of success to validate the “three-thousand year-old medicine” that she practices.

Since 2012, her office at Michigan and Lake has helped hundreds of people seeking control over insomnia and PMS. But come January, the doors spin with dreams of losing weight, quitting smoking, and taking less uncomfortable trips to the bathroom.

“Some people overdo it through the holidays,” she says.

One of the greatest factors contributing to her clients’ symptoms is career pressure, which is abundant in the neighborhood. “We see a lot of people between their early 30s and 50s who work in the Loop and have a lot of stress in their life,” she says.

Since stress tends to increase levels of cortisol, one of the body’s natural steroid hormones, Yeager treats the condition by “working with the natural energies of the body to reduce the natural stresses and help down-regulate the fight-or-flight response.”

In addition to lifestyle and nutritional changes supplemented by natural remedies, Yeager recommends acupunctural treatments when necessary.

“For stress, the number one place to put pins in the body is the ears,” she says. “They are very strong points to help the body relax.”

70 E. Lake St., Suite 630
(773) 669-5724 ·


Diego Socorro
Personal Banker · Fifth Third Bank


According to Diego Socorro, the greatest individual challenge to building a healthy financial portfolio is “procrastination.” But he insists that saving for the future is not as painful as it seems.

“People work very hard all year, and many of them choose to take a vacation instead of saving money when the holidays arrive,” he says. “And that’s okay.”

A robust personal portfolio, he explains, does not require any sort of massive lifestyle sacrifice. Rather, it can be achieved by modest but regular saving habits. Since every customer’s financial situation is different — and since every customer ultimately designs his or her own customized program — he hesitates to describe any particular formula during an interview.

But when dealing with people who have never thought about saving before, Socorro asks them to consider an “emergency fund.”
“Imagine if you experienced some sort of emergency that cost $1,000,” he explains. “Do you have the funds set aside to cover that expense?”

Many customers build their emergency funds with minimal lifestyle disruption by depositing small amounts every month — “as little as $50,” Socorro says — until the ideal amount is achieved. After completing that process, people are often enthusiastic to work toward longer-term objectives.

The best way to shape those objectives, Socorro explains, is built on a relationship that he takes pride in developing.

“When I meet new customers for the first time,” he says, “I like to get to know them before making any recommendations.”

The Fifth Third branch on East Lakeshore Park appears designed to do just that. Besides serving the financial needs of local businesses and residents, Socorro and his associate, Licensed Banker Jason Philipp, have turned a portion of the bank into a miniature gallery filled with the work of local artists. On select occasions, they’ll host openings and other related events that help bring residents of the New Eastside community together.

The current collection features a number of dragon-inspired themes by Maria Raducanu and a variety of work by 3D environmental modeler Amanda Snoozy.

400 E. South Water St.
(312) 279-7939 ·

Something’s cooking at Lake Shore Sports & Fitness Club

By Jon Cohn | Community Contributor

We all know it as a fitness club with sports and recreational activities and of course all the latest in workout and exercise equipment but…

Did you know?

cooking-clip-art-pc5eR56BiThe Eastside’s very own Lake Shore Sports and Fitness Club also has some great cooking classes going on — all year round.

They teach the classes  right out of their highly acclaimed restaurant,  which is called The Press Kitchen.

Hey, part of fitness is eating healthy, so why not combine the workout with good cooking ?

Head chef Michael Tsonton and his staff have put together some unique and fun cooking classes that are completely open to the public.

Among some of the recent offerings and ones coming up are:

–Heart healthy cooking class

–Ramen cooking (101 things you can do with the Ramen noodle?)

— Holiday cookie cooking class

–Girls night out class

— Couples night out cooking class

–Taco’s, Tequila and Tom class (not sure who and or what Tom is, but as for the other two—I’m in!)

Again all of these and more are open to the general public and information and full schedule of classes can be found at their website  The Club is located in the Illinois Center at 211 N Stetson Ave.

If cooking class is just not enough, you can always “adventure “out to some of their other offerings including: group outings; special event days; all kinds of fitness and exercise classes; a little basketball in the gym; or the popular Rock Climbing Wall, especially rock climbing.  It’s not just for young kids but adults and beginners as well.

Classes and lessons are in full swing for all levels of indoor rock climbing.  This is a fun and unique way to stay in shape during the cold winter months.

Finally, some friendly advice from your local community newspaper writer?

While both classes are great — do not take the tacos and tequila class and then do the rock climbing wall immediately after.

Big mistake.

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