Two weeks ago, the Review hosted a readers night at the Forest Park Public Library. Though the turnout was small, I came away from it feeling I had much better knowledge of our community.
Compared to many of you, I’m still a Forest Park newbie. This May will mark eight years since I made Forest Park my home. Back then, it was just another suburb to me. I’d see the village logo with the slogan, “Big City Access, Small Town Charm,” stamped on my water bill, but all I cared about was the first part.
What brought me to Forest Park was the convenient location at the end of the train line that I took to both work and school and the housing prices, which were more affordable than Chicago or Oak Park, where I’d been raised. I thought the “small town charm” thing was just an advertising pitch. I was in my early 20s, jaded by teenage years spent feeling like an outcast in another suburb that tried to pass itself off as a small, friendly place. I planned to live in my townhouse the same way I had in my apartments in Madison, Wis., nodding politely at my neighbors as we Midwesterners do, but not interacting more than the average city dweller.
It wasn’t until last summer when I took a friend from St. Louis to Madison Street for lunch and shopping that I realized I’d become a part of a community. I stopped to say hello to a couple people on the street and my friend remarked, “Geez, do you know everybody?”
“No, but I meet a lot of people working at the bar and writing for the paper.”
“And you’re friends with everyone in all the stores we’ve been to!”
“Yeah, I guess I am,” I said, smiling. It was an incredible feeling to know that even with my strange hair, tattoos, and generally shy demeanor, I’d been accepted into the community I lived in.
Forest Park’s genuine small-town charm became even more clear at readers night. Everyone who came out seemed to know each other. The men talked about crossing paths regularly at Ed’s Way, joking that it must be the guys who do all the shopping in Forest Park. All the attendees expressed how much they care about the unique events that bring our town together, things like Little League opening day, the all-school picnic, and festivals like Groovin’ in the Grove. They also reminded me of what I love best about Forest Park: the way residents take it upon themselves to get involved.
When Mary Win Connor brought up the Cinderella Project, I was particularly impressed. I’d heard of Cinderella’s Closet programs before, which provide prom dresses to girls who aren’t able to afford their dream night. Mary Win told me that Jerry Lordan, president of the local Kiwanis, came up with the idea to bring it to Proviso Math and Science Academy students, but she and Karen Dylewski expanded it from a “closet” to a “project” by making plans to include shoes, accessories, and the opportunity for the girls to get their hair and nails done. If they have enough dresses, they hope to include Proviso East and West girls as well. They are accepting donations until March 16, and you can contact Karen at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how to donate or if you know a girl from one of the Proviso schools who would be interested in the program.
Hearing about things like the Cinderella Project truly makes me proud to call this charming small town “home.”
Stephanie is the author of “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone” and “Ballads of Suburbia.” She’s a proud Forest Parker who holds a master’s in fine arts degree from Columbia College Chicago. She also works locally at the Beacon Pub and loves to hear from people through her Web site www.stephaniekuehnert.com.