Stevenson students' nonprofit aims to create sanctuaries for birds

Seeing growing environmental pollution and apathy toward conservation, three Stevenson High School rising seniors sought to raise awareness about the problem in their school and local community.

Abhay Agarwal, Kush Nagrani and Eunhyul Chang started the nonprofit Sanctuary for the Skies with that purpose.

"The mission of Sanctuary for the Skies is to protect birds for future generations one sanctuary at a time," said Agarwal, 16, of Long Grove.

Agarwal, the group's founder and president, came up with the idea and mission in the spring of 2021. Nagrani, co-founder and director of ecology and sustainability, and Chang, 17, director of marketing, came on board in Janurary 2023.

"We have two major goals: Provide safe spaces for endangered bird species and ... to educate people about the importance of bird conservation," said Nagrani, 17, of Long Grove.

They seek to create safe havens for increasingly fragile North American bird species: blue jay; American goldfinch; downy woodpecker; eastern bluebird; black-capped chickadee; tufted titmouse; house sparrow; ruby-throated hummingbird; and blue-gray gnatcatcher.

"Birds are keystone species," Nagrani said. "It affects almost every other species in our ecosystem."

They have taken their message to libraries, schools, and public institutions, and at 11 a.m. Friday, the trio and a team of volunteers will start building their first sanctuary at the Vernon Area Public Library, 300 Olde Half Day Road, Lincolnshire.

Nagrani said they also plan to host workshops and information sessions in partnership with Vernon Area library after the sanctuary is built.

"By August, we are looking to have five built (at different locations)," Nagrani said.

Sanctuary sites are planned for Hanuman Mandir (Temple) in Glenview, on June 30; Hawthorne Middle School in Milwaukee, on July 7; the Hindu Mandir of Lake County in Grayslake, on July 15; and Rothem Church in Arlington Heights, on July 30.

Nagrani said habitats for these native bird species will incorporate a wide range of flora - switch grass, little bluestem, gray goldenrod, trumpet honeysuckle, arrowwood, highbush blueberry, chokecherry and basswood.

"Our families are going to come help with the sanctuaries," Nagrani said. "It is vital for people in every community around the globe to get engaged in environmental conservation because it's the key to the health of our planet and our future."

Juneteenth commemoration

The Muslim Civic Coalition and community leaders will conduct a 30-minute virtual commemoration today for Juneteenth, recognizing 158 years since the emancipation of African Americans from slavery.

Juneteenth, observed annually on June 19, is considered the longest-running African American holiday. It marks the day federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, in 1865 to take control of the state and ensure all enslaved people were freed. The troops' arrival came 2½ years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation ending slavery.

At today's event, several prominent Black speakers will share their reflections and calls to action for changing inequitable and racist systems and attitudes.

Among them are: Imam Omar Abdul Karim, Ephraim Bahar Cultural Center, Chicago; Constance Shabazz, Salaam Community Wellness Center, Chicago; Najah Ali, a Chicago journalist; and Ossama Kamel, community activist, abolitionist, and organizer in the Sacramento and San Francisco Bay Area.

The virtual program starts at 10 a.m. Register at

Autism awareness

Glacier Ice Arena in Vernon Hills will host the eighth annual Pucks for Autism Hockey Tournament in partnership with the Special Education District of Lake County, Friday through Sunday.

The youth hockey tournament aims to raise awareness and financial support for creating a more autism-friendly environment in schools. Over the years, this event has raised more than $50,000.

The tournament will be held at 670 Lakeview Parkway, Vernon Hills. It is Pucks for Autism's largest tournament of the summer.

The group is seeking to host 80 teams across five venues - Orbit Ice Arena in Palatine, Nicholas Sportsplex in Mount Prospect, Glacier Ice Arena in Vernon Hills, Top Shelf Ice Arena in Gurnee, and Pleasant Prairie RecPlex in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin.

Seventy percent of the proceeds will benefit the SEDOL Foundation. The remainder will support Pucks for Autism and help grow its programs.

Community service project

An Interfaith Task Force that emerged from a May interfaith breakfast discussion hosted by U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Schaumburg is organizing its first service event next month.

The Interfaith Dialogue and Community Service Project will run from 2 to 5 p.m. July 9 at All Saints Lutheran Church, 630 S. Quentin Road, Palatine. All are welcome.

Participants will discuss topics such as discrimination, harassment, mental health and safety concerns amid a rise in hate crimes. Following that, they will participate in the community service project.

To confirm attendance by July 2, fill out the form at

Free museum admission

The Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center in Skokie is offering free admission on the last Friday of every month in 2023.

On exhibit now is "The Girl in the Diary: Searching for Rywka from the Łódz Ghetto," which closes Sept. 24.

The diary was discovered in 1945 in the liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau Camp. Written by a 14-year-old Jewish girl, Rywka Lipszyc, it documents her life in the Łódz Ghetto between October 1943 and April 1944.

More than 60 years after its discovery, the diary was translated in the U.S. to English, supplemented with commentaries, and published. The exhibit includes historical artifacts and documents, interactive touch screens, documentary videos, and rare photographs. It explores Rywka's story and reconstructs what might have happened after her deportation to Auschwitz.

Another exhibit opening Oct. 22, "I'll Have What She's Having": The Jewish Deli, explores how Jewish immigrants, mostly from Central and Eastern Europe, imported and adapted traditions to create a uniquely American restaurant.

Organized by the Skirball Cultural Center, the exhibition shows how Jewish delicatessens became a cornerstone of American food culture.

Free days are sponsored by the Engel Family Artifact Preservation Fund in memory of Ben and Rose Engel.

Reserve tickets at

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Abhay Agarwal
Eunhyul Chang
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