Hearts of Gold: Arlington Heights honors people who make a difference
People who live and work in Arlington Heights and have made a difference in the lives of others, or have significantly contributed to the community, were honored in the village's Hearts of Gold award program.
A video presentation of the honorees receiving their awards will be posted on the village's social media platforms and cable access channels. The village was unable to host the traditional award banquet due to the coronavirus.
Organized by the Special Events Commission, the annual Hearts of Gold program honors educators, neighbors, business leaders, volunteers, students, senior citizens and others who have been nominated by a group or individual for the 11 awards given annually.
Thanks to the financial support of the commission's premium sponsors for making this celebration possible: First Midwest Bank, Wells Fargo Advisors, Bartlett Tree Experts and Lutheran Home.
2021 Hearts of Gold honorees are:
Mentor Award, Stephan Polus
As the Youth Hockey coordinator for the Rolling Meadows Park District, Coach Polus overseas more than 200 youngsters, teaching them not only how to be better on the ice, but, more importantly, in life.
A Rolling Meadows High School graduate, Polus is a self-taught hockey player who learned the game playing on the frozen pond of a family home in Minnesota. In 2020, he was recognized by the Chicago Blackhawks as the "Coach of the Month" and has been honored to have his senior squad, the Renegades, skate at intermission of Blackhawks games as recently as January 2020.
His latest accomplishment has been to transition the hockey program to virtual learning during the pandemic, single-handedly designing skills sessions that incorporate encouragement and engagement, given the kids are unable to compete on the ice. He coaches with the mantra to "Not just create good hockey players, but to create good human beings."
Best Neighbor Award, Mario and Cathy Corona
Mario and Cathy Corona provided an oasis for families with young children during the pandemic. Both retired schoolteachers with three grown daughters, they established an outlet where kids could use their imaginations and foster creativity, supplementing the remote online school offered this year.
Initially, Mario created a fairy garden, complete with wooden doors, trucks, and animals for the children to play with as they walked near the base of their parkway tree.
Cathy began by writing the alphabet each day with an object that started with that letter. Soon, children and their families within a three-block radius anxiously visited to see what was new. The Coronas drew upon their professional experience to inspire curiosity and bolster faith that people are good and willing to help each other.
Educator Award, Dr. Deborah Scerbicke
Dr. Deb Scerbicke, also affectionately known as Dean Deb, has been the Dean of Students at Saint Viator High School in Arlington Heights for the past 21 years. Deb holds multiple educational degrees, including a bachelor's degree, two masters, one in Education Administration, and a Ph.D. in American History.
All come in very handy while attempting to juggle the needs of almost 900 students on a daily basis. Scerbicke is truly the heart of St. Viator High School. She knows each and every student by name, attends as many athletic events as possible, never misses a musical or concert, and will even happily lead her students on four-day retreats. Deb volunteers to supervise dances, help the Saturday detention students pick up garbage, ride the late bus on prom night and emcee the popular trivia night.
Young at Heart Award, Jeanette Domek
The "Young at Heart" Award recognizes a senior citizen in Arlington Heights who continues to actively and enthusiastically contribute to the community. Domek has volunteered at the Senior Center for the past 20 years, serving approximately 3,500 hours. She now serves on the Advisory Council. Her co-worker who nominated her has nothing but praise for Jeanette, citing her willingness to always help out and her genuine compassion and friendliness to everyone. She pointed out that Jeanette was the first volunteer to return when the Senior Center reopened from COVID this summer. She has been instrumental in making sure the Senior Center has a presence in the Memorial Day Parade. She recruits her family to walk along the parade route and give out candy.
Hero Award, Kyla Michelle Davis
When Kyla Davis yelled "HEY, STOP!", actions started that arguably saved a woman's life. Davis helped rescue a woman who was being threatened with a knife by her ex-boyfriend, going to far as to drive her to the Arlington Heights police station. Police concluded that, most likely, the offender would have killed the woman if it was not for the decisive actions of Davis.
Young Champion Award, Max Ward
While a senior at Prospect High School last year, Young Champion winner Max Ward was a member of the Service Club Executive Board. In that role, he not only helped plan dozens of community service events, but he also completed over 80 hours of volunteer service work himself. Max epitomizes the word service, and he is a tremendously selfless individual who served as a positive role model for his peers during his final year of high school.
Ward organized and helped lead a Prospect High School backpack drive, in conjunction with the Arlington Heights Rotary, that brought in scores of backpacks for homeless people. He regularly volunteered as a server and helper at Timothy's Ministries' luncheons for the homeless at the Arlington Heights and Palatine locations. He led multiple teams of students who did fall and spring yard work for area senior citizens through District 214's Acts of Kindness Program.
Volunteer Award, Stephanie Keller
Keller serves as the Comfort Dog Ministry Ambassador at St. Peter's Lutheran Church. She managed the extremely busy schedule of Susie, the St. Peter's comfort dog, and coordinated a team of volunteers who helped Susie with her appearances throughout Arlington Heights.
Community Spirit Award, Yeulanda Degala
When Illinois first shut down due to the pandemic in March, Yeulanda Degala and a friend started a Facebook group without a clear plan, but recognizing something needed to be done to help support vulnerable families in the community. The "Neighbors Helping Neighbors Arlington Heights" group grew quickly. Degala recognized there were many families in the community who were in truly dire need, having lost their jobs and worried about feeding their children.
Yeulanda set bins on the front porch of her Dunton Street house and invited people to drop donations of food, snacks and essentials, simultaneously reaching out to local schools and social workers to coordinate distribution to those in need. The response from the community was unbelievable, and the donations didn't stop. Her husband and two children pitched in and her home became a staging ground for collection, organization and coordination of ongoing supplies.
Business Leader Award, A La Mode Collections
This unique fashion and gift boutique exudes positivity and warmth from the moment you walk in the door. It's a shining example of a small, family business with a big heart. Jamie Bellizzi, owner and creator, is described by her employees as kind, caring, thoughtful, patient, understanding and generous. Customers will see Jamie placing new jewelry pieces on display just as easily as holding a baby while Mom shops, walking a customer to their car, or hand-delivering a purchase to a customer's front porch. A La Mode routinely supports a variety of organizations with its many after-hours "Charity Shopping Nights," where customers shop and proceeds are donated to the named charity.
Even as the pandemic shut down all businesses, Jamie jumped into action to quickly find a way to keep the community safe. She connected with a longtime friend and clothing vendor that made fashion forward face masks, sold them online and offered curbside pickup or she would bring them to your door. Proceeds from these face mask sales were donated to the Children First Fund.
Kenneth M. Bonder Beautification Award, Arlington Heights Park District
The 2021 Beautification Hearts of Gold Award goes to the Arlington Heights Park District for the new Arlington Ridge Center, 660 N. Ridge Ave. Accepting the award for the park district is Brian Meyer, director of Recreation and Facilities, and Ben Rea, director of Parks and Planning. They have been involved in every aspect of the project, from its inception five years ago, its initial planning, design conception, budgeting and weekly construction meetings, until its completion in November 2019.
Pam Stocking Award, Mary Beth Delaney
Mary Beth Delaney, a District 25 teacher dedicated to improving the lives of students with special needs, is the perfect honoree for the Pam Stocking Heart of Gold award. Pam Stocking, the village's first disability services coordinator, had a deep passion to ensure that people with special needs had the same opportunities available to them as everyone else. A similar spirit exists within Mary Beth Delaney, who puts her heart and soul into making sure her students grow academically, socially and emotionally. She helps her students achieve their best selves through a positive learning environment that is built on her love and respect for her students and their families.