Meet the recipients of Arlington Heights' 2022 Heart of Gold awards
The village of Arlington Heights recognized its 2022 Heart of Gold recipients at a ceremony Sunday, April 24. The honorees are community members who have made a positive impact on other residents.
Mentor Heart of Gold: Jeff Javurek
Since graduating from the University of Illinois in math education, Javurek has been mentoring students and colleagues in Arlington Heights for 50 years. He is the "Ambassador of Math," having taught multiple grade levels and thousands of students during his 33-year tenure at Thomas Middle School. Beyond the classroom, Javurek served as a sponsor for math team leagues, knowledge bowl teams, a math tutor and a basketball coach. Javurek retired from teaching in 2005, but his work continued as he started the second part of his career as a special education teaching assistant at Thomas. During these 17 years, Javurek supported students with a wide range of needs. Additionally, he guided staff as the president and an executive board member of the Arlington Heights Teacher Association, as well as a team leader and math department chair at Thomas.
Best Neighbor: Jody Schaaf
Jody Schaaf is a NICU nurse at Northwest Community Hospital, known for her compassion, warmth and celebrating milestones and birthdays. Schaaf, her husband Bill and two daughters have resided in Arlington Heights for the past 10 years, where she fosters traditions, including coordinating the parkway Christmas tree order, hosting the annual backyard back-to-school movie night and, more recently, arranging Frontier Park drop-in lunch breaks during the pandemic so children could play with friends. She is also known for arranging meals for cancer patients undergoing treatment, unexpectedly dropping off coffee for a neighbor experiencing loss, and scheduling drive-by trains to brighten someone's spirits during the pandemic, acknowledging the neighborhood supports them.
Educator: Mike Bilski
Mike Bilski is a seventh and eighth grade reading and language arts teacher at St. James School. Bilski challenges his students to think deeply, appreciate the simple pleasures of life, and realize the joy of trying something new. His nomination included testimonials from 26 students, former students, and parents. Bilski has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Notre Dame and a master's in teaching from National-Louis University. He worked for years in various roles in the corporate world before becoming a teacher. He lives with Chris, his wife, and Jake, his four-legged walking companion, in the Recreation Park neighborhood. He is also delighted to be celebrating the Heart of Gold on the same evening as his former student, Emma Ziebka.
Young at Heart: Anne Murra
Not many people can say they have reached the milestone of serving 3,000 hours of volunteer service, but that is what Murra recently accomplished at the Arlington Heights Senior Center. Murra spends most of her time helping with the Senior Health Insurance Program, assisting seniors in understanding, evaluating, and choosing among the various Medicare options. On a weekly basis, she counsels patrons on Medicare and guides them through the enrollment process. During tax season, Murra is constantly at the Center assisting the elderly with preparing and filing their taxes.
She is also a computer instructor at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library. Her ability to break down complex concepts and make them easy for people to understand, along with her unwavering patience, has made her an invaluable asset for the Senior Center. If you do not find her at the Senior Center or the library, you may run into Murra helping at Frontier Days, the Metropolis or playing tennis.
Heroic: Frank Rojas
Frank Rojas -- or "Mr. Frank" as the students of Windsor Elementary call him -- reveals his superpowers every day as the head facilities manager of the school. During the pandemic, Rojas went above and beyond to make sure that his students had a safe, clean place where they could come to learn. When schools had to scramble to come up with complicated, ever-changing furniture setups and cleaning requirements due to COVID, Frank handled it with agility and patience. He gathered his team and got them all working to find innovative ways to make sure that the students could come to school, learn and interact with minimal disruption. According to parents, staff and students, Rojas has been exemplifying the "Wildcat Way" for the last 28 years. Rojas says he loves what he does, and the staff and students at Windsor simply "inspire him to be the best person he can be."
Young Champion: Emma Ziebka
The Young Champion Heart of Gold Award recognizes a middle or high school student who goes beyond what is expected to have a positive impact on our community. Emma Ziebka continually displays her leadership skills and provides service to others while navigating her senior year at Saint Viator High School. Her leadership skills are evident in her roles as president of her class, captain of her soccer team and student leader of the youth program at her church. Ziebka volunteers to plan and coordinate school Masses, helps acclimate new students as they enter high school, assists students in dealing with COVID, and leads retreats and fundraisers. She also works with the residents of the racetrack backstretch and children attending St. James vacation Bible school. Other volunteer work of Ziebka's includes Feed My Starving Children, Buddy's Helpers, the Linus Project, the Wheeling Township food drive, and area homeless shelters.
Volunteer: Betsy Kmiecik
Many view retirement as an opportunity to relax and spend time with family and friends. Betsy Kmiecik believed it gave her even more time to use her gifts and share them with others. Kmiecik lived in Arlington Heights for 34 years, and for much of that time served in leadership roles for the following organizations: director and president, Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce; director and president, Arlington Heights Historical Society; committee head for the society's Festival of Wreaths; founding board member, AH Memorial Library Foundation; board member and current president, Rotary Club of Arlington Heights; director of the Rotary Santa Run; board member, Metropolis Performing Arts Centre. In addition to her leadership roles, Kmiecik has spent many hours as a volunteer for these organizations and others, including career counseling for Willow Creek's Care Center. Kmiecik's daughter once asked her why she volunteered and she replied, "I think being busy is more interesting than not being busy."
Community Spirit: Laura Monahan
Laura Monahan has been a teacher at Hersey High School for 20 years and an Arlington Heights resident for 16. The past year and a half has been the most challenging time of her career, and she has never worked harder. Monahan is not only an AP Spanish teacher at Hersey, she also serves as a teaching and learning facilitator for Northwest Suburban High School District 214 with students from Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Des Plaines, Elk Grove Village, Mount Prospect, Prospect Heights, Rolling Meadows, and Wheeling. In March of 2020 when schools abruptly closed to in-person learning, Monahan helped develop a schoolwide transition plan in just two weeks that continues to this very day, ensuring that all students have the best education possible amid a global pandemic. Monahan supports teachers as well, fielding calls and texts all hours of the day and night to help guide them through the ever-changing process of teaching through a global pandemic. During remote learning, Monahan gathered resources on remote instruction to share with staff and held staff-wide professional development sessions. She described this process as "building the airplane as it is flying."
Business Leadership: Something Blue Photography
Something Blue Photography was opened in 2011 by Liz Schrenk and has grown to become a local studio of creatives. Schrenk is equally passionate about capturing life's special moments as she is about giving back to the community. During the pandemic, Schrenk searched for ways to stay connected to her clients and to give back to essential workers. "Porch Sessions" and "Gratitude Sessions" were created from her dedication to serve others. Something Blue invited clients to nominate deserving local families for a complimentary "Porch Session," where families could be photographed (from a safe distance) on their front step. Schrenk also developed the concept of Love is Essential early in the pandemic. Inspired by the Gratitude Movement, she wanted to give back to essential workers; she formed a team of business owners to donate an entire wedding to a deserving couple.
Kenneth Bonder Beautification: Gloria Amling
Few things better represent the vitality and simple historic beauty of Arlington Heights than the annual farmers market. The weekly event takes place every Saturday during the summer months and draws crowds of nearly 50,000 visitors every year. Gloria Amling had the vision to expand the farmers market to a grander scale and create a destination for families during pandemic isolation. She helped create a unique farmers market, merging the event with the Historical Society grounds and museum. Under her guidance and leadership (and the help of some engaged volunteers), she increased participants to over 42 vendors, while expanding the options of fresh produce from local farmers, handmade goods from bakers, cooks, gardeners, and entrepreneurs, information from community organizations, local experts, and on-hand demonstrations. She and her family have been active members of the Arlington Heights business community since moving here in 1984, when her husband John purchased a small bike shop in downtown Arlington Heights. Amling served as branch manager for The Village Bank & Trust for many years until her retirement in 2018, while simultaneously raising their two daughters.
Pam Stocking Heart of Gold: Carol Gabrielsen
The Pam Stocking Award aims to recognize a person whose passion and spirit have impacted the village in a unique and special way. As a lifelong Arlington Heights resident, Carol Gabrielsen has volunteered with many organizations and has served as an active community member throughout the years, including the Rotary Club of Arlington Heights and the Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce. In 2001, Gabrielsen joined the Arlington Heights Park Foundation, the fundraising arm of the park district that encourages volunteerism while improving the quality of life for residents. She is president of the foundation and has led fundraising events that have broken previous records. She has volunteered at Picnic in the Park, National Night Out, Trunk-or-Treat, and the Rotary Club's Santa Run. She fostered and adopted two brothers, Sean and Zach. Sean and Zach became involved with the Northwest Special Recreation Association, or NWSRA, which provides recreation and leisure opportunities to individuals with disabilities in Arlington Heights and 16 area communities. She assisted with fundraising efforts of the NWSRA's Special Leisure Services Foundation, which supports children and adults with disabilities through philanthropy.