Village of Park Forest - Top Story News

Posted on: December 6, 2017

Resident helps others rediscover play

Gladstone,G

Georgette Gladstone’s grandson had a grand idea to bring a new slide to a park in need of attention.

“You should call up President Obama,” the seven-year-old said.

The thought, humorous to the adult, was far from a joke to the wishful child.

“Tell him that we need a new slide,” the boy urged.  

“I was disturbed by that,” Gladstone said.

A recent retiree, having spent 27 years teaching at Park Forest's Forest Trail Junior High School – now Michelle Obama Middle School – Gladstone didn’t have quite the connection to do as her grandson asked. But with a heavy heart and a little more time on her hands, she did the next best thing.

“I wrote a letter and I said, ‘What’s going on with Cedarwood Park?’ ”

The letter landed on the desk of Park Forest Recreation and Parks Director Rob Gunther. Gunther quickly responded.  He explained that due to financial constraints, Park Forest was limited in what was possible to bring the park back to its glory days. Gunther also added one other note before closing his letter.

“By the way, we have a Recreation and Parks Advisory Board. Why don’t you apply?”  

A few days later, Gladstone received Gunther’s response. Disappointed but understanding of the Village's position, she turned her attention to the possibility of serving on the board Gunther recommended. In doing so, Gladstone would have the opportunity to have more regular, honest discussions with Park Forest staff members and elected officials about issues like the one her grandson hoped something could be done about.

She also thought back to her roots in Park Forest. Gladstone’s family moved to the Ash Street Cooperatives when she was just six months old. Families spending time outside, in the community, in park areas, and in the company of neighbors is what Gladstone remembers fondly.  

“Everyone was active in play. You could see all the play pens lined up in the yards. We just had a great time.”  

Gladstone’s children were able to enjoy a similar experience growing up in Park Forest. Her grandson – a fourth generation Park Forest resident – the family hopes can enjoy the same.

With more to say on what could be done, Gladstone again put pen to paper. But not to write back to Gunther. Gladstone submitted an application just as Gunther recommended. Shortly after her application was reviewed, she received notification that she had been accepted to serve on the board. To her surprise, she also had been named the chair.

Determined to forge ahead, Gladstone accepted the challenge to jumpstart the Recreation and Parks Advisory Board that in recent times had too few members to remain active.

To revitalize the group, she phoned her sister hundreds of miles away in Pennsylvania who had years of experience serving in the recreation and parks industry. Gladstone also utilized her teaching background to organize, and created a structure and an action plan to recruit others.

“If someone had a complaint, I would invite them to become members.”

Within a year, the new energy Gladstone poured into the Recreation and Parks Advisory Board was showing returns. The size of the group expanded from three to six members. The volunteers created goals and objectives, organized new events, and selected a tagline to market the Recreation and Parks Advisory Board: Discover Parks Rediscover Play.

It's been five years since she sat down to write her letter to discuss Park Forest parks, and Recreation and Parks Director Rob Gunther couldn't be happier about how his exchange with Gladstone turned out.

"Georgette has been able to focus the work of the advisory board and get them to define a mission and goals. She defined a sense of purpose for them all to work towards. I feel grateful that she accepted my challenge," Gunther said.  

Gladstone is overjoyed about the help she's received from fellow residents who've also accepted the call to be part of the solution after identifying problems.

“I have to give them all the credit. I'm so proud of them. They come up with such super ideas."

A night of camping in Park Forest’s Central Park, a chili cook-off, opening day activities at the Park Forest Aqua Center, and an afternoon of play at Central Park in celebration of National Kids to Parks Day are just some of  the ways Gladstone's team has made a push to engage more families.  

Today, Cedarwood Park remains in need of more sprusing up. But now with a seat at the table, Gladstone is certain that what can be done will be done.  
What began as a child’s wish for the country’s top leader to step in to help an ailing park became an opportunity for a longtime resident, teacher, and grandmother, to share yet one more lesson with the young: You don’t need to be in Washington to create change. The ones for the job are sometimes only a hop, skip, and a jump away.


This story appeared in the Winter 2017 addition of Park Forest's Discover Magazine

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