Jefferson Park Forward learns about 95-year-old Polish American Association





by BRIAN NADIG

An incident in which a severely ill woman was abandoned at the Polish American Association at 3819 N. Cicero Ave. illustrates the challenges which the social service agency faces.

A man brought the woman into the lobby and initially staff members assumed that the man went to move his car and would return, but he did not, PPA board member Eva Prokop said. A letter left by the man indicated that he was the woman’s former husband and that he could no longer watch over her.

“We got her into a care facility,” Prokop said at the Nov. 16 meeting of the Jefferson Park Forward. The association later got her a plane ticket to send her to Poland, Prokop said.

The association, which as founded in 1922, provides a variety of employment, education and immigrant services. About 20 to 30 percent of the agency’s clients are not Polish, Prokop said.

The association has a day program for a dozen homeless men who eat at the association’s facility on Cicero and help out with maintenance and other work and then are transported in the evening to an overnight shelter, Prokop said. A former client of the program became a worker at the association and will soon be retiring, she said.

The association also has “a basement full of used clothing” for needy families, Prokop said. “Whatever they can carry out they can have,” she said.

Prokop also discussed the history of Polish immigrants, adding that immigration patterns have changed since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and Poland’s joining the European Union in 2004. “Chicago is dwindling in its Polonia numbers,” she said. “There’s a large population of (Polish) immigrants in London.”

The standard of living has improved in Poland compared to 40 years ago when stores’ shelves would be empty and visitors were expected to bring “American jeans” to family members still living in Poland, Prokop said. While Polish citizens were eager in the 1970s to “come here to build a new life (in the United States), that life is possible there now,” she said.

Prokop encouraged those seeking more information on Chicago’s Polish history to visit the Polish Museum of America, 984 N. Milwaukee Ave.

When asked if Jefferson Park is well known in Poland for its strong Polish roots, Prokop said that visitors from Chicago will be more likely asked if they are from the North Side or South Side than what specific neighborhood they live in.

While the association is headquartered in Portage Park, it also has a South Side office at 6276 W. Archer Ave. More information about the association is available at www.polish.org.

Also at the Forward meeting, economic development committee chairman Dennis Davis reported that the city clerk’s satellite office at 5430 W. Gale St., is expanding and will have a new entrance and lobby. The building was once the 16th (Jefferson Park) Police District station.

Davis said that a larger facility should help prevent the long lines which can be seen outside the building at the end of the month when motorists are trying to purchase a new car sticker.

Also, Forward president Ryan Richter reported that the group’s members-only events, such as its recent home-brewing competition, is bringing new members into the neighborhood organization, which was formed 2 years ago.

Forward also is co-sponsoring a free showing of the comedy classic “Home Alone” at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 29, at the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave. A visit from Santa will be held before the movie, starting at 6 p.m.

Forward also is co-sponsoring “Holiday Sparkle,” a tree-lighting ceremony with music and free hot coca from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 7, at the Jefferson Park CTA Terminal, 4917 N. Milwaukee Ave.