On-Line Edition Thursday, April 19, 2018 Vol. 60 No. 16
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Woman of the year
Longtime Lombard resident Carol Sink was honored as Lombard Service League’s 2018 Woman of the Year during the league’s April 12 meeting at Lexington Square. League members, guests and Sink's family and friends were on hand for the announcement of the league’s 54th Woman of the Year. Sink (second from left) is pictured following the presentation with (left to right) league community service chair Audrey Papenbrok, president Jean Nelson and event coordinator Barb Madigan. Sink will be a guest of honor in the annual Lilac Parade on Sunday, May 20. See article in Lombard News
***** Out & About by Jane Charmelo *****
Lombard resident named 'Illinois Miss Amazing Teen'
At age 19, Genevieve "Gigi" Sevilla was recently treated like royalty—complete with crown and sash—and all because some judges found her to be "amazing." That's her title: "Illinois Miss Amazing Teen," for which she has earned a spot at the National Miss Amazing event to be held in August. According to Christine Sevilla, her daughter is almost exclusively non-verbal, and uses a special augmented communication app—on her iPad—to communicate, that was designed in collaboration with her needs in mind, "very customized to her life." However, having to use a communication device has never stopped Gigi from being a gregarious person, her mom emphasized. "She's a very outgoing person. She absolutely loves people," Sevilla continued, adding that even as a young child she preferred to engage more with people than with toys. And because her daughter has limited verbal communication, "that was really challenging," but her device opens up a window of opportunity, just as a wheelchair or hearing aid might, Sevilla said, allowing Gigi "to be part of the world around [her]," just like other people "who are out in their communities and the world around them doing things." Gigi went to school in West Chicago and then to York High School before the family moved to Lombard. Her mom says her daughter loves Lombard, and spends some of her speech therapy time in the downtown area, especially Babcock's Grove, "where it's like a second family to her." "She just loves getting out in the world," Sevilla added. Gigi also loves animals, and gained some experience as a volunteer with the Hinsdale Humane Society. She also got into a program—that for her was apparently life altering—at Brookfield Zoo, called the King Conservation Science Scholars teen program, an all-inclusive program for teens to become year-round trained volunteers at the zoo. Saying that some of her first communication as a child was about animals, Sevilla said that to become a volunteer with the program, the teens, ages 13-18, "really need to love animals." Gigi was accepted into the program after being interviewed by other teens, and received STEM-based training that was modified for her. Like the other year-round volunteers, Gigi was assigned to various animal exhibits to serve as a docent, her mom described, adding that she, too, has become a docent and serves with her daughter. "She's the star and I'm kind of in the background. She feels very proud of what she does," said Gigi's mom. Sevilla said the volunteers don't just talk about the animals, their habitats and what they eat. They focus as well on the role the animals play in the ecosystem. "One of my favorite things to do is volunteer at Brookfield Zoo," Gigi related, describing her work as a docent "to help teach and guide people to make connections with wildlife and nature." Saying she has always loved to learn about animals, "now I can share what I love with the zoo visitors," she continued. "Wildlife conservation means a lot to me." Gigi especially enjoys the okapi, along with giraffes and gorillas, but "she also loves reptiles," said her mom, adding that her friends with disabilities and other visitors are inspired by her daughter's willingness to put herself out there and speak before the public. Sevilla said the public-speaking skills she's learned are "absolutely invaluable," and "the community gets to know her because she is out there." As a case in point, she continued, her daughter was asked to be a keynote speaker two years ago at the zoo's annual gala fundraiser, speaking in front of as many as 700-800 people. The event raised $1.3 million, and her mom attributes Gigi's talk as a representation of how the zoo values inclusion. Gigi has become part of the Brookfield Zoo family, Sevilla said, saying that it has been "a life-changing program for her." That's where Sevilla learned about the Illinois Miss Amazing pageant; someone approached them and suggested Gigi try out. She went on to win in the teen category, but not before having to be interviewed by three judges. Sevilla emphasized that the contestants weren't competing against each other but with each other, and that they were paired with a peer buddy. There was a talent show and her daughter helped construct a monarch butterfly costume for an interpretive dance in which Gigi emphasized that the butterfly symbolizes transformation, her mom described. Her public speaking skills helped Gigi be successful at the pageant, Sevilla observed, and she was able to see that her daughter "left feeling confident." "The process meant a lot to her," she added. "I feel so happy!" Gigi stated of winning her title. "I had so much fun making new friends. This feels like a wonderful dream. "I am excited to be an Illinois Miss Amazing representative and use my speech device to tell people about what Miss Amazing is all about!" So many things have come out of that experience, Sevilla said, such as friendship building and the potential to represent the Miss Amazing brand, along with being able to speak out for a cause. "[A] disability is only part of who they are," she said of the contestants. "I want to show that girls and women with disabilities can be confident, able and amazing!" Gigi commented. "I can't wait for the National Miss Amazing event in August here in Rosemont, Illinois, so I can meet girls and women from all over the country. We will have a great time!" One thing Sevilla has observed is that more often, "people with disabilities are usually on the receiving end" of non-profit support and programs, but in her daughter's case, she is giving back to the zoo and also through her title representing the Miss Amazing program. "Now she's representing two nonprofits," she added. "It really helps them understand more about the world around them." Both the zoo and pageant experiences are empowering, Sevilla said, concluding of individuals with disabilities, "They do know if they're making a difference." The bottom line for Gigi is, "I want to inspire people to be conservation leaders. We are all connected and I want to make the world a better place." The National Miss Amazing event will be held in Rosemont on Aug. 3-6. The organization was launched in Omaha, Neb., in 2007, with chapters in 33 states. For more information about Illinois Miss Amazing, visit http://ilmissamazing.org. To learn more about the King Conservation Science Scholars program, visit https://www.czs.org/Chicago-Zoological-Society/Conservation-Leadership/Conservation-Science-Scholars.aspx.