Wednesday, December 14, 2016

West Elsdon Civic Association Has New Life, New Hope, New Leadership for 2017

By Tim Hadac
Managing Editor
Southwest Chicago Post

A year after its aging, dwindling membership voted to
dissolve, the West Elsdon Civic Association is back from the brink of extinction and moving forward into 2017 with new, young leadership.

At a meeting once described as “make it or break it” by longtime WECA President James C. Mazenis, several younger, newer members of the group ended months of mystery and stepped up to fill key positions in the group.

“I think we’re seeing a civic association with a new direction, a new fire, a new ambition to grow our group,” said Eric M. Vigueras, a West Elsdon homeowner and a new WECA member.

He accepted the president’s gavel from Mazenis at WECA’s quarterly meeting, held earlier this month at Divine Word Polish National Catholic Church, 3842 W. 57th St. About a dozen West Elsdon residents attended.

Also stepping into leadership roles for the first time were James Ramos, first vice president; Michele Martinez, treasurer and financial secretary; and Bernadette Byrnes, who will serve as second vice president and in several other communications and outreach capacities.

A formal announcement about exactly who is doing what may occur at WECA’s next meeting, set for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 7 at the church. Installation of officers is anticipated at the meeting. All West Elsdon residents and business owners are encouraged to attend.

West Elsdon is the neighborhood immediately east of Midway Airport, stretching from Cicero to Central Park Avenue, roughly between 52nd and 59th Streets. It draws its name from the once-mighty Elsdon rail yard near Central Park Avenue.

Vigueras said his first priority as president will be building the group’s membership roster, which has shrunk greatly since the group’s heyday decades ago, when its monthly meetings were typically attended by 50-60 active members at the old Fraternal Order of Eagles hall near 55th and Hamlin.

He acknowledged the task will be a bit of a challenge and said that members should start the effort by redoubling their own efforts to be faithful WECA members.

“Ideally, we want every member to talk about this group and bring a neighbor to the next meeting and the meeting after that,” he said. “But if you’re not able to bring a neighbor, at least be sure and bring yourself.”

Vigueras also said he will ensure that the group’s newsletter, currently available only in paper format and via U.S. Mail to members, will be revamped and made available electronically, as well—either via email, by posting on a website or both.

Additionally, he vowed to use modern communications methods to keep WECA members updated on the group’s activities. “We will use email, text messages and phone calls,” he said. “People will have the in formation they need in a timely and convenient manner.”

A public rallying cry to save the group--made by the Southwest News-Herald and others—helped motivate a handful of younger residents to step forward and consider taking the reins. The group was spurred to action by the Archer Heights Civic Association, which helped organize and encourage the newcomers.

Representing the neighborhood immediately north of West Elsdon, the AHCA is one of Chicago’s oldest and most effective neighborhood advocacy organizations.

Attending the WECA meeting as an observer was Archer Heights Civic Association President Thomas S. Baliga, who played a key role in the last year in finding, convening and encouraging the new leaders.

After the meeting, he praised Vigueras for stepping forward and expressed optimism that WECA will survive and grow in 2017.

“In Eric, the West Elsdon Civic Association has a new, energetic and forward thinking leader that hopefully will inspire and motivate younger West Elsdon residents to join their community group," Baliga said after the meeting. "And with Jim Mazenis remaining involved as chairman of their board of directors, they will have continuity to their past and a good person to provide sage advice on historical challenges, setbacks and triumphs.”

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