Alumni Spotlight: Sarah Martin Lorenzi ’97

For the Martin sisters, Katie and Sarah, CAAEL and its kids-at-risk mission always have been a family affair.

By Mark Vruno

Showing some love to Leroy the service dog at Plainfield Academy after a CAAEL volleyball game. ❤️

Research indicates that extracurricular activities encourage peer interaction, promote cooperation, build student-adult relationships and help strengthen the student-school connection, points out Fenwick alumna Sarah Lorenzi ’97 (née Martin). “Students who participate in these activities achieve higher grade point averages, miss fewer days of school and are more likely to graduate,” she adds.

However, each year thousands of Illinois’ students — those excluded from the educational mainstream — are unable to participate in these types of experiences. “And that’s where CAAEL comes in,” explains Ms. Lorenzi.

Sarah Martin Lorenzi ’97

Lorenzi is president of the Chicago Area Alternative Education League (CAAEL), an organization that provides and governs interscholastic activities for at-risk and special-education students. Annually throughout the eight-county Chicago metropolitan area, CAAEL gives more than 5,000 students access to extracurricular activities they otherwise would not have. “We sponsor a variety of events year ’round: academic bowls, spelling bees, chess, bowling, basketball, flag football, volleyball, soccer, softball, art, badminton and high ropes courses — 1,000 events each year,” she notes.

“CAAEL is unique in that it does not run after-school programs. All activities are directly integrated into each school’s educational curriculum and schedule, with competitions taking place during the school day,” Lorenzi adds.

CAAEL’s participants often share one or more of the following 10 characteristics. For example, they may be:

  • aggressive
  • withdrawn
  • emotionally disturbed
  • learning disabled
  • behaviorally challenging
  • socially isolated
  • gang involved
  • drug dependent
  • depressed
  • truant

“That’s the magic of CAAEL,” she quickly adds. “Our students come in all different shapes and sizes — different races, different socio-economic backgrounds, different disabilities and abilities. Yet they come together each week and interact beautifully.”

The wide range of students CAAEL successfully serves truly defies the norm. As a result, CAAEL kids can learn to see beyond themselves. They develop empathy. They learn to embrace diversity. “As different as our kids are, they have this in common: They deserve to have fun,” insists their leader. “They must be seen and valued. CAAEL is the only organization providing this broad scope programming for Illinois’ growing number of high-risk youth.”

A mother of three children of her own, Lorenzi grew up playing softball in Forest Park, went to Fenwick and Northern Illinois University (B.A. and M.Ed.), then taught at Longfellow Elementary (Oak Park) before making the leap of faith in five years ago to help her father, CAAEL founder John Martin.

Humble, heartfelt beginnings

“My Dad started CAAEL in 1976,” Sarah recalls.  I grew up witnessing the amazing impact CAAEL had on an ever-expanding number of at-risk and special- education students.”

CAAEL founder John Martin lived in Forest Park.

It all began when he was teaching in an alternative school for kids with severe behavioral challenges, remembers Fenwick faculty and Dominican Laity member Dr. Jerry Lordan, O.P.

“Sarah’s father was a high school physical education teacher and coach [at the Stone Park Education Center]. From time to time he would have kids with disabilities transfer into and out from his classes. He could see their desire to participate in sports curtailed by their assignment to alternative-education schools without extracurricular activity programs,” Dr. Lordan explains.

“Rather than whine and moan, ‘Somebody ought to do something!’ he decided to be the change he wanted to see. John started the CAAEL,” Lordan continues. “At first it was just sports like basketball and baseball, which are played indoors. Then they added baseball, softball and track. Then they added poetry slams, spelling bees, art shows, musical performances, dances, etc.” Lordan notes that the Kiwanis Club of Forest Park is a financial sponsor to the CAAEL Coed Softball Tournament held in June in Forest Park.

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Remembering Arthur T. Dalton, Jr. ’42

Fennwick High School received an early Christmas present in mid-December: a gift from an anonymous donor in the amount of $3 million cash! “This is the first leadership gift toward the second phase of our Centennial Campaign,” praises President Fr. Richard Peddicord, O.P. “The money will be used to help construct the Centennial addition,” Father Peddicord explains, “and the new dining hall will be named for alumnus Arthur Dalton, Jr., who was a proud member of the Friars’ Class of 1942.” Mr. Dalton passed away in 2003 at age 80.

Who was Art Dalton? According to the ’42 Blackfriars yearbook, he was a member of St. Eulalia Parish in Maywood, IL. A versatile student-athlete in high school, Art participated in basketball, boxing and track for three of his four years at Fenwick; he played tennis (doubles) as a junior and senior and tried football and track as a freshman. He also wrote for The Wick student newspaper as a junior and was a member of the Pan-American Club as a senior.

Later in life, Mr. Dalton became a resident of Western Springs, IL. He was a husband and family man: married to Regina (nee Frawley) for 56 years; the couple had four children — Thomas, Cathie, Nancy and Daniel. The latter, a medical doctor, is a parent of three Fenwick graduates: Ryan ’03, Kyle ’05 and Katie ’06. (Art’s younger brother, Ray, also was a Friar: Class of ’44.)

Professionally, Art Dalton was president of Park Corp. of Barrington, IL, and executive vice president of Jewel Food Stores. Civically, he was Chairman of the Board at Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park, IL, and chairman of the Westlake Health Foundation. In his spare time, Dalton also was an avid golfer, with memberships at La Grange Country Club and the PGA National Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

This $3 million gift made in honor of Dalton matches the largest gift in school history. The new Arthur T. Dalton, Jr. ’42 Dining Hall (see artist’s rendering, below) will be housed within the proposed Centennial Building addition. The new building is estimated to be a $25-million construction initiative that will dramatically expand and enhance the facilities at Fenwick. One of the most visible and beautiful of all spaces within the new building, the dining hall will provide not only a much-needed new dining area and healthier environment for students, but it will also serve as a gathering space for alumni events, board meetings and community social events.

For more information, please go to www.fenwickfriars.com/fenwick2029/.

 

 

Faith, Family and Fenwick

These three F’s have set the foundation for young Jamal Nixon ’17, helping him to find his way — from Chicago and Plainfield, IL, to Oak Park and Mankato, MN, and beyond.

Jamal_Nixon_MSU_take2

An injury can’t hold back a leader of Friars. Facing “minor” knee surgery, Jamal says he will be ready to hoop again for the Minnesota State Mavs in the New Year.

By Mark Vruno

Jamal Nixon ’17 is a winner: off the basketball court as well as on it. His father, outplacement services professional William Nixon, credits Friars’ Head Basketball Coach Rick Malnati with nurturing Jamal’s competitive edge, which transfers from sports to school. “Teachers have the ability to tap into this and allow kids to achieve at their highest levels,” Mr. Nixon believes. “At Fenwick, they are willing to develop you as a student.”

William watched pridefully as his son developed and flourished. Jamal’s natural leadership abilities were enhanced in the classroom and in the gymnasium. William and his wife, Loretta (Moore) Nixon, employ basketball as a platform to tell a Friar’s story that is much bigger than athletics. Jamal and his family came into Fenwick with an open mind but didn’t really know anything about the “Catholic thing” and the school’s culture, says his mother, who is Manager of IT Audit and Advisory Services at Health Care Service Corp.

Loretta and William were teenage sweethearts at Westinghouse High School in Chicago. When the curious parents inquired about Fenwick, they began hearing words such as, “legacy,” “tradition” and “multi-generational families.” They noticed how many alumni come back to teach at the private school. “We found all of that very impressive,” Loretta admits, including the relationship-building and connection aspects of “Friar Nation” and all its devoted alumni. “Fenwick offers so much in terms of mentoring, community and the alumni network,” praises her husband.

The parents wondered how structured or strict the Fenwick environment was – academically and behaviorally. They have very high expectations of their sons, and they wanted to ensure that their expectations for Jamal matched the school’s.

“I was pushed and challenged by my teachers in the classrooms of Fenwick,” Jamal says now, in his first semester at Minnesota State University, Mankato. “Mike [Smith, a teammate and friend] warned me about the challenging academics, but I wasn’t prepared as a freshman.”

Looking back on the experience, Jamal believes that success in school also has helped to build his self-confidence. His mom concurs: “There is an even playing field with kids coming in [to Fenwick],” she reports with hindsight. “You have to have an open mind and embrace the culture. Fenwick is more than willing to help you succeed.”

Christian values also are very important to the Nixons, whose religious roots are planted firmly in the Baptist tradition. The spiritual aspects of Fenwick and the core Dominican values were strong selling points, they say. “My family is Christian, but I had never studied Theology before [coming to Fenwick],” Jamal notes. Adds his mother, “Community service is huge at Fenwick, and Jamal learned to give back.”

“Fenwick is the place we knew we wanted Jamal to be,” she asserts. And the Nixons were willing to sacrifice to make sure he could come. “I was okay with borrowing from my 401 (k) for Jamal to get the education he deserves,” explains Loretta, “but we still needed some help financially. It all has been worth the price.”

William notes that he and his wife are thoroughly grateful to the benefactors who make this high level of education possible for kids. “The assistance we received was very much appreciated,” he says, then adds quickly: “But Fenwick also benefited by having a great kid in Jamal as part of the community!”

Historic Hoops

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