The Giraffe Plan

When their nanny died young and tragically from breast cancer last fall, Fenwick students Wil ’21 and Leah Gurski ’23 knew they had to do something for her young son, Adam. But what?

By Wil Gurski ’21 (Oak Park, IL)

When God calls someone to be a mother, that virtue doesn’t only nurture her own child but cultivates all of those she influences.

Hi! My name is Wil Gurski, and I would like to tell you a story about a woman who fulfilled God’s call to compassion and left a lasting impression on my sister Leah [a Fenwick sophomore] and me.

Young Leah Gurski ’23 (left) and Viola after a manicure for Leah’s birthday.

Eighteen years ago, I was blessed with a second mother, Viola, when she started to take care of me at six months old. She taught me how to count to 10 in Polish, read me bedtime stories from her hometown of Krakow, and she would always take my sister and me to the zoo. Most summers we would go to Brookfield Zoo at least once a week. And every time we went, Viola would insist that we stop by the giraffe enclosure to take pictures. Without a doubt her favorite animal was the giraffe, and, in hindsight, a proud, compassionate and protective mother giraffe perfectly embodies her.

A few years later she had a son, named Adam; naturally, he became a brother to Leah and me. To this day, Adam still gets me in trouble. We play basketball together in the backyard, Minecraft until 1 a.m., watch the exact same TV shows, and one summer we spent the entire day
walking from park to park playing Pokémon Go.

Wil, Leah and Adam celebrating Adam’s first communion.

Then, in August 2020, Viola was diagnosed with breast cancer, and it had tragically spread throughout her body. She soon passed away on September 26th, devastating everyone who had been touched by her kindness.

My sister and I knew we had to do something to help little Adam and his Dad. A few weeks later, Leah came up with the brilliant idea to sell clothing to raise money for Adam’s college tuition. She figured that it would make a big difference for the family if Adam’s future was more secure. So, we decided to create The Giraffe Plan LLC, inspired by Viola’s favorite animal, to spread her love and confidence the same way she did for us.

Viola and a little, four-year-old Adam.

Leah and I know how much an average college charges in tuition, so we had to think big. A simple fundraiser could not cover the amount we needed to raise, but a business could. A business in which all of the profits go directly into Adam’s college savings plan.

Fellow Friar water polo player Pete Buinauskas ’21 (Western Springs, IL) poses in a Giraffe Plan sweatshirt with OPRF senior Isabel Evens.

With our mission in mind, we turned to the most gifted (and patient) graphic designer we knew, Fenwick junior Dylan Fu. He helped design our logos, sweatshirts, website, social media and so much more. Additionally, senior Maddie Miller drafted a six-page marketing plan and a seven-page sponsorship proposal. My Fenwick peers were vital help in securing an awesome sponsorship for our business. A sponsor paid for our entire stock of sweatshirts and financed our LLC, allowing us to donate all of the revenue we receive — without any overhead costs.

My sister and I are incredibly humbled by all of the support we have received in setting up this venture: from friends who have financially supported us, those who have donated their legal counsel, and all who have just believed in us and our mission. Most of all, we are truly grateful for people like you who take the time out of their day to listen to our story. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts.

Check out the website:

THE GIRAFFE PLAN

Adam and Viola sitting in front of the wall of Legos that Adam and Wil assembled. (There is a little giraffe above them.)
Leah and Wil’s Aunt Margie (holding baby Adam) with Viola and her husband, who is also named Adam.
Fenwick swimmers turned Giraffe Plan “models:” Michael Flynn ’22 (left, Brookfield, IL) and Pete Buinauskas ’21 (Western Springs, IL) posing in sweatshirts.

Fenwick Fathers’ Club: 2019 Dr. Gerald Lordan Freshman Family Picnic

The recently retired faculty mentor addressed new Friar parents at the annual event renamed in his honor.

By Dr. Gerald Lordan, O.P.

Welcome to Pleasant Home for the 28th Fenwick Fathers’ Club Frosh Family Picnic. We started his event in 1992 to welcome Fenwick’s first coeducational class. Three of the members of that Class of 1996 now serve on the Fenwick faculty. Pleasant Home, like Fenwick, is located in St. Edmund’s Parish. The first Catholic Mass celebrated in Oak Park was held in the barn that serviced this building. 

Fenwick is the only high school in the United States sponsored by Dominican Friars. Dominicans lead lives of virtue. Humility is the greatest of all the virtues. We are humbled by the confidence families place in us by sending us their adolescents for formation. It is a teacher’s greatest joy to be surpassed by his students. We are pleased to see so many of our former students here today as parents of students in the class of 2023. We are pleased to welcome our first fourth generation Friar! We have a member of the class of 2023 with us today who follows in the footsteps of a great grandfather, grandfather and father. 

Every high school in the United States has a legal obligation to the state legislature, which charters it to train patriotic citizens and literate workers. As a Dominican school, Fenwick follows the Thomist educational philosophy. A Thomist school has an obligation to our Creator, the Supreme Being to train moral, servant-leaders of society. The late Ed Brennan, a Fenwick alumnus and CEO of Sears, was once asked what course he studied in his graduate school of business that best prepared him to be the chief executive of a Fortune 500 Corporation. Mr. Brennan replied, “Nothing I studied in business school prepared me for my job. The only class that prepared me was Moral Theology during my junior year at Fenwick High School.”

Training moral, servant-leaders

Fenwick President Fr. Richard Peddicord, O.P. (front center) joined Dr. Lordan (left) and Fenwick Fathers’ Club President Frank Sullivan ’86 at the Freshman Family Picnic.

Our freshman students will learn this year in history class that we are in an Axial Age. Everything changes in an Axial Age. We have had an Agricultural Revolution, which made us farmers. We have had an Industrial Revolution, which made us factory workers. We are entering an Information Revolution, which will make us computer scientists. We study the past to understand the present to shape the future. We do not know what challenges beyond our present comprehension the future may bring. We must be prepared to be the moral, servant-leaders of our society so we can enable others to meet these challenges. Therefore, Moral Theology is the most important subject that our students study.

The Dominicans are the Order of Preachers and have the initials, O.P., after their names. All of our students will study speech as sophomores.

The lessons we learn in class are important or we would not bother to teach them. Even more important, however, are the lessons we learn inside our building but outside of the classroom.  Three of the Dominican Pillars are Prayer, Community and Study. Once a month we assemble in our Auditorium to celebrate Mass. It is appropriate that we meet in community to pray before we study. 

The most important lessons we learn at Fenwick are taught outside of the building. All of our students will make a Kairos religious retreat during their senior year. This is the most important thing we do at Fenwick.

3 takeways

I am going to identify three activities that will enhance our Fenwick Experience. The first is for adults. The second is for adolescents. The third is for families. These suggestions are based on educational research. They are neither my opinions nor intuitive thoughts. Pedagogy is the science of education. These suggestions come from empirical pedagogical research and enjoy a measure of scientific certitude.

  1. Adults should be active in parent associations. Vibrant parent associations are in indicator of excellence for a school. Do not just join. Do not just pay dues. Get active. Make a difference.
  2. Adolescents should participate in student activities. This does not mean just sports. It includes all manner of student clubs such as speech, drama, student government, art and music.
  3. Families should eat dinner together. They should shut off the television. They should put down the smart phone. They should talk with one another. 
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