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  • withdrawn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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Alumni Spotlight on Richard Cochrane ’59

Black History Month 2019

Pioneering perspective: Fenwick’s first black graduate reflects on the segregated life of his youth. “Mine is a difficult story to tell,” he says, offering a history lesson in the process.

Interview by Mark Vruno

Introduction

School records dating back 64 years confirm that alumnus Richard Cochrane ’59 blazed a trail as Fenwick’s very first African-American student and graduate. Originally from Maywood, IL, Mr. Cochrane now lives in the sunny Southwest. In high school, he was active in student government (class treasurer and secretary) and played football and basketball (captain).

Last February, one-time Fenwick student turned educator Marlon Hall, PhD. shared his freshman-year experience of the early 1970s, when he endured verbal abuse and physical bullying – all racially inspired.  In one of several replies to Dr. Hall’s guest blog, Cochrane pointed out that his memories of Fenwick were quite different and much more positive 17 years earlier:

“Dr. Hall, I appreciate your sharing your Fenwick experiences and the strength they gave you. In context, in 1950 the world-renowned chemist Percy Julian became the first African-American to take up residence in Oak Park. His home was fire-bombed on Thanksgiving Day of that year and again in 1951. In May of 1954 the Supreme Court rendered the ‘Brown vs. Board of Education’ ruling. In September of 1955 I walked into Fenwick as a freshman, two years before the ‘Little Rock Nine,’ and I am black. There were no other black students and there would only be one more in the next four years.

“Many of my experiences were similar to yours but the negatives were overwhelmed by the support of the majority of the student body, and the faculty support cannot go without mention. There were whispers and some name-calling and even a fight or two, but the Dominican family pushed, nudged and refused to let me think of anything but finishing. I was also aware of the financial burden that I was placing on my family. In return, I received an excellent education both academically and socially….”

Cochrane’s heartfelt response prompted our Alumni Relations Team to reach out. We learned that Rich is “happily retired” and soaking up sunshine in New Mexico. Our questions and his answers:

Richard, where did you attend college? Please tell us about your professional background and STEM-related career.

RC: After graduating Fenwick in 1959, I attended St. Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Indiana, where I majored in chemistry. While there I played freshman basketball and varsity football for two years until my knee gave out. I got a job in the coatings and ink industry and, eventually, spent 35 years with Sun Chemical Corporation. I held positions in lab synthesis, tech service, lab management, operation management and national accounts. I retired from Sun in 2003.

What was it like being the only black student at the Fenwick?

Cochrane (bottom, center) was the only black student on this 1959 Yearbook page — and one of three in the entire school. (Sophomore Wayne Morgan ’61 and freshman Harry Smith ’62 were the others.)

RC: In 1955, I believe my freshman class enrolled about 354 students and the school enrollment was about 1,236. As I’ve said, I found the faculty very supportive and the student body mostly treating me like any other student, with a smaller group either curious or distant. Only one of the other three students from my parish in Maywood [St. James, which closed in 2006] was close to me at Fenwick.

On the first day of school, when I went to the office to pick up my class schedule, the staff called back one of the students I was with to ask if I was really going to attend school there. A notable few of the upper-classmen were kind enough to offer short words of encouragement. If I missed the Madison St. bus, I would walk west until the next bus came and would often find the Oak Park Police close behind to make sure I reached Harlem Ave. The single greatest factor was the Dominican community. I got the feeling that they would not let me fail (or even consider quitting).

Did you have a sense that you were making “history” at Fenwick?

A young Cochrane using a slde rule in 1967.

RC: I had no sense of making history but there was a constant feeling of not being totally “at home.” Remember, at that time Oak Park had a population of 62,000 [there are 10,000 fewer residents today] and had only one black family — and their home had twice been bombed.

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Friars Abroad: My Ecuador Experience with ROMP

A Fenwick young alumna shares details about five days in South America with the Range of Motion Project (ROMP), during which her team built 18 prosthetic limbs for amputees.

By Jane Farrell ’16

Jane with Team ROMP in Ecuador.

One of the most remarkable things about Fenwick High School is its alumni network. I remember being in Paris with my family when my older brother [Social Studies Department Chair, Varsity Football Defensive Coordinator and alumnus Alex Holmberg ’05] was stopped by a Fenwick alum that recognized the shield on his shirt. Not only is the Fenwick alumni network far-reaching, but it is also high-accomplishing. This past May, I got the incredible opportunity to serve amputees in Quito, Ecuador, thanks to a high-accomplishing Fenwick alum. I never would have gotten to go on this inspiring trip had it not been for the faith I have in the quality of Fenwick’s alumni network.

As a rising junior in the biomedical engineering program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I wanted to spend my summer doing something within my desired career field. One of my classes at UNC piqued my interest in the prosthetics field, so I shadowed a prosthetist at Shriner’s Children Hospital in December. I was inspired to continue exploring the prosthetics field, and a family friend and fellow Friar fan [past/present Fenwick parent], Kate Nikolai, recommended that I check out ROMP, the Range of Motion Project. She told me that it was an organization that worked with amputees in Ecuador and Guatemala. The best part was that that one of the co-founders, David Krupa, is a fellow Fenwick alum (Class of ’98).

As I looked into ROMP, I realized it was the perfect trip for me. ROMP’s mission is to provide high-quality prosthetic care in under-served populations, which enhances mobility and unlocks human potential. Through ROMP, volunteers can travel to Ecuador or Guatemala for the opportunity to work with local prosthetists and patients. The incredible thing about ROMP is that volunteers get to be heavily involved in the entire prosthetic process — from the casting of the patient to the device delivery to the physical therapy work.

Jesus and Jane

My personal experience with ROMP was nothing short of life changing. In May, I traveled to Quito, Ecuador by myself. I knew no one on this trip, but knowing that a fellow Friar would be there was comforting.

We worked in a local clinic, Fundacion Hermano Miquel, for five days serving 16 patients. I personally worked with two patients, Jesús and Carlos. Obviously, Jesús is pronounced like the Spanish name and not like Jesus Christ, but I don’t find it a coincidence that they share a spelling as my patient Jesús was an absolute ray of sunshine and reminded me of the importance of serving others. Even though he lived in severe poverty, he always offered to buy me a Coke with what little money he had.

Jesús was a below-knee amputee while Carlos was an above-knee amputee. Over the course of five days, myself and two other volunteers worked closely with an Ecuadorian prosthetist to build two brand-new prosthetics for these men. Both Jesús and Carlos lost their limbs in car accidents and were in desperate need of prosthetic care. Being able to provide them with the care they needed was extremely rewarding, and I will forever remember the lessons I learned from these two inspirational men.

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