EDGEWATER — Three people who worked for years to make Edgewater a safer place were honored Tuesday night, proving that caring about your neighbors can completely transform a street — and a community.
During a National Night Out community policing meetup at Swift Elementary School, Lynn Pierce, Antonio Thomas and Officer Teddy Thanasenaris were recognized as "pillars of safety" for their contributions to the betterment of life in Edgewater, specifically on Thorndale Avenue.
Prior to a group walk around the neighborhood, 48th Ward Ald. Harry Osterman surprised the group with plaques embedded in concrete pillars at the Thorndale "L" station that honored their work "going above and beyond" in the neighborhood.
"This is a celebration of partnerships," said Rogers Park Police District Cmdr. Roberto Nieves, who added it was the ongoing work and commitment of "true fighter[s]" like Pierce, who made the Far North Side a "more safe place and a more caring place to live."
Pierce, a longtime resident, founded the Thorndale Task Force 10 years ago when the 1100 block of the street was overrun by a gang whose members used the sidewalk to conduct drug deals, drink publicly, start fights and more.
Soon, the group started showing up in court for each and every single arrest on the block, a tradition they've kept up for more serious crimes throughout the neighborhood since Thorndale has taken a turn for the better.
Osterman described Pierce as a "woman who exemplified community, commitment and dedication."
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Lynn Pierce receives a bouquet of flowers from 48th Ward Ald. Harry Osterman. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
Thomas heads up local "Becoming A Man" program chapters at Swift and Goudy elementary schools, a mentor-based youth program for boys who have been affected by the perils of gang life.
Through group sessions and events with Thomas, young men learn how to love and respect themselves, process difficult emotions and navigate life.
The process has been "transformative" and "lasting," Osterman said, creating a positive "ripple effect" on other aspects of neighborhood life.
Thanasenaris, a beat officer who has worked on Thorndale for the last five to six years, was also among "one of the main reasons" crime on the street has gone down, Osterman said. The officer was described as a "rock" who helped keep the busy "L" station area safe.
Other speakers included Ivana Ayikoue, a recent graduate of Senn High School and intern at Osterman's office who is heading to Malcom X College in the fall.
"As a community, we share a home," Ayikoue said. "Growing up in Chicago, I've learned uniting is how you accomplish a goal."
An art installation created by Loyola University students on the school grounds also made a statement on "the tragedy of gun violence in the city," the alderman said.
The sculpture depicted sticks of dynamite, emblazoned with the names of victims of gun violence in 2016.
To keep the momentum going, Osterman said the responsibility falls "on all of us" in the neighborhood to uplift youth and "reclaim Thorndale for everyone."
Officer Teddy Thanasenaris has worked the police beat on Thorndale Avenue for last five to six years. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]Osterman and Thanasenaris in front of Thanasenaris' plaque. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]Antonio Thomas, an Edgewater resident and Becoming A Man program facilitator, has made a difference in the lives of young men in the neighborhood. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]Edgewater residents share a moment in prayer during National Night Out events Tuesday. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]Rogers Park Police District Cmdr. Roberto Nieves addresses residents at a community safety event. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]West Ridge resident and Senn High School graduate Ivana Ayikoue, 18, said through unity the community can achieve its common goals. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]