2021 Hearts of Gold Honorees

Congratulations to the 2021 Hearts of Gold Honorees!
Posted on 02/11/2021

People who live and work in Arlington Heights and have made a difference in the lives of others or have significantly contributed to the community were honored in the Village’s Hearts of Gold award program. Also enjoy a video presentation of the honorees receiving their awards. The Village was unable to host the traditional award banquet due to COVID-19.

Organized by the Special Events Commission, the annual Hearts of Gold program honors educators, neighbors, business leaders, volunteers, students, senior citizens and others who have been nominated by a group or individual for the 11 awards given annually. Thanks to the financial support of the Commission’s premium sponsors for making this celebration possible: First Midwest Bank, Wells Fargo Advisors, Bartlett Tree Experts and Drost Kivlahan McMahon & O'Connor law firm.

Please join the Village in congratulating the 2021 Hearts of Gold Honorees!

Mentor Award - Stephan Polus

Stephan PolusIt takes many admirable qualities to truly be considered a mentor. Inspirational. Motivational. Friendly. These are only a few, and for Stephan Polus, the recipient of the 2021 Hearts of Gold Mentor Award, there are definitely so many more. 

As the Youth Hockey Coordinator for the Rolling Meadows Park District, Coach Polus overseas more than 200 youngsters, teaching them not only how to be better on the ice, but more importantly, in life. A Rolling Meadows High School graduate, Stephan is a self-taught hockey player who learned the game playing on the frozen pond of a family home in Minnesota. 

His primary focus growing up was karate, where he became a black belt and competed internationally. His love of teaching karate led him to move to New Mexico to own and operate a dojo, eventually returning to Illinois to fulfill his calling to emergency medicine, initially becoming an emergency medical technician (EMT) and then a paramedic.

His initial foray into youth hockey coaching came when he volunteered to help out when his two sons, Nikola and Alexandr, first signed up to play as youngsters. As his sons advanced in age and skills so did his level of teaching, eventually leading to him being offered the Rolling Meadows Park District Youth Hockey Coordinator position in 2015. 

In 2020, he was recognized by the Chicago Blackhawks as the “Coach of the Month” and has been honored to have his senior squad, the Renegades, skate at intermission of Blackhawks games as recently as January 2020. His latest accomplishment has been to transition the hockey program to virtual learning during the pandemic, single-handedly designing skills sessions that incorporate encouragement and engagement given the kids are unable to compete on the ice. He coaches with the mantra to “Not just create good hockey players but to create good human beings”, and for that he has been nominated by the entire hockey program for this well-deserved award. 

Best Neighbor Award – Mario and Cathy Corona

Mario and Cathy CoronaMario and Cathy Corona provided an oasis for families with young children during the pandemic. Both retired schoolteachers with three grown daughters, they established an outlet where kids could use their imaginations and foster creativity, supplementing the remote online school offered this year.

Initially, Mario created a fairy garden, complete with wooden doors, trucks, and animals for the children to play with as they walked near the base of their parkway tree. Cathy began by writing the alphabet each day with an object that started with that letter. Soon, children and their families within a three-block radius anxiously visited to see what was new. Many friendships were formed. The Coronas drew upon their professional experience to inspire curiosity and bolster faith that people are good and willing to help each other.

Mario has gladly added many trucks and cars based on children’s requests and sends them home to be painted. Cathy holds a regular socially distant book club with the kids, providing a semi-private classroom.

The Coronas give freely of themselves, frequently asking what they can do to help, but see the children’s excitement and new friendships more as a gift to themselves. Mario and Cathy emit warmth and a sense of calm during an uncertain period which is so appreciated by those they meet. They are truly deserving of the Best Neighbor award!

Educator Award – Dr. Deborah Scerbicke

Dr. Deborah ScerbickeDr. Deb Scerbicke, also affectionately known as Dean Deb, has been the Dean of Students at Saint Viator High School in Arlington Heights for the past 21 years. Deb holds multiple educational degrees including a bachelor’s degree, two masters, one in Education Administration, and a PhD in American History.  All come in very handy while attempting to juggle the needs of almost 900 students on a daily basis. 

Dr. Scerbicke is truly the heart of St. Viator High School. She knows each and every student by name, attends as many athletic events as possible, never misses a musical or concert, and will even happily lead her students on four-day retreats! Deb volunteers to supervise dances, help the Saturday detention students pick up garbage, ride the late bus on Prom night and emcee the popular trivia night! 

On any typical day, Deb can be found out in the school parking lot directing the cars and guiding the busses, chatting with students at tables in the cafeteria while eating Tater Tots, and wandering the hallways wearing her signature cowboy boots and greeting the students. This is how she gets to know and understand each student- by participating in the small, insignificant things that happen every day.

Deb believes that the high school years are critical in a person’s life and that she has been blessed with the opportunity to make a difference in many of the student’s lives. She has been known to say that the ordinary is what is extraordinary! 

Dr. Deborah Scerbicke is truly one of Arlington Heights’ finest and has a heart of gold!

Young at Heart Award – Jeanette Domek

Jeanette DomekThe “Young at Heart” Award recognizes a senior citizen in Arlington Heights who continues to actively and enthusiastically contribute to our community. Our award winner, Jeanette Domek, is the definition of a senior who continues to make a positive difference. 

Jeanette has volunteered at the Senior Center for the past 20 years, serving approximately 3,500 hours. She now serves on the Advisory Council. Her coworker who nominated her has nothing but praise for Jeanette, citing her willingness to always help out and her genuine compassion and friendliness to everyone.  She pointed out that Jeanette was the first volunteer to return when the Senior Center reopened from COVID this summer.

Jeanette is a 40-year resident of Arlington Heights and is the mother of four, step mother to four, grandmother to sixteen and at last count great grandmother to an additional sixteen (with one on the way). She has been instrumental in making sure the Senior Center has a presence in the Memorial Day Parade. She recruits her family to walk along the parade route and give out candy. What a great way to pass on her passion to the next generations.
Jeanette is an inspiration to all of us for a life well lived.  It is because of people like her that Arlington Height is the City of Good Neighbors. As Albert Einstein said: “Only a life lived for others is a life worth living.” That’s definitely Jeanette’s life view.     

Hero Award - Kyla Michelle Davis

Kyla DavisWhen Kyla Davis yelled “HEY, STOP!”, actions started that arguably saved a woman’s life.

On August 27, 2020, Kyla parked her car to visit a friend who lives in Arlington Heights and witnessed a man threatening his ex-girlfriend with a knife. When he heard Kyla yell, he began taunting movements with the knife and forced the woman into the back of his SUV.  Kyla called 911 to report the aggression and got back into her car because she did not want the man to drive away without getting his license plate number.  

At that moment, the woman escaped from the SUV and ran toward Kyla, who let her into her car. She immediately locked the doors and within seconds, the man was pulling the handle to Kyla’s car door trying to gain entrance. Kyla sped away with the woman in her car and the man pursued them. It was then that Kyla noticed the panic-stricken woman was holding a knife.  Kyla got the woman to put the knife down and tried to calm her down while she drove. The 911 center provided directions to the Arlington Heights police station and kept her on the phone until a police car located Kyla’s car and intervened. The woman indicated that her ex-boyfriend intended to kill her and then himself.

The SUV pursued Kyla’s car and collided with two other cars along the way. He eventually entered a parking lot where police found him and determined that he held true to his threat and committed suicide. Police concluded that, most likely, the offender would have killed the woman if it was not for the decisive actions of Kyla Michelle Davis.   

Kyla is a true hero.

Young Champion Award – Max Ward

While a senior at Prospect High School last year, our Young Champion winner Max Ward was a member of the Service Club Executive Board. In that role he not only helped plan dozens of community service events, but he also completed over 80 hours of volunteer service work himself. Max epitomizes the word service, and he is a tremendously selfless individual who served as a positive role model for his peers during his final year of high school.

Max accomplished much during his tenure at Prospect High School including planning and coordinating multiple community blood drives. He organized and helped lead a Prospect High School backpack drive, in conjunction with the Arlington Heights Rotary, that brought in scores of backpacks for homeless people in our area. Max regularly volunteered as a server and helper at Timothy's Ministries' luncheons for the homeless at the Arlington Heights and Palatine locations. He led multiple teams of students who did fall and spring yard work for area senior citizens through District 214's Acts of Kindness Program. 

We thank Max Ward for his positive influence and for all he has done for our community through his dedicated volunteerism! We wish him the best in his future endeavors at Northwestern University.

Volunteer Award – Stephanie Keller

Stephanie Keller
Stephanie Keller is our Volunteer Heart of Gold “Top Dog” for 2020. Stephanie serves as the Comfort Dog Ministry Ambassador at St. Peters Lutheran Church. She managed the extremely busy schedule of Susie, the St. Peter’s comfort dog, and coordinated a team of volunteers who helped Susie with her appearances throughout Arlington Heights.

Lutheran Church Charities (LCC) K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry began in 2008. It is a human-care ministry bringing comfort to those suffering or in need. From Superstorm Sandy to Sandy Hook, victims have been comforted by the calming nature and skills of purebred Golden Retrievers all over the United States. LCC currently has over 130 K-9 comfort dogs in more than 27 states.

Stephanie, a teacher at St. Peters, started working with Susie in 2013 and has provided comfort to many in the community. From hospitals and nursing homes to school and village events, Stephanie and her team are constantly on the move. A highlight for Stephanie is seeing how children and adults under stress light up when Susie entered the room, watching a fearful child become excited, and bringing a moment of comfort to someone in mourning.

After seven years of faithful service, Susie passed last November. Stephanie and her team started a campaign to raise funds to acquire another comfort dog. Meanwhile, they are working with a new dog, Benjamin, and other dogs in the area to continue to provide this valuable service to the Arlington Heights community.

Community Spirit Award - Yeulanda Degala 

Yeulanda DegalaSo many residents felt immobilized in the early days of the Illinois Coronavirus shutdown. There was a shared sense of dread about the adversity many in our community would face over the months to come. 

Not one to sit and stir for long, Yeulanda Degala and a friend started a Facebook group the night of March 13 without a clear plan, but recognizing something needed to be done to help support vulnerable families in the community. 

The "Neighbors Helping Neighbors Arlington Heights” group grew quickly. By the next morning, there were over 200 people and it grew by hundreds each day. 

She recognized there were many families in our community who were in truly dire need, having lost their jobs due to COVID -19 and worried about feeding their children. There seemed to be a clear desire in the community to help, but the community needed some guidance. 
Yeulanda set bins on the front porch of her Dunton Street house & invited people to drop donations of food, snacks and essentials, simultaneously reaching out to local schools and social workers to coordinate distribution to those in need.  

The response from the community was unbelievable and the donations didn't stop. Her husband, two children, pitched in and her home became a staging ground for collection, organization and coordination of ongoing supplies.

Yeulanda’s efforts provided food and necessities, as well as joy and hope during this unprecedented time. We are now nearly a year into the pandemic and Yeulanda is still collecting and distributing food to those in need! 

The Facebook page, which now has over 2,200 members, has become a way for residents to share stories, seek support, volunteer and donate. The Facebook page is intended to offer a lifeline to everyone impacted by the pandemic from mundane needs to vital services. 

With so much out of our control this past year, Yeulanda used her natural ability to connect with and organize people, to provide the community with a sense of purpose. Her efforts served as a bright light in the community for the givers and receivers, which is why she is this year's choice for the Community Spirit Award.

Business Leader Award – A La Mode Collections

Jamie BellizziThe 2021 Business Leader Heart of Gold Award goes to A La Mode Collections. This unique fashion and gift boutique exudes positivity and warmth from the moment you walk in the door. It’s a shining example of a small, family business with a big heart.

Jamie Bellizzi is the owner and creator of A La Mode Collections. She is described by her employees as kind, caring, thoughtful, patient, understanding and generous. Customers will see Jamie placing new jewelry pieces on display just as easily as holding a baby while Mom shops, walking a customer to their car, or hand-delivering a purchase to a customer’s front porch. Jamie takes a personal interest in each of her customers and their needs. She opened her doors in 2007, when her two daughters were 10 and 12 years old. You might say they grew up in the business, and they learned from the best. Today, Cristina and Marisa are instrumental in running the business alongside their mom, sharing the same passion for helping others, giving back to the community and leading with their heart.

Jamie’s passion for serving others is as deep as her love for fashion. She considers it a privilege and an honor to give back to the community that has supported her business throughout the years and it shows in her ongoing generosity. She is quick to donate a piece of jewelry or a sampling of the store’s offerings for a charitable fundraiser.  A La Mode routinely supports a variety of organizations with its many after-hours “Charity Shopping Nights,” where customers shop and proceeds are donated to the named charity.

Even as the pandemic shut down all businesses, Jamie jumped into action to quickly find a way to keep the community safe. She connected with a long-time friend and clothing vendor that made fashion forward face masks, sold them online and offered curbside pickup or she would bring them to your door. Proceeds from these face mask sales were donated to the Children First Fund. A La Mode Collections’ consta

nt support of the community is why they are the 2021 Business Leader Heart of Gold Award Winner.

Kenneth M. Bonder Beautification Award – Arlington Heights Park District / The Arlington Ridge Center

Arlington Ridge Center

Ben Rea, Brian Meyer

   Ben Rea, Brian Meyer

The 2021 Beautification Hearts of Gold Award goes to t
he Arlington Heights Park District for the new Arlington Ridge Center, located at 660 N. Ridge Ave. Accepting the award for the Park District is Brian Meyer - Director of Recreation and Facilities and Ben Rea - Director of Parks and Planning. These two gentlemen have been involved in every aspect of the project from its inception five years ago, from its initial planning, design conception, budgeting and weekly construction meetings, until its completion in November 2019.

The project was envisioned to expand the existing Olympic Indoor Aquatic Center into a state-of-art fitness and recreation facility for the residents of Arlington Heights, doubling the size of the current facility to 100,000 square feet. The much anticipated dedication was held December 31, 2019. The facility was designed by FGM Architects and Corporate Construction Services was the construction manager.


The new Arlington Ridge Center was designed in a sleek postmodern architecture of prefabricated concrete, aluminum and expansive glass. Its open and airy interior is exhilarating and inviting to everyone entering the two-story glass enclosed reception area and adjoining basketball courts or taking in a few laps around the second-floor indoor track. 

The addition created a new 2,100 square feet entrance and gathering space, two basketball courts (which can be subdivided into four smaller practice courts), a dramatic second floor open walking/jogging track, six pickle ball and four volleyball courts, a spacious 5,100 square foot workout area with full glass views of the outdoor soccer fields, new locker rooms (including a family changing room), and an inviting interactive children’s play room. The project also included a new water wellness pool, upgrades to the existing pools and the aquatic center areas, a new ADA compliant stair entrance to the main pool (which eliminated the cumbersome moveable stairs), new deck drainage system for the kiddie pool, new boiler and roof to the existing facility.  

The project took nearly over a year to complete at a cost of $17 million, including $1 million in upgrades to the existing Olympic Center facility. It recently was awarded the coveted 2020 Alan F. Bombick Excellence in Design by the Arlington Heights Design Commission.  

The facility is truly an architectural gem that will be enjoyed by the residents of Arlington Heights for many years to come. A record 10,000 residents joined in the first month of operation, surpassing the first-year goal of the Center!

Pam Stocking Award – Mary Beth Delaney

Mary Beth DelaneyMary Beth Delaney, a District 25 teacher dedicated to improving the lives of students with special needs, is the perfect honoree for the Pam Stocking Heart of Gold award. Pam Stocking, the Village’s first Disability Services Coordinator for the Village had a deep passion to ensure that people with special needs had the same opportunities available to them as everyone else. 

A similar spirit exists within Mary Beth Delaney, who puts her heart and soul into making sure her students grow academically, socially and emotionally. She helps her students achieve their best selves through a positive learning environment that is built on her love and respect for her students and their families.

In addition, Mary Beth is the Chair of the board of directors of Children's Research Triangle (CRT) an organization that works to promote healthy family systems through programs that address the specific needs and abilities of the children and families they serve, regardless of their ability to pay. CRT also runs Camp SOAR (Special Outdoor Adaptive Recreation), an overnight camp that offers children with special needs the opportunity to create wonderful memories that will last for a lifetime. The camp is a highlight in the students' lives each year and offers much needed respite for their families.

Mary Beth is also an ambassador for Gerry's Cafe. She helps raise funds and build relationships for the full-service coffee shop that will open in Arlington Heights, staffed by adults with disabilities. Many of her former graduates are involved.

Mary Beth donates her time and energy, as well as advocates and cares for those less fortunate, and those who cannot advocate for themselves. She is deserving of the Pam Stocking Heart of Gold.