Illinois Jaycees Honor Lara With TOYP Award

The Illinois Jaycees honored Palatine resident Cristina Lara as one of the top young people in the State of Illinois during a special honors program at their statewide general meeting on Saturday, May 10th at the Embassy Suites in East Peoria, Illinois.
Each year the Illinois Jaycees and the Illinois Junior Chamber International Senate select and honor up to ten outstanding men and women, between the ages of 21 and 39, from across Illinois. The Outstanding Young People (TOYP) are selected on the basis of achievements in a number of areas including social services, religious leadership as well as business and personal accomplishments. Past winners include Northwestern University Head Football Coach Pat Fitzgerald, Chicago Bear Devin Hester, University of Illinois Head Basketball Coach Bill Self and U.S. Congressman Aaron Schock.

“I believe Cristina best embodies what making an impact in children and the community is all about”, said Arron McCurley, Cristina’s nominator. “Cristina identified a need, created programs to remedy the need, and works to makes the results permanent as part of her work with the Palatine Opportunity Center and the Palatine Park District. I believe that Cristina herself makes the programs successful. She also supports other programs at both the Park District and the Palatine Opportunity Center going above and beyond her role as the Community Outreach Coordinator.”

In 2000, at the age of 19, Cristina Lara was hired by the Charter Foundation to run a summer camp. Cristina was hired by the Palatine Police Chief and Park District Director. There were about 100 children from Wheeling, Buffalo Grove and Palatine who planned to attend the summer camp. Cristina was hired in June and the camp opened in July. She was given nothing so she quickly found resources to make the camp successful.

In the fall, the Northeast Palatine Resource Network, a joint effort between the girl scouts, Palatine Police Department, Palatine Park District and Palatine School District 15, formed separating from Cook County programming. In the three years prior to the separation Cook County ran a small and minimally effective after school tutoring program for middle and high school students in the northeast quadrant of Palatine. At this time, the area was infiltrated with gangs, violence and drugs. Children were recruited as young as six years old into this lifestyle.

The separation from Cook County, led to the release of the Cook County Sheriff and manager of the program. Cristina was hired as their replacement and began working in Edgebrook apartments. Edgebrook was in the basement of an apartment complex located in this low socio-economic and dangerous area of Palatine. At first, there were no children for Cristina to tutor. Cristina knocked on doors to invite kids to attend, she held parent meetings, and soon the program grew from one night a week to five nights a week. Cristina now oversees 27 programs and has extended a number of programs into other communities.

“Palatine is a diverse community with many languages, ethnicities and socio-economic statuses,” said McCurley. “The northeast quadrant of Palatine was identified over 14 years ago as an area struggling with poverty, crime, gang activity, violence, and cultural differences. The Palatine school districts, Palatine Park District, Palatine Police Department and other community resources have worked to remedy the needs of this area. However, the person who has brought these entities together and created unique programs to make a positive change is Cristina Lara. Since a young age, Cristina has crossed cultural, language, and socio-economic barriers to change the lives of people living in the northeast quadrant of Palatine.”

Each of the individuals honored received a special medallion and photo plaque from the Illinois Jaycees. The other honorees and the Illinois towns from which they were nominated include William Glass of Westmont, Seth Goodman of Lincoln, Yvonne Grindstaff of Collinsville, Josh Marshall of Washington, Bryan Stewart of Danville, Julia Megan Sullivan of Danville and Shandra Summerville of Champaign.

The Palatine Jaycees provide development opportunities that empower young people between the age of 21 and 40 to create positive change. As one of Palatine’s foremost organizations for young people, the Palatine Jaycees have provided community based events and funding to Palatine for more than fifty years. As one of the largest chapters in the state of Illinois, the Palatine Jaycees offer a combination of community service, individual development and social opportunities.

The Palatine Chapter holds their monthly general meeting on the third Thursday of the month at 7:30 PM at the American Legion Hall on Palatine Road in Palatine. For further information on the Palatine Jaycees, membership or any of their sponsored events write to the Palatine Jaycees, Post Office Box 1517, Palatine, IL 60078-1517, call 847-604-0288, email them at or visit