GENEVA – Chicago’s South Shore Drill Team is a staple of local parades and festivals, as its members synchronize twirling and tossing wooden rifles, flags and sabers.
They will perform at Swedish Days on the main stage at 6:30 p.m. June 23 and in the parade at 1 p.m. June 25.
In addition, they will perform at 10:15 a.m. June 25 at Fox Valley Presbyterian Church, 227 East Side Drive, Geneva. Geneva resident Sara Vlajcic, who does fundraising for the team, said people are welcome to come to that performance.
Vlajcic said she became the fundraiser for the nonprofit group in 1995 after she saw them perform for a client.
“The South Shore Drill Team was started in 1980 by a Chicago Public School[s] teacher … as a great way to provide positive activities for urban youth,” Vlajcic said. “They use performing arts as a hook to attract kids, but they really focus on helping them graduate high school and go to college.”
The drill team, which has about 250 members age 8 to 21, is based at the Gary Comer Youth Center in Chicago, which provides academic support to students, Vlajcic said.
“We help the kids graduate by providing holistic services and educational support,” Vlajcic said.
The group has a 100 percent graduation rate since 2012 – including eighth grade, high school and college, she said.
The team does not have tryouts, but takes in every child who wants to join, she said, with new children starting out divided by age and gender into small rehearsal groups.
“It’s very physical,” Vlajcic said. “The new recruits rehearse twice a week. Older team members rehearse four times a week and perform on the weekends. They go somewhere to perform at 100 events a year. ... This is a high-quality arts program."
Their stage show on June 23 will have a variety of music costumes, with different kids doing different numbers in a fast-paced family show, Vlajcics said.
Because most are from low-income families, where it is difficult for their parents to provide what they need in order to participate, Vlajcic said, the organization accepts donations to help support the program.
Local Fox Valley groups and individuals are supporters of the drill team, Vlajcic said.
These include Fox Valley Presbyterian Church, Megan and Michael Kelly of Geneva, and Wayne resident Laura Lamplough.
The Kellys have hosted a Swedish Days party during the parade for 11 years at their home in the 300 block of Anderson Boulevard, Megan Kelly said.
“We usually have 100 people come to the party, with a lot of kids in front, in the back yard and in the house,” Megan Kelly said. “A lot of people are in the parade and they drop off their kids to go walk in the parade."
Last year was the first time the Kellys used their party to promote supporting the South Shore Drill team, Megan Kelly said, eventually raising nearly $1,000.
She said she was encouraged to get involved when the group passed out postcards during their St. Patrick’s Day Parade performance in St. Charles.
“It’s phenomenal what they do for kids," Megan Kelly said. "Both my husband and I are in education, and these kids have a high graduation rate after being part of this group.”
Michael Kelly is dean of students at Geneva High School, and Megan Kelly is starting as an art teacher there this fall, she said.
Lamplough, a retired flight attendant, said she learned about the drill team through Vlajcic and the church they both attend, Fox Valley Presbyterian Church.
“They performed at the church about five years ago,” Lamplough said. “I had never seen them before, and I was impressed. I got involved.”
A retired pastor, Carl Gray challenged the congregation to get involved, Lamplough said.
“He said we want to be part of Chicago when the Cubs are winning,” Lamplough said. “Be part of the solution and not just sit in the suburbs and talk about how bad it is.”