When Erica Wolak was growing up in Highland, one of the things she looked forward to was the Fourth of July Festival.
Now she shares that joy with her 5-year-old daughter not just in attending, but also in planning the events and volunteering as part of the Highland Council of Community Events.
Wolak has been a member of the council for 13 years. Her mother-in-law was involved and persuaded her son, Wolak’s husband, to help out one summer. “After that it became a family affair,” she said. “We joke that my daughter, who is 5, is an honorary member and the council mascot.”
The council organizes several events in Highland throughout the year. “Our big event is the Fourth of July Festival. We are in charge of all the major aspects from the parade to the fireworks, festival and bands,” said Wolak. “We also organize the New Year’s fireworks, Trunk or Treating, the Christmas parade, Memorial Day and this year we are going to be having a three-day festival at the end of September.”
Over the years, Wolak has worn many hats, including vice president, secretary and parade chair. Her focus is now publicity, Memorial Day and the kiddie parade. She also is the craft vendor chair.
She’s happy to be able to do her part to organize fun family-friendly events in the community where she grew up and is raising her family.
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“I love everything we have here,” she said about Highland. “I couldn't imagine living anywhere else. We are 30 minutes from the city and world-class museums and theater, 30 minutes from the country and peace and quiet and solitude and 30 minutes from the dunes and beautiful shorelines. We have new businesses popping up all the time. There is never any reason to bored living here.”
Being part of the council is like having a second family, she said. “We can fight and bicker about some stuff, but we always have each other's back. After you spend almost every moment with someone for five days every year sweating and suffering and toiling, it's kinda hard not to become close.”
Wolak also loves her daughter's involvement in the family's volunteer efforts, which has included walking in the twilight and kiddie parades and riding in Santa’s sleigh during the Christmas parade. She also gets a great view of the fireworks and getting to eat festival food for several days. “I hope the work we do brings half the joy to the kids of Highland as it does to my daughter,” said Wolak.
Wolak has a busy life. Besides her volunteering, she works full time in the sales department of The Shopper, an independent newspaper in South Holland. “I got my degree in political science from Purdue, and I work closely with small businesses and understand their struggles,” she said.
Much of her time outside of work that isn’t spent with family is dedicated to Highland events. She said that she is also considering running for office in Highland when life slows down a bit.