NORTH AURORA — Some of the youngest tellers in the banking business practiced their craft at Goodwin Elementary School on a recent Friday morning.

Goodwin is the site for PNC Bank’s “Bank at School” program, which helps teach students the value of money. Students are sent home with information and encouraged to open savings accounts and make deposits at school. The deposits are made to three fifth-grade students, under the supervision of employees of PNC Bank in North Aurora.

“They can deposit whatever they want,” Assistant Branch Manager Karen Feinblatt said. “The hope is to get them in the habit of saving.”

Students can make deposits from 7:30 to 8 a.m. on the second Friday of every month at a table set up in the hallway. Angelina Gorter and Sarah and Kevin Denovellis are the fifth-graders gaining experience as tellers.

One student brought a little more than $3 in change, and the students placed it all in a deposit tray provided by the bank and totaled it. They also wrote the deposit in the student’s registry.

It helps to get first-hand experience with money, Angelina said.

“I get to learn about how to count money and see a lot of people be part of a bank,” she said. “It’s pretty cool.”

February is the second month for the program at Goodwin, Feinblatt said. Right now there are about 15 students who set up accounts. She hopes to see that number grow as the program continues.

Feinblatt first heard of the program through other branches participating with schools near them. She thought it would be a good way for the bank to reach out to the community, she said.

So she approached Goodwin Principal Eric Benson, who liked the idea.

“Anytime we can encourage kids to learn how to save money and set goals, it is a terrific life lesson,” Benson said.

Since the goal of the program is to teach children, there are no minimum balances and no minimum to the amount of money that the children can deposit, Feinblatt said.

One younger student approached the table with a quarter in his hand, asking if it was enough to deposit. The student was handed the information on opening an account for his parents. If he had an account, they would have taken the deposit, Feinblatt said.

Students need to begin to understand money, Feinblatt said.

“Everything’s on a debit card now, rather than cash,” she said. “It reinforces the importance of saving.”

John Sibley is an artist and a writer. So after life turned the tables on Sibley, he fell back on a natural instinct — to create.

It took about a year, but Sibley wrote “Being and Homelessness” while hunkered in the Fox River Hotel in Aurora. The book is his reflection on two different stints of homelessness, one in Chicago and one at Hesed House in Aurora.

Being homeless was one of the toughest things he has had to endure, but the experience taught him a lot, he said.

“It makes you really appreciate the basic things in life, and forget about wealth,” he said.

The material things are not so important — you can learn to live without them, he said.

There is hope

Sibley spent about six months homeless at the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago and two months at Hesed House in Aurora, at different points in his life.

It is an issue that is not unique to him, but rather something that can happen to anybody, and that’s a big point in “Being and Homelessness,” he said. Now, there is a housing crisis, and a troubled economy that are driving more people to homelessness.

It is a problem that most people are closer to than they think.

“You’re always a job away, an accident away, a health issue away from being homeless,” he said.

It is however, also a condition that people can recover from.

“I think it is important that people understand that you can crawl out of the abyss,” he said.

Praise for shelter 

The first time he went homeless he was making an effort to sell his art on the street in Chicago. The second time he experienced some personal troubles that landed him on the streets.

He worked temp jobs, found shelter and began the process of rebuilding his life.

He thought highly of Aurora’s shelter, he said. He felt the workers and volunteers at Hesed House treated the homeless well. He is trying to arrange a signing for his book at Hesed House to help draw awareness to the homeless issue.

Many times the homeless in Chicago have more opportunity to make necessary improvements in their lives by cleaning up and taking public transportation for job interviews, and looking for a place to stay.

In Aurora, things were a bit more isolated, he said. That made job and apartment hunting more difficult.

Sibley is a Vietnam era veteran and a 1994 graduate of the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. “Being and Homeless” is available on Amazon.com, bn.com, buy.com and other websites.

He also has a published science fiction novel titled “Bodyslick.”

Nothing about Monday seemed routine or normal. As I finished my preparation rituals in the morning, the lights flickered on and off, with the fan and the air conditioner humming and stopping. After a battle of indecision, the power settled in the off position.

I looked out the window and it seemed overcast, but not severe. The wind, however, whipped through the area fiercely. On my way to work I saw downed trees, downed branches, a downed outhouse (I’d hate to be the one who had to clean that up), a recycling bin in the middle of the road, and several mailboxes ripped off their posts. All in all, a pretty strong signature from a storm that lasted maybe 20 minutes.

So much of the news during a violent storm is focused on the aftermath. There was plenty of news coverage regarding the loss of power to thousands of Aurora residents, in the sweltering heat.

But some neighbors in the Orchard Village apartment complex at Indian Trail and Randall Road turned a negative into a positive with an unlikely, impromptu barbecue.

My wife Meg and I love our apartment complex, but one major drawback is that our neighbors don’t socialize. We’re on our third year at the place and we barely know anyone. A quick glance and a speedy hello seems to be as social as things get.

When I pulled up to our apartment late Monday afternoon, I wondered how I would do any work with no power , no Wi-Fi and a dwindling charge on my phone. Then I saw my wife outside sharing a beer with our neighbors.

“I found friends!” she said, enthusiastically.

The party began when one of the neighbors knocked on another neighbor’s door, and people slowly trickled out into the courtyard on a hot but dry summer afternoon. The sun beat down on us outside, but inside quickly became even hotter with no air conditioning.

We received introductions the whole way around. It only took 2½ years and a power outage , but people began talking.

Meg just finished her last nursing class earlier that day, so I dropped her off to celebrate with classmates. On a hunch, I bought more beer before coming home. I pulled up wondering if we’d have power , or if our neighbors returned to their indoor lives.

As I walked up, they had a grill out, and even more people were in the courtyard. We feasted with a meal that included our choice of steak, brats or chicken, as well as pasta or potato salads. We wanted to eat well before our food went bad.

As the grill fired up, and the meat cooked, the lights returned and the air conditioners hummed back into power . The return to modern conveniences did not dampen our evening plans, however. We kept socializing into the night.

A few years and a power outage later, it’s good to know who we share a building with.

GENEVA — If walls could talk, the old Kane County Jail , abandoned since 2008, could tell some interesting tales.

With the official Kane County Board vote last week, the old jail on Fabyan Parkway is set to be demolished.

A Beacon-News reporter and photographer walked the decrepit halls of the jail on Wednesday, accompanied by Sheriff Pat Perez and Lt. Pat Gengler.

The broken-down feel of the building goes further than the crumbling concrete on the sidewalks and overgrown bushes adorning the pale concrete exterior. Inside, it is even more bleak.

There is 3 feet of standing water in the basement. There are holes in the ceiling, where water steadily leaks through. The wiring, HVAC and plumbing are all shot. And there are considerable mold issues.

Repairing the damage in the building to bring it to code would probably cost millions, Perez said.

“People don’t understand how much money it would cost,” Perez said.

These problems spread when the maintenance department ceased caring for the building that the county no longer used. The problems were previously kept in check by a Sheriff’s Department struggling to maintain the property in its later life, even though the building was only in use 35 years.

“These were problems that didn’t occur overnight,” Gengler said. “These were problems we had.”

The building is still used for tactical purposes and training exercises. There are holes in the concrete where the county’s only bomb squad left its mark. Cartridge and shell casings, ammo boxes, crumbling concrete and an assortment of garbage litters the floors of darkened hallways. Glass windows are spider-webbed with gunshot holes and bomb blasts.

The Sheriff’s Department now handles fleet vehicle maintenance at a garage on the Fabyan site, but not connected to the jail . They need an alternative site before the county sells the land.

The sheriff is in negotiations with other local police departments to be able to use their shooting ranges. The department will also be looking to utilize abandoned houses and buildings for tactical exercises before they are razed, Perez said.

Reminders of jail life

Despite the deterioration inside, the building still bears signs of jail life. There are love letters, old photos, prayers scrawled on papers, and cards offering encouragement lying about in the cells and hallways. Gang graffiti scrawled on the cell doors is still legible. Someone carved a chess board pattern into one of the tables.

There are stories of the building being haunted. Faint rustling can be heard at various points in the building. Neighbors have called on occasion because they though there were people inside the building.

The final lineup of inmates for specific holding areas is still displayed on boards outside the rooms. Gengler and Perez well recall some of the inmates who were on that roster.

New site much safer

A lot of the old jail was run without direct supervision over the inmates, Perez said.

An officer would enter the holding areas once every 30 minutes to check on the status of inmates who were in a community room. There were blind spots in the community room that officers could not see, and there were not cameras everywhere. All this led to a dangerous situation.

“There were fights here literally every day,” Perez said.

In the new jail at the county judicial center on Route 38 west of Geneva, there are cameras everywhere in the building, allowing for more direct supervision. Inmates cannot get away with as much. The current jail is a big improvement, Perez said.

Every once in a while, Perez said that he hears the suggestion that the county should use the old jail building for an overflow population. But he said a haunted house may be the only appropriate use for the structure.

If the building was brought back up to code, the county would still have to foot the expense for a full-time corrections staff, and take care of maintenance, food and medical needs.

“This is not a place somebody should move back into,” Perez said.

DeKALB — Northern Illinois University graduate student Karly Guldan started college four years ago — one semester after a 27-year-old gunman killed five people in Cole Hall , and then turned the weapon on himself.

Many of her close college friends attended the university at the time of the shooting, and hearing the stories of those who were in the classroom impacted her collegiate experience heavily.

On Sunday afternoon, she experienced the culmination of her efforts, and the university’s efforts, to move forward with Cole Hall and pay tribute to the five Huskie students who lost their lives on Feb. 14, 2008.

“I think we followed through on the ‘forward together forward,’ ” Guldan said, quoting the NIU fight song.

Guldan helped the anthropology department in moving its museum from the Stevens Building into Fay-Cooper Cole Hall as part of a $6 million renovation, breathing new life into a building that sat dormant for four years.

“The museum has been a tremendous opportunity for me personally,” she said.

She spent the last six weeks helping move things from the old museum to the new one, and setting up the displays. She was also thrilled that nothing got broken in the transfer.

Classrooms in the newly renovated building have been open since the beginning of the semester in January. The design work for the project began in March 2010, and construction began in February 2011, wrapping up in December.

In addition to the anthropology museum, there is also a collaboratory classroom, where students have access to 48 computer stations clustered in six learning pods, along with a 65-inch touch-screen monitor for each pod.

Anthropology professor Susan Russell taught in the old Cole Hall and recently began teaching in the newly renovated collaboratory classroom. She is still learning how to adjust her teaching to the new technology that is available, she said. The technology offers the students a world of improvement.

“Going back to the ordinary classroom isn’t going to be much fun,” she said.

The Jameson Auditorium also received a face-lift with new, state-of-the-art seating that allows students to turn 360 degrees in their chairs for small-group work.

University administrators, as well as elected officials, and members of the anthropology department spoke at Sunday’s open house. NIU Board of Trustees Chairman Cherilyn Murer said that the day brought on a mix of emotion.

“There is a sorrow that will always remain. There is a consciousness that’s prevalent,” she said.

Murer said she still recalls being on the tarmac at O’Hare International Airport that Valentine’s Day afternoon when she received news of the shooting. It’s important not to forget the past, she said, but you also have to learn from it and act on it.

“You either go forward with greater strength, or it shows your weaknesses,” she said.

The new renovation goes on to show the university’s legacy of determination, with this tribute to the five people who lost their lives four years ago: Gayle Dubowski, 20, of Carol Stream; Catalina Garcia, 20, of Cicero; Julianna Gehant, 32, of Mendota; Ryanne Mace, 19, of Carpentersville; and Daniel Parmenter, 20, of Westchester. There is a memorial outside the building with the names engraved on stone.

Because the attack occurred four years ago, many of the students currently attending NIU were not there when it took place, such as Guldan.

NIU President John Peters said the decision to revamp the current building did not come lightly. When he toured the building following the tragedy, the future seemed more uncertain.

“I was not sure we could ever open this educational facility again,” he said.

In the time following the tragedy, then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich announced plans to level Cole Hall and do a $40 million rebuild that would be called Memorial Hall .

The community gathered and determined it would be better to renovate the existing building, Peters said.

On Sunday, Peters noted that there were family members of the victims, and first-responders from the incident, who were in the audience for the open house. They were not available for interview.

U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo, R-Leaf River, state Rep. Bob Pritchard, R-Hinckley, and state Sen. Christine Johnson, R-Shabbona, also spoke at the event. Johnson graduated from NIU and was happy to see the building renovation after such a tragic event, she said.

“Today, we’re all Huskies, and we have been for the last four years.”