When Parenthesis was acquired by New Moms in fall 2016, the continuation of Kitchen Walk was imperative to both organizations. It is with a shared commitment to Oak Park, River Forest, and surrounding suburbs that the legacy of Kitchen Walk lives on.
It all started with Catherine Deam remodeling her kitchen. For five months while they knocked out the back wall of her home on East Avenue friends and neighbors heard all about her hands-on work with the house, her involvement with the contractors, how she and her husband and kids were eating out of a microwave and electric skillet. They joked, “So when are we going to have a tour of this new kitchen?”
Meanwhile, Catherine’s close friend and neighbor, Pat Staszak, was on the first Parenthesis Board of Directors. Pat had been chair of the League of Women Voters Child Welfare Committee, whose recommendation to create a parent-child center in Oak Park coincided with Parenthesis’ founding in 1980. She and Catherine – who had children the same age – often got together over a cup of tea, to talk. Pat was looking for a way to raise money for Parenthesis. As they were considering possible ways to do this Catherine remembered designer Laura Trujillo mentioning that in some other state a group raised money by giving a tour of neighbors’ kitchens.
Both Catherine and Pat, active in the League and the community, happened to know a lot of people who had just remodeled their kitchens: “People in Oak Park and River Forest”, as Catherine said, “fall in one of two camps: they’ve just renovated or they’re getting ready to renovate!” The idea of holding a kitchen tour clicked. Although housewalks, at that time, were not a staple of nonprofit fundraising diets (besides Wright Plus and Infant Welfare there were no other walks in the area), they pursued the idea.
Together they conceived the Parenthesis Kitchen Walk. So that first Walk, in 1985, was a tour of their friends’ new kitchens. These friends knew Parenthesis was a fledgling parent-child center and that the walk benefited a good cause. That first year there was no kitchen selection, as there was to be on later Walks, only a phone invitation from either Catherine or Pat.
Once conceived, many community people offered their help for the first Kitchen Walk: Helen Balch, a graphic designer, donated ticket design: yellow, with a teapot. From that design Pat and Catherine made posters, and hung them around town. A kitchen store on Lake Street, owned by Jean & Paul Quinn, was willing to sell tickets. Pat and Catherine called friends to volunteer on the day of the Walk. The Oak Leaves and Wednesday Journal publicized it. And to that first Kitchen Walk, a real walking tour of houses around Euclid and Linden (with a couple of houses off the path), they sold 400 tickets.
The rest, as they say, is history. Today, over 800 people tour 10 houses on the Kitchen Walk each year. Our surveys show that nearly 50% of people on the Walk are planning or in the process of renovating their kitchens. Over half the people who do the Kitchen Walk now do it year after year, to support family support services in Oak Park through New Moms and is one of our largest event fundraisers.
Parenthesis had a history of loyal friends and sponsors in the community whose support pays for most of the expenses of printing and advertising the Walk. Community businesses advertise in our guidebook, and volunteers donate their homes, their time, graphic design, hosting/hostessing, flowers, booties, photography, ticket outlets and mailing services. Kitchen Walk and Parenthesis, now a part of New Moms, have both grown over the years. What remains constant, is that we are still privileged to have the support of the Oak Park-River Forest community, and still indebted to two smart and enterprising women who put their heads together and came up with that first Kitchen Walk. Catherine and Pat thought it was an idea that would last, because people are so naturally curious about seeing homes. We think they are incredible women, and count ourselves lucky to build on their work.
New Moms (Chicago)
5317 W. Chicago Ave.
Chicago, IL 60651
New Moms (Oak Park)
206 Chicago Avenue
Oak Park, IL 60302