Joliet area residents foster healing through painting, poetry and theater

Meet three people with lofty purpose behind their artistic vision

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“A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful.”

The quote is attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, but it might as well apply to three local residents who use art to help other people.

‘Listening Heart Room’

On Jan. 25, Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet dedicated its “Listening Heart Room” in the newly renovated emergency department. Jan. 25 also was the birthday of Tom Vana of New Lenox.

Vana, along with his wife, Michele Vana, and Karl and Marilyn Kurtz of New Lenox, donated $100,000 toward the room in memory of Tom and Michele’s son, Jay Vana, who died in a car crash in 2012 when he was 16.

Michele said she and Tom had spent time in the family room off the emergency department after the crash. A family room, Michele said, is a room near the emergency department for families to think or pray after a loved one is critically injured or has died.

“Often times family rooms tend to be an afterthought, a room that’s tucked away and not fully decorated. They’re generally not very comforting places,” Michele said. “We wanted to change that for other people.”

So the Vanas brainstormed with the hospital’s founding Sisters of the Sacred Heart to transform the area into the “Listening Heart Room,” Michele said.

“We wanted it to be a comfortable room, a room that also offered hope,” Michele said. “Families are dealing with very serious matters when they’re in that room.”

Michele said the sisters suggested “Lebh Shomea,” which means “listening heart.” Michele added a tagline: “I offer you my listening heart.” The “I” could be a doctor, nurse, friend or even God, if the person is praying, Michele said.

The “Listening Heart Room” also has large windows for natural light, a private bathroom and a large mural that the Vanas asked Brian Turnbough of Mokena to custom-paint for them.

The mural features Jay’s favorite color tones: lime green and purple.

“We told him to do the wings in lime green,” Michele said, “but the purple happened by chance.”

‘Where I Have Been and Where

I Am Now – A Collection of Thoughts’

Joliet Central High School alumna Elizabeth Anne Briick, now 35, said she began writing in second grade, partly as an outlet to deal with the chaos in her life,

This chaos included an injury to Briick’s right arm when she was 7 (her arm followed the towels through a wringer washer) that required years of rehabilitation, abuse on several levels and a decades-long battle with anxiety and depression.

“I was the kid in class that if I had to write one paragraph, I would write five,” Briick, of Joliet, said.

But Briick has not stayed down. A news release from Joliet Township High School District 204 said Briick graduated in 2005 from Robert Morris University in Orland Park with an associate degree in paralegal sciences.

Briick now works at Chicago Bridge and Iron in Plainfield while working on her bachelor’s degree in psychology at Lewis University in Romeoville. Briick invites others to share her journey of tragedy and triumph through two collections of 70 poems.

She published the first, “Silent Conversations,” in 2007. Briick recently released her second, “Where I Have Been and Where I Am Now – A Collection of Thoughts.” Each selection focuses, in a personal way, on a particular point in time.

“I think of each of my poems almost as a short story, a very brief glimpse in how I might be feeling in the moment,” Briick said. “I put those thoughts, whatever they might be, down on paper so they’re not running around in my head.”

Briick hopes her words let readers know their hopeless situations aren’t, in fact, hopeless, that another has walked through fire and prevailed, and that she, through her words, is walking with them through their darkness.

She experienced that connection last year when she spoke about her poetry at Washington Junior High School in Joliet.

“Many of these 12- and 13-year-old kids came up to me afterwards and shared their stories of what they’re dealing with: parents being in prison, people close to them having passed away or being shot,” Briick said.

Briick's books are available on

Wizards, mermaids and donations, oh my!

Two years ago while watching “The Music Man” on TV with her parents, Lockport Township High School freshman Brooke Ferricks said, “I’d like to get a few friends together and re-enact the first scene.”

Then Brooke "took it to the next level" and directed her first musical, "The Wizard of Oz." When she told her parents, Lisa and Dave Ferricks, that she was forming "Brooke's Backyard Productions," they were understandably skeptical.

“When I was her age, I liked boys and makeup,” Lisa said. “But before we knew it, it was show time and 50 people showed up at our house.”

Brooke planned a simple backyard performance. But it rained on show day and the Ferricks scrambled to move aside furniture to accommodate 12 young performers and their families.

A free will offering was taken to help a friend of Brooke’s who had cancer.

“We raised $400,” Brooke said.

After that, Brooke produced, "The Little Mermaid," and raised $1,200. Half went to a neighborhood girl with spina bifida; the other half went to Down in the Southland, an organization that helps individuals with Down syndrome living in Chicago's south suburbs.

Last June, Brooke’s Backyard Productions hosted a talent show at her church, St. Bernard Catholic Church in Homer Glen, and raised $800. This June, Brooke is repeating “The Wizard of Oz” with an expanded cast of 30 performers ages 6 to 14. She is anticipating 500 people at its performance.

Admission is still a free will donation and will benefit the Kolpacki family in Homer Glen. The family was injured last December when their house exploded due to a gas leak.

Brooke holds rehearsals at her house and the performance at St. Bernard. She’s thrilled to share her passion for musical theater in ways that help others.

“She’s truly a gift and a blessing,” Lisa said. “Her desire to help others will hopefully be contagious.”