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When in Need of Helping Hand, Evergreen Park Fires Up The Steen Machine

Evergreen Park High School senior Neil Steen has come to be admired for his volunteer work at the Ronald McDonald House. He rates as an 'A' in the classroom and on the playing fields, too.

At , it is a commonly known fact.

There is no stopping The Steen Machine. Nor will Neil Steen soon be forgotten when he charges from the Mustang corral. He has touched so many lives in so many ways since first walking into the picture as a virtual unknown four years ago.

Today, Steen is an honor roll student, local football hero and Wendy’s High School Heisman school rep. And that’s only a part of his tall tale. (Steen stands 6-2).

He also has come to be known as the Big Kid in the play room at the Ronald McDonald House at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. The baldy who works to raise funds for cancer research. And the good neighbor and Samaritan who lends a hand to a widowed neighbor when the telephone rings.

“Neil who?” joked AP social studies teacher Krist Enstrom. “Of course, Neil’s going to be up there. The Steen Machine. Who can forget the Steen Machine? Just day-in and day-out his attention to detail.

“A lot of young people don’t pay attention to detail and aren’t willing to put the time in to do the job the right way. One of the things that sticks out with Neil to me is that he always did the job 110 percent. Absolutely that’s going to be something he’ll use in the future.”

Steen is a senior two-sport standout. He boasts a 4.79 grade-point average on a weighted scale and ranks No. 2 in class of about 225 students. He plans to study aerospace engineering at Illinois or Purdue. He said he’ll settle on his college destination after weighing factors such as cost over the next several weeks and months.

“Whichever school gets him is going to be lucky,” Enstrom said. “He’s a good student. He’s going to be one of those people that is a positive force in society and not a negative force. He’s going to be a part of the solution.”

Steen Found His Inspiration at Home

Steen said his parents—Emanuel and Mary—pushed him at an early age to work hard in the classroom and to make a difference in the community he calls his home. Emanuel owns and operates Chicago-based Cosmopolitan Translation Bureau, Inc. Mary is a paralegal in the U.S. Attorney’s office.

“It started off with my parents pushing me to do my homework when I was little,” Steen said. “Now I push myself because I want to get a good job.”

He has made it his job to look after others through his one-year volunteer commitment at the Ronald McDonald House. The house serves as a temporary home for families with seriously ill children at Christ Medical Center.

After being encouraged by his mother to join the Ronald McDonald team, Steen started on the grounds crew last summer. Then, he went through a training program. And now he serves as a jack-of-all-trades around the house.

“The people are misfortunate—less fortunate,” Steen said. “So, you want to do whatever you can. I think a clean house is at least the minimum they can have if it’s somewhere they’re going to live for a while. Picking up garbage is the least you can do. Yeah, I do feel good when I see the results, like I’ve done what I can to help.”

Sometimes, his volunteer work involves very little work.

“Usually, they adults just say hello,” Steen said. “Sometimes, they’re having a hard day. But the kids are running around and there is a play room. You can play with them if they don’t have anything to do.”

Steen is teased about his hairdo regularly. He shaves his head on an annual basis in a show of support for the St. Baldrick’s Day cancer fundraiser. And he shaves the bushes or cuts the grass at neighbor Noreen Briggs’ home whenever she calls.

“She lost her husband a couple years ago,” Steen said. “It’s hard for her to do a lot of things. So, I do a lot of yard work or whatever little things around the house she needs done.”

Steen is described by his coaches at Evergreen Park as an ordinary teenager with an extraordinary drive to succeed in every task.

Last fall, he was the left tackle and ring leader on the offensive line as the Mustangs’ football team posted an 8-4 record and reached the quarterfinal round of the Class 4A playoffs before being ousted by Richmond-Burton (7-0). He’ll remember the run for the rest of his life, in part because of the excitement and in part because he was called on to serve double-duty.

He played on the defensive line in the playoffs, too.

“My favorite memory was the Rock Island Alleman game when we came back from behind (to win 19-18 on a field goal by Jeremy Esparza with 12 seconds left),” Steen said. “It was really nerve-wracking once we got the field goal going. Another memory was the Chicago Marshall game when we were down and we didn’t score until the last second to win it (10-6).”

This spring, he is throwing the shot put and discus on the Evergreen Park boys track and field team. He has a personal-best throw of 114-0 in the discus. And he has dreams of ending his high school athletic career in high style—by making his first trip to the IHSA state track meet in Charleston.

“Again, it’s the work ethic,” Evergreen Park boys track coach and assistant football coach Ray Mankowski said. “You can’t forget kids like that, that come out here every day, that are pushing other kids and helping kids out, just trying to be the best they can. It’s been great having him. We’re very proud of him. He’s always welcome to come back.”

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