Retired Chicago educator-turned-writer Cleo A. Lampos believes there is good in everyone.
On a visit to a local bookstore, the owner steered me to a display of works from local authors. Greek names always catch my eye. That’s where I discovered Second Chances, author Cleo A. Lampos, and her Greek American protagonist, Zoey Pappas.
Meet Cleo A. Lampos
Her name sounds very Greek, but Cleo A. Lampos is actually of Scotch-Irish-German descent. She was born in Colorado and made her way to Chicago from rural Wisconsin. Her husband, Vernon, grew up in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood, her husband’s paternal family attended St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Oak Lawn, IL. Some may remember his family from The Lamp Post, his father’s and uncle’s restaurant that was located at 79th& Ashland.
The Lamposes and their grown children are “pretty Americanized now,” but love to celebrate some traditions that connect them to their Greek roots.
“We celebrate Greek Easter each year with all the traditional foods that Grandpa Nick taught us to make. We like to shop in the little Greek stores in Palos and at Freshline Foods. I remember going to St. Nicholas with my in-laws, and hearing all the stories of the grocers and restaurant owners who started with push carts on Halsted.”
Cleo came to Chicago in 1968, and for 26 years, taught children who had behavior disorders and were emotionally disturbed. Inspired by the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, she decided to teach in urban schools.
“Chicago was a big city and a magical place. When you read Zoey in Second Chances, essentially, you read about me. I came from rural life to the big city with no safety net. I didn’t know enough to be afraid, which was better. Since he grew up here, my husband knew better; I think he was afraid for me. But I always believed that people are good inside. I still believe that. I have this optimistic feeling about life that transcends reality. I can look at the most hopeless child and say there’s something good and we can bring it out. That’s how I approach life. Zoey looked past all that to what could be. I’m an optimist not a realist.”
Now retired from teaching, Cleo has written magazine articles for more than 20 years. Now the author of five books, she frequently speaks about literacy, faith, and making a difference.
“Zoey, and this story were always in my head. It’s about the tug between immigrant families. Here in Chicago, you have so many ethnic groups and you have the tugs between the generations where the kids now go to college; the dads had push carts and grocery stores and kids didn’t want that. I tried to put some of that in the story. Zoey has to learn to respect her heritage and her parents, where she came from, have her own life, and resolve all of that, but retain her Greek heritage.”
About Second Chances
Small town girl Zoey Pappas accepts a teaching job in a rough neighborhood in Chicago. Her family doesn’t want her to go, but she feels the call to do something important and make a difference in the lives of urban children. Naïve, but relying on her strong faith in God and the goodness of people, Zoe packs her new briefcase and teaching certificate and makes her way to Chicago. Unfamiliar with the streets and neighborhood, Zoe gets lost, and drives down the street the wrong way. This draws attention to her and could spell trouble. Fortunately, Officer Gavin Corrigan would pull her over, and send her in the right direction — literally and figuratively — on more than one occasion.
Zoey arrives at the Diamond Project School, to find a whole other world. Her 4th grade students are jaded, cynical. They’ve lost family members to street violence. They lack hope. Things we take for granted are missing in their lives. They don’t leave their supplies at school because there is always the chance they won’t come back. This disturbs Zoey. Everyone bets she’ll be gone before Thanksgiving, but she’s determined to make a difference. Many times she gets discouraged, but something keeps her there.
Her students, her colleagues, and Officer Corrigan, become her life. They teach her important life lessons that have a lasting impact.
Second Chances is an eye-opening look into the world of urban schools, and the affects that inner city life has on young kids. We also get a glimpse into the dedicated educators, who stand down fear, and remain steadfast in their mission to educate these children, so they may have a better life. We empathize; we root for these kids. We also are reminded that there is goodness in everyone, and that together, we can make a difference in people’s lives. We all make mistakes, but everyone deserves a second chance.
Cleo is currently working on a historical novel, about a family that lived through and survived the Dust bowl.
Second Chances: Teachers of the Diamond Projects School Series
Publisher: OakTara (February 12, 2014)