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MADE IN ILLINOIS: Ariel Parrella-Aureli lives the Swiss Army life


Columbia College graduate and full-time freelancer Ariel Parrella-Aureli interviews My Block My Hood My City founder Jahmal Cole in December in Washington Park while on assignment for WTTW. (Photo by Colin Boyle)

Columbia College grad thrives as full-time freelancer

For Illinois Press Association

CHICAGO – Ariel Parrella-Aureli made a quick correction.

“I never say no to an assignment,” the 2017 Columbia College graduate said during a recent Zoom interview with the Illinois Press Association, before looking off camera for a moment. “Well, actually I recently had to turn one down.”

Welcome to life as a full-time freelancer, the new normal for so many fast-risers in journalism.

“I do have to remember what I already have on my plate before accepting new work,” the 26-year-old said.

On New Year’s Eve, Parrella-Aureli reminisced on her first full year as a full-time freelancer with a Twitter thread of her favorite stories that served as silver linings along the black cloud that was 2020.

Way back in February, she got her first Chicago Tribune byline, a feature on an LGBTQ icon.

In May, she got hit by a car while riding her bike and wrote about it for one of her regular employers, Streetsblog Chicago, on her editor’s urging.

“I don’t want to write about myself. I want to write about everyone else doing great things in the community,” she said. “So that was a weird moment where I had a story to share. Why would my story be less valuable than Jessica next door? And if I had this experience, I’m sure others have had this experience, too.”

Also in May, she wrote a piece for The Reader, an alternative Chicago newsroom, on the pandemic’s impact on sex workers. Her lede was nothing short of deliciously macabre:

“Lady Sophia Chase has never been so ravenous for BDSM,” it reads.

Parrella-Aureli said she’s still getting used to shifting between the styles of each outlet, while still being true to her own voice.

“I’ve found that I have gotten better at letting my personal voice shine through to some publications that allow that,” she said. “I just taught myself how to do that, and it’s just (about) becoming more confident in my work and my writing. I also laugh about it, because I’m trying to keep that floating while still being me. Nobody teaches that to you in college.”

Watch Christopher Heimerman's interview with Ariel Parrella-Aureli below.

Naturally, she wrote many pieces that centered on civil rights issues, including her first Black Lives Matter protest in early June for her most frequent employer, Block Club Chicago, and her first piece for the national publication Insider, on the removal of the Christopher Columbus statue in downtown Chicago.

She and a scrum of reporters waited for more than four hours to document the event.

“It was such a fun night, and it was crazy to experience it,” Parrella-Aureli said.

Getting that assignment was an exhibition in pitching a story relatively blindly. She didn’t have a relationship with the editor she pitched, but a colleague urged her to send it anyway.

Soon thereafter, she pitched Insider on a Count Every Vote event. The editor green-lighted a story immediately.

“It was that simple,” Parrella-Aureli said. “It’s incredible how simple this can be.”

She’s also a regular contributor for Eater Chicago, and got to write a piece on a veteran chef who took a new job serving at-risk youth.

“Reporting this made me laugh/cry/sympathize and brought on all the feels,” Parrella-Aureli said in her Twitter thread.

During her time working for the Columbia Chronicle, she dreamed of a full-time job at The Atlantic or the New York Times.

“In college, that was a thing,” Parrella-Aureli said. “But the gig economy has changed immensely in the past three years. Those goals, I don’t care for them anymore. There’s such a rich scene and journalism world here in Chicago I’m so blessed to be a part of.”


Parrella-Aureli interviews two founders of a Logan Square clothing brand in the neighborhood’s Mozart Park in summer 2020. (Photo by Kathleen Niemann)

Parrella-Aureli spent her first 2½ years out of college working part-time as a digital producer for WBBM 780-AM, while freelancing on the side. In October 2020, she left that job and took the plunge into full-time freelancing.

She compared the uncertainty of relying on multiple gigs, none of them full-time, and the process of renewing past acquaintances and developing new relationships with editors, to walking through mud.

“Things are so hard to walk through, but once you get through it and you’re swimming in water,” Parrella-Aureli said.

She says a freelancer course is now taught in Columbia’s journalism school.

“That was not a thing when I was there,” she said, laughing. “A lot has changed in the past three years. And I think I’m finally happy with where I’m at.”

She’s not alone. Jen Sabella, a co-founder of and director of strategy for Block Club, said freelancers like Parrella-Aureli, with her sparkling-clean copy and reliability, are invaluable.

“If I get a tip and don’t have a free reporter, I’ll ping Ariel. And 90 percent of the time, she’s on it,” Sabella said. “She has a real knowledge of the city. You need to have that knowledge. Chicagoans will smell it from a mile away if you’re pretending to know the city. She’s always out about, meeting new people and exploring.”

“She’s one of our most trusted contributors,” echoed Shamus Toomey, editor-in-chief and another co-founder of Block Club.

He said the editorial team is 17 strong, including five editors, and that while full-timers produce the bulk of the material, Parrella-Aureli is one of a few contributors who are constantly in the mix.

When pressed, Sabella said her favorite Parrella-Aureli piece was her profile of a 101-year-old woman who lost her life to COVID-19, part of a 27-story series Block Club published.

Sabella pointed to one quote in particular in the piece on Margie Rodriguez, who lit up the room with her huge personality until the virus extinguished her light.

“She still thought she was young, and she would slander old people,” Rodriguez’s grandson, Ian Roberts, said in the piece.

“That’s such a great detail,” Sabella said. “To get details like that, it’s just having a lot of empathy and being able to listen and communicate really well. It’s asking the right questions. She really got in there and put a face on the tragedy.”

The piece also served as a reminder to Parrella-Aureli that her health and happiness are paramount.

“I love to be busy, so it gets hard sometimes to take a moment, reflect and do self-care and a progress check on what I’ve done,” she said. “Let’s remember, journalists are humans, too, and we have complex emotions like everyone else.”

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Press Releases


Americans have been preparing
for the impact of a pandemic for over 75 years!

From home economics to the modern family and consumer sciences classes, the foundation of basic life skills helped bring families through 2020 and beyond.  

Feb. 9, 2021
CONTACT: Marissa Kunerth, communications & public relations manager
Family, Career and Community Leaders of America


RESTON, VA For many, it has taken a global pandemic to motivate them to refine and reuse many basic life skills. With restaurants closed and stay-at-home mandates in place, a growing number of adults have turned to online tutorials, social media recipes, and family and friends to learn basic life skills. Admittedly, more than a fourth of Americans admit they cannot cook and claim this skill is something they now realize is an essential skill that should be taught in every school in the United States.

75 years ago, when Future Homemakers of America (FHA), presently known as Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA), was founded, no one thought the skills gained through Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) classes would get families through a pandemic. The country was digging out of the Great Depression and using skills taught at home and in Home Economics to rebuild the economy of our country. In education, Home Economics transitioned to Family and Consumer Sciences in 1994 and some felt these classes were no longer essential. Since 2012, there has been an estimated 40% decline in FCS classes, but the coronavirus pandemic has led to an outcry to bring “Home Ec” back and reinforced how important basic life skills are to not only be successful at home but holistically as humans impacting careers and communities.

Since its inception in 1945, FCCLA has promoted the need for FCS education for every student in every state in every school. FCCLA knows the importance of FCS education, which provides students with lifelong skills such as nutrition, menu planning, food preparation, clothing care and construction, money management, child development, and workforce readiness. Many students move from learning basic skills in an apron to preparing hopefully to someday wear a chef’s coat.

Illinois State Adviser Marta Lockwood shares, “The Illinois Association of FCCLA is proud to be a part of the long-standing legacy of helping students become great leaders. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing young people making a difference in their personal lives, their homes, schools, and communities!”

Through FCS education, FCCLA provides opportunities for members to develop 21st century skills that enhance students’ understanding of community, work, family, and their interpersonal relationships. This year, FCCLA celebrates its 75th anniversary by commemorating all 50 state associations who have contributed to student’s success through character development, creative and critical thinking, interpersonal communication, practical knowledge, and career preparation.

Since chartering with the national organization in January 1946, thousands upon thousands of Illinois students have taken advantage of this incredible organization and all it has to offer. As a youth led organization, Illinois FCCLA has teams of student officers who serve at every level of the organization from the local high schools to the state and national levels. These youth leaders plan and assist with all the community service projects, leadership training, and conferences that are held. Illinois State Adviser Marta Lockwood adds “one of the greatest things about FCCLA is that it has so many different programs and opportunities for the students to find success in. From community service projects to competitive events, FCCLA gives students the opportunity to combine their education and leadership skills to make a difference and receive recognition for their accomplishments”.

FCCLA’s 75thanniversary is a major milestone for the organization and FCS education. Whether one is looking to feel confident in the kitchen, make a difference in their community, or prepare for career success, FCCLA and FCS is the secret ingredient to succeed in the home and workplace.

Research Sources:

Tufts University: https://www.nutritionletter.tufts.edu/general-nutrition/28-of-americans-cant-cook

WZDX Fox: https://www.rocketcitynow.com/article/news/what-ever-happened-to-home-ec-millennials-struggling-with-home-and-nutrition-skills/525-7f8fd87d-2134-408f-909b-4687ba46b496


Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) is a dynamic and effective national student organization that helps young men and women become leaders and address important personal, family, work, and societal issues through Family and Consumer Sciences education. FCCLA has more than182,000 members and 5,253 chapters from 48 state associations, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.


Illinois Principals Association to host first virtual Education Leaders Conference in February  

Feb. 1, 2021
CONTACT: Dr. Jason Leahy, executive director
Illinois Principals Association


SPRINGFIELD – In a first for the Illinois Principals Association, we are hosting our Annual Education Leaders Conference virtually. The 49th annual Education Leaders Conference and Exhibition, “L.E.A.D.” Conference (Learning – Equity – Advocacy – Diversity) will take place online February 22-23, 2021. The annual conference provides an opportunity for principals and other administrators to learn from leaders in the education field and participate in sessions to better serve their schools. 
“School leaders have been there to support teachers, guide parents, and serve our students through the multitude of challenges this school year,” said Dr. Amy Dixon, IPA President. “With the aid of the Illinois Principals Association, principals have not only overcome the challenges, but shown tremendous personal growth and flexibility.  Now it is time for school leaders to take time to recharge and renew their purpose, passion, and leadership. The IPA Education Leaders Conference is the premiere event of the year that will allow them to do that and so much more!”
The conference will include presentations from keynote speakers Adam Welcome, Illinois State Superintendent Dr. Carmen Ayala, and Beth Houf.  Monday’s first general session will feature Adam Welcome, a Principal and Director of Innovation for a large school district in the Bay Area of California, and his presentation “Kids Deserve It!” Mr. Welcome has been honored as Principal of the Year for his region, a “20 to Watch” for the National School Board Association, guest blogger for EdWeek, NAESP magazine, and other publications. His presentation is a simple, yet profound message to become more engaged with your school community.
Speakers at the second general session on Monday afternoon include Dr. Carmen Ayala, Illinois State Superintendent of Schools, and Dr. Amy Dixon, principal of Jefferson and Lincoln Elementary Schools in Carmi, IL and IPA President. IPA Principal of the Year awards, the Reaching Out & Building Bridges Award, and the Mr. John Ourth & Dr. Fred W. Singleton Professional Development Scholarships will also be presented at this session.
Beth Houf will begin the conference Tuesday morning with her presentation “The Power of Appreciation,” including strategies to build rapport with students, staff, and parents. Beth Houf is the proud principal of Fulton Middle School in central Missouri.  She is the Co-Author of “Lead Like a PIRATE:  Make School Amazing for Your Students and Staff.”  Beth also serves as a facilitator for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Leadership Academy, providing monthly training to state educational leaders.  She has spoken at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Conference, the Association for Middle-Level Education National Conference, the National Principals Conference, and many other state and local educational venues. 
The conference will include popular IGNITE sessions, presented by IPA Principal of the Year Award Winners and leaders including Mandy Ellis (Principal, Dunlap Grade School), Dan Kaiser (Retired Principal, Dwight Township High School), Hattie Llewellyn (Principal, New Berlin High School), Dr. Tron Young (Principal, Joseph Arthur Middle School), Dr. Marcus Belin (Principal, Huntley High School), and Abir Othman (Associate Principal, Victor J. Andrew High School). These innovative, fast-paced sessions provide a unique way to hear from dynamic speakers who will inspire fellow leaders.
Small group sessions at the conference include timely topics such as: Race Relations in Schools; Practical Steps for Transforming School Culture; Trauma Informed Care; Leading through the Lens of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion; Attendance, Chronic Absence, and Equity; Building Leadership Teams; and legislative and legal updates. Conference attendees can also explore the online exhibit hall for the latest in educational products and services, and resource materials from sponsors such as AMBA (Association Member Benefits Advisors), ECRA Group, Good for Schools, Horace Mann, Illinois Principals Foundation, Lifetouch School Portraits and Southern Illinois University Carbondale. For more information about the Education Leaders Conference, please visit ipafc20.zerista.com. For more information about IPA, please visit www.ilprincipals.org.

The Illinois Principals Association is a leadership organization which serves over 5,800 educational leaders throughout the state of Illinois and whose mission is to develop, support, and advocate for innovative educational leaders.






Ten $1,000 Scholarships Now Available for Midwest High School Seniors  

High school seniors from states that surround Iowa have a chance to earn one of 10 $1,000 college scholarships

Jan. 13, 2021
CONTACT: Christopher Weishaar
Digital Public Relations Specialist
Iowa Student Loan

(515) 273-7140

WEST DES MOINES, IOWA (Jan. 13, 2021) — High school seniors from Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin now have a chance to receive one of 10 college scholarships worth $1,000. Registration is open now through April 30, 2021.

High school seniors may register for the ISL Midwest Senior Scholarship at www.IowaStudentLoan.org/Midwest. Iowa Student Loan® will award $1,000 scholarships to 10 students whose names are randomly drawn after the registration period. Registered students also receive emails highlighting financial literacy tips, such as the importance of early career and college planning and ways to reduce student loan indebtedness.

“We know 2020 has been a tough year on students and families mentally and financially. We want high school seniors to have the tools and resources they need to plan and pay for college,” said Steve McCullough, president and CEO of Iowa Student Loan. “The information students receive during the program can help them make better decisions as they consider college finances, student loans and their future financial situations. We hope families also take this opportunity to explore all the free resources available on our website.”

The ISL Midwest Senior Scholarship is open to legal U.S. citizens who are seniors at a high school in one of the qualifying states during the 2020–2021 school year and who intend to attend college, either virtually or physically, in fall 2021. It is a no-purchase-required program, and full rules and details are available at www.IowaStudentLoan.org/Midwest.

Additional Resources Available 

Iowa Student Loan also has additional resources for families planning for college and for students who intend to pursue advanced degrees. The Parent Handbook consists of valuable tips to help families of students in sixth through 12th grades prepare for success in college and other postsecondary options. Parents of students in eighth through 12th grades can also sign up to receive twice-monthly emailed tips on academic, college and career planning through the Student Planning Pointers for Parents program. The College Funding Forecaster helps families understand the total cost of four years of college based on a freshman-year financial aid offer. Information about these resources is available at www.IowaStudentLoan.org/SmartBorrowing.


About Iowa Student Loan
Established in 1979 as a private, nonprofit organization, Iowa Student Loan helps students and families obtain the resources necessary to succeed in postsecondary education. Iowa Student Loan has helped nearly 400,000 students pay for college. The organization, based in West Des Moines, Iowa, also provides an array of borrower benefits, financial literacy tools and community reinvestment programs, including support for free college planning services for students and their families. For more information about Iowa Student Loan, visit www.IowaStudentLoan.org.




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