Chicago Park District offering $500 bonus to lifeguard applicants due to shortage

With lakefront beaches set to open the weekend after next, the Chicago Park District still needs to hire hundreds of additional lifeguards. They’re now offering qualified applicants a $500 bonus, in addition to wages of up to $17 an hour.

While officials insist Lake Michigan’s beaches will be protected when they open in two weeks, the opening date for neighborhood swimming pools has been pushed back to June 24.

Grade schooler Catiana Bedford hopes her dad, Andre Slater, teaches her to swim this summer at Pulaski Park's pool, a short walk from their home. But the pool may not open next month, or it could face reduced hours, unless the Chicago Park District manages to hire hundreds of additional lifeguards.

"For her not to have that opportunity this year makes you feel kind of sad," said Slater, expressing his concern.


Another Pulaski Park neighbor, Emily Stegich, said the entire community looks forward to the pool opening.

"There's not much otherwise positive about this park, honestly. Kids don't play in the park. They play in the pool area," Stegich said.

Rosa Escareno is the superintendent of the Chicago Park District.

"We (have enough lifeguards for) the beaches, I think. Our goal is to make sure that when we open the pools, which is June 24th — we have a month out before we get there — is to recruit enough guards to open all the pools," Escareno said.

Documents first obtained by this week indicate the park district was at least 200 short of the 587 summer lifeguards it planned. Officials wouldn't confirm specific numbers, but Tuesday night they promised $500 bonuses to qualified applicants, who must be strong swimmers and have a Red Cross certification in lifesaving. It can cost $100 or more to obtain that certification.

While Chicago parks offer $17 or even — considering the bonus cash — $18 an hour, north suburban Evanston paid a lot less to hire its full summertime complement of 80 lifeguards.

"We are paying at least $11.50 for our lifeguards," said Audrey Thompson, Director of the City of Evanston’s Department of Parks and Recreation. Investigations recently confirmed that young lifeguards in both Evanston and Chicago were sexually harassed and exploited by older supervisors.

Escareno said young people have many options for summer jobs this year.

"There are, you know, jobs out there in the regular marketplace that are actually recruiting young people at a much higher rate of pay," Escareno said. "Some are paying even $20 an hour."

A spokeswoman for Orland Park said that southwest suburb understands what Chicago parks are going through. Orland Park also increased wages for seasonal summer hires.