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The Spirit of Giving

Chicago’s big heart beats strong year after year. With an unstoppable drive to give back to a city that has fostered so many of their own blessings and successes, our leading philanthropists and charities partner up to create an unmatched environment for doing good, and doing so often.

Hunter Kaiser, designer and current president of Designs for Dignity, helps nonprofits benefit from beautiful, functional spaces.

Lindsay Avner’s Bright Pink fights breast and ovarian cancer by empowering women to take control of their health.

As CEO of the 100 Club, Joe Ahern has been able to help families of fallen first responders in Chicago.

Hunter Kaiser believes that the good feelings that come from inhabiting a well-designed space shouldn’t be reserved for those who can afford to hire interior designers. In addition to his firm’s work on wealthy clients’ homes across the globe, Kaiser is also the current president of Designs for Dignity, a Chicago-based organization that has provided free design services to nonprofits for 15 years.

“We’re bridging a gap in the industry,” Kaiser says. “Designers can do things like repurpose great materials from showrooms that are being redone and get discounts on furniture and fixtures. At D4D, we’re bringing those things to people who need them.”

D4D Executive Director Jen Sobecki and Project Coordinator Claire Tulloch—along with many volunteers—work through the nuts and bolts of creating serene, beautiful places where underprivileged children, victims of abuse and others can relax and feel safe. Behind the scenes, Kaiser is leading the charge with initiatives for growth and expansion.

D4D was recently behind an office redesign valued at $250,000 for Aspire, a Chicago-based nonprofit that provides services to children with developmental disabilities. “Just like any workplace in the for-profit world, they wanted to improve their employee retention, and collaboration and transparency levels,” says Kaiser. “Since this project was completed, they’ve been named one of the best companies in the city to work. They have great furniture, and it’s a pleasure to go there every day.” –Amalie Drury

On the Scene
Designs for Dignity will open its renovation of Aspire’s Hillside, Ill., headquarters—its second project for the organization—this month.

Don’t Miss
Designs for Dignity’s annual Spirit Awards breakfast will be held Nov. 17 at the Merchandise Mart. Honorees include event designer Tom Kehoe, John Crittenden and furniture showroom Herman Miller. 7:30am

When you have 125 years of fabulous parties under your belt, an anniversary bash requires pulling out all the stops. That’s precisely what the Service Club of Chicago will be doing at its black-tie Anniversary Ball. The organization, which grants every dollar raised to helping nonprofits around Chicago with tangible needs, will mark its milestone anniversary Nov. 6. As a celebration of the Service Club of Chicago’s storied past—the organization was founded by women from some of the city’s most prominent families, like the Armours and Palmers—the gala will return to the sophistication of the turn of the century. “[Founding year] 1890 was the epitome of elegance: formal ballroom dancing, the highest of manners, curtsies and petticoats,” says Susan Grohl, who will co-chair the event alongside Anida “Cookie” Cohen and honorary chair Marguerite Hark. “And while we don’t necessarily want our guests in petticoats, we’re aiming for a very elegant celebration.” 

That goal should not be difficult to achieve, given what is already on the docket. The Four Seasons Hotel Chicago ballroom will be transformed by design guru Tom Kehoe (he promises the ballroom will rival the Palace of Versailles), and dancing will be led by Chicago favorite The Stanley Paul Orchestra. The live auction also promises to be spirited, with dinner in the Buccellati jewelry vault, gorgeous furs from the Neiman Marcus collection and one-of-a-kind travel experiences all on offer. While the gala will honor the past, the funds raised at this standout evening are sure to help drive the Service Club of Chicago’s goals well into the future. 6:30pm, tickets $450, 120 E. Delaware Place, 312.220.9600 –Sarah Ryan

You probably already know Lindsay Avner—or, at least, you know her story. She is the bright and beautiful young woman who, at age 23, made the very public decision to have what she calls “a risk-reducing double mastectomy”—a choice she made based both on science and a grim family history. Her grandmother and great-grandmother died young of breast cancer.

That was 2006—a long time ago now, by some measures—but Avner’s fierce commitment to bold moves based on the best available information has not wavered. Seven years ago, she started Bright Pink, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting breast and ovarian cancer by giving women and their medical providers better information about their health—and, more importantly, encouraging them to do something about it.

“There have been decades of awareness out there, but that hasn’t translated into action,” Avner says. “Everything we do—our tagline—is about awareness and action. It’s not about wearing a pink ribbon or running a 5K or buying a pink product. It’s about being more proactive with your health.”

Today, Bright Pink has 17 full-time staff, and Avner says she is working to grow the organization significantly, and fast. The entire enterprise has taken on a kind of extra urgency this year. Avner recently married a man who lost his wife a few years back to breast cancer. She now has stepdaughters, and she is determined to change things—to continue to change things—for them. Characteristically, she sounds strong and optimistic about it. “We’re creating the world that we want for them,” she says, “which is a really beautiful opportunity.” –David Zivan

On the Scene
In part thanks to increased digital efforts, last year, one of Bright Pink’s education programs reached 1,016 health care providers, for a projected audience of 3.7 million women.

Don’t Miss
The group’s biggest fundraiser, Tickled Pink for Bright Pink, has become one of the liveliest dates on the social calendar. This coming year’s version, the 11th, is slated for Feb. 19.

For Cubs star Anthony Rizzo, the battle against cancer is personal. The first baseman was an 18-year-old phenom excelling in the minor leagues when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Suddenly, he went from the field to a nonstop parade of doctors’ offices and chemo treatments. He defeated the disease but has continued fighting for others ever since.

“During the treatments, I told my mom that one day, I wanted us to start a foundation to help families battling cancer,” says Rizzo, now 26. True to his word, the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation, founded in 2012, has raised nearly $1 million. In addition to Cook-Off for Cancer (which occurred in May), Walk-Off for Cancer is happening in Florida Nov. 15, and the second annual Laugh-Off for Cancer will hit Studio Paris Jan. 14.

Rizzo’s commitment goes beyond star-studded events: He often visits children’s hospitals. “Hopefully, the time I spend during hospital visits allows them to forget everything for a few minutes and just smile,” he says. “I want them to stay strong and dream big.” –Joel Reese

$6.7 billion
Chicagoans love their hometown, and it shows. As a toast to The Chicago Community Trust’s 100th anniversary, the organization, which connects donors with community needs, sponsored the study Giving in Chicago, which illuminated the city’s philanthropic spirit. The stunning results? In 2013, out of $10 billion donated by Chicagoans, $6.7 billion stayed right here. And though our gala season is unrivaled, it’s not just the allure of elegant soirees that motivates the city’s donors: 76 percent of people said their reasoning for giving was to help individuals meet their basic needs. Even in a bustling metropolis, it seems Midwest values hold strong. –Nicole Jarvis

Biff Bowman
Biff Bowman, EVP and CFO of Northern Trust, serves on the board of directors at Glenwood Academy, a boarding school founded by Robert Todd Lincoln that gives at-risk children a safe place to live and learn. Northern Trust supports Bowman’s efforts by sponsoring the school’s annual Thanksgiving luncheon.

Peter McNitt
Peter McNitt, vice chair of BMO Harris Bank, also serves as chairman of the board of the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago, donating much of his personal time to the efforts. Stepping in to help, BMO Harris Bank has contributed over $500,000 to the YMCA in recent years.

Kristie Paskvan
Kristie Paskvan, CFO of Mesirow Financial, founded Chicago Says No More, a local extension of the national campaign against domestic violence and sexual assault. Following suit, Mesirow Financial supports Paskvan in her efforts to provide resources and help change the conversation about these issues.

Phillip Wilson
Metropolitan Capital Bank has chosen One Million Degrees, which empowers low-income community college students and where VP Phillip Wilson volunteers his time, as one of its 10-for-10 Award recipients. The bank will put its business acumen to work with 10 nonprofits to mark its 10th anniversary.

At Blackstone Bicycle Works, the hands tightening bolts and fixing flats are smaller than your average technician’s. The South Side shop is actually a youth program that allows local kids to learn job, business and mechanical skills—all while getting their hands dirty.

Entering its 10th year, the program recently caught the eye of Jacques Panis, president of luxury lifestyle brand Shinola. Like Blackstone, Shinola aims to create world-class manufacturing jobs in its community. Inspired by the symmetry, Panis recently invited some of the Blackstone kids to visit Shinola’s Detroit factory. “The field trip was the first of what we hope will be many collaborative initiatives,” Panis says. “We believe strongly in what they’re doing, and we’re proud to call them our friends.” –Jenny Berg

Fall is the busiest time of year for Laura Sage, who founded The Lynn Sage Foundation with her sister, Halee, in honor of their mother, who died of breast cancer at age 39. Each October, the foundation holds its biggest fundraiser, In Good Taste, with more than 150 Chicago restaurants—from Gibson’s to Big Star—donating a portion of sales to The Lynn Sage Scholars Program. This month, the foundation is a beneficiary of CHILL 2015, a wine and culinary event Nov. 12 at the Merchandise Mart (tickets $95).

“This time of year is intense,” says Sage, who also runs marketing and investor relations for a Chicago hedge fund. “But it’s a cause I inherited that’s important to me. I’m not sure anybody would do it if I didn’t.” The foundation raises $300,000 annually to fund research by local doctors, and thanks to its efforts, women diagnosed with breast cancer today have a much better chance of survival than when Sage’s mother fought the disease in the 1980s.

“It’s a disease where there are legitimate advances because capital is being devoted to it,” says Sage, who has a personal interest in immunotherapy research that could one day lead to a vaccine. “I want to know why people get breast cancer,” she says. “There have to be triggers we’re not aware of, and I wish someone could find out what they are.” –AD


The Cara Program, a foundation that strives to break the cycle of homelessness and poverty in Chicago by providing jobs and helping people become self-sufficient, is celebrating 25 years. But that’s not the most important number for the organization: That would be 78 percent, the number of those helped by The Cara Program who have retained a job for one year (for perspective, the national average is only 50 percent). It’s a worthy cause, one that has earned strong corporate support from organizations like JPMorgan Chase & Co., Marriott, Bank of America, Chicago Bulls and Palmer House Hilton, as well as Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Cheers to 25 years of success –NJ

1 / Diwali Celebration
Support the Art Institute of Chicago’s Indian art program Nov. 7 at a gala celebrating the Indian Festival of Lights. 7pm, tickets $500, 111 S. Michigan Ave., 312.443.3541

2 / Fur Ball
Join PAWS Chicago supporters and their dapper dogs Nov. 13 at this animal-friendly gala. 6pm, tickets from $400, The Drake Hotel, 140 E. Walton Place, 773.843.4887

3 / Breakthrough Ball
The University of Chicago Cancer Research Foundation Women’s Board hosts its 49th black-tie event Nov. 14. 6:30pm, tickets $675-$1,000, Four Seasons Hotel Chicago, 120 E. Delaware Place, 773.834.1387

4 / Spirit of Saint Nicholas Ball
Kick off the holiday season Dec. 4 with a festive night benefiting the Catholic Charities Children’s Programs. 6:30pm, tickets $550, Hilton Chicago, 720 S. Michigan Ave., 312.948.6797

5 / Children’s Ball
The Children’s Ball Dec. 5 tops off a year of fundraising for the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. 6:30pm, tickets $1,000, Hilton Chicago, 720 S. Michigan Ave., 312.227.7299 –SR

To call Joe Ahern’s résumé impressive would be an understatement. The former president and general manager of WLS-TV ran what became the No. 1 rated newscast from 1985 to 1997, and is credited with helping launch The Oprah Winfrey Show. But today, it’s his work as the CEO of the 100 Club of Chicago, a nonprofit organization that aids the spouses and dependents of first responders killed in the line of duty, that has people talking.

The 100 Club is often called the first responder to the first responders, as many times, support comes within 24 hours of a family’s loss. Through fundraising events, and private and corporate donations, Ahern is able to present the survivors with a $50,000 check to cover their immediate needs.

“Delivering my first check was the saddest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life,” he says. “I remember calling my wife after. I was crying like a baby, and she said to me, ‘Are you going to be able to do this job?’” Ahern says. “It was at that point I said, ‘It’s not a job; it’s a mission.’ And it’s been like that for me ever since.”

In his five-year tenure, Ahern has rallied for key initiatives, including a partnership with 17 local universities to provide two full tuition scholarships for children of those killed in the line of duty. “My grandfather was a sergeant of detectives in Philadelphia,” Ahern says. “I’m sure he’s up in heaven saying that I finally got some honest work.” –Chandler Rollins

On the Scene
In 1950, a Detroit businessman asked 100 of his friends and associates to help the family of a slain police officer. That was the beginning of the 100 Club. Since 1966, it has served 258 families, offered educational support to 513 dependents and provided more than $10 million in assistance.

Don’t Miss
The Club will toast the city’s heroic police officers, firefighters and paramedics Nov. 5 at First Salute. Hundreds of young professionals will gather at Studio Paris Club for this annual event. Tickets $65

$1.5 million

Stefan Edlis and Gael Neeson want to give Chicago the gift of song—so much so that, this summer, the husband-wife duo donated $1.5 million to Chicago Opera Theater. The generous gift is the single largest contribution to the company in its 42-year history, and it puts Chicago Opera Theater well on the way to its goal to raise an additional $5 million in funds over the next five years, which will help the company to present a five-opera season. The arts-loving couple—who also recently donated 42 contemporary works of art to the Art Institute of Chicago—hopes to inspire more people in the community to discover and support the unique company that has entertained them for decades. Currently in the midst of its four-opera 2015-16 season, Chicago Opera Theater focuses on innovative works and voices, and the company returns to the stage in February with Francis Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine and Giacomo Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi. And thanks to the generosity of Edlis and Neeson, Chicagoans can look forward to many more curtain calls. Bravo! –SR

Raising two babies—a toddler and a startup—is no easy feat, yet Kate Marie Grinold Sigfusson makes it look effortless. In Jan 2014, only three months before giving birth to her first child, Theodore James, she launched Babies4Babies, an eco-friendly luxury textile brand with a mission to save 1 million newborn lives.

For every swaddle ($33 to $42) purchased, four life-saving antiseptic treatments are donated to Saving Mothers, a maternal-health organization dedicated to helping expectant mothers in the developing world.

Now in its second year, Babies4Babies will introduce colored swaddles and The Mini, an 18-inch multiuse square blanket, to its popular product lineup.

For Grinold Sigfusson, starting Babies4Babies was an extension of her passion. “At my core, I want my life to leave a positive impact,” says the former director of development and current executive board member of FAIR Girls, an international anti-trafficking nonprofit. “When new mothers and fathers send me pictures of their babies wrapped in my blanket, it gives me inspiration to push forward.” –CR

Great food and great causes are a natural together. But some Chicago charities have food—or, more often than not, the lack of it—as the focus of their missions. The fact that one in five children in this country struggles with hunger hasn’t gone unnoticed by Share Our Strength, founder of the No Kid Hungry campaign. Its annual Taste of the Nation Chicago event, held in October, has become one of the city’s premier culinary charity gatherings. >>> Since 2010, the award-winning Chicago chefs behind Pilot Light, including Paul Kahan, Matthias Merges and Jason Hammel, have been empowering children, through classroom curriculum as well as in-school cooking demos, with the knowledge and skills they need to have a healthy relationship with food. >>> Homebound seniors and individuals with disabilities have a friend in Meals on Wheels Chicago, which helps provide in-home meal delivery as well as home modifications to increase accessibility. At its annual Celebrity Chef Ball Nov. 13, guests have two options to support the worthy cause: an interactive VIP Chef’s Table dining experience that includes a six-course dinner prepared by three chefs ($350) or a walkaround Chef’s Tasting Party ($200) with more than 40 stations. –Lisa Shames

For more on Chicago's philanthropy scene, including sartorial inspiration from some of fashion's most philanthropic designers, check out the digital edition here.