Since their founding in 1869, Bright Promises Foundation has remained on the forefront of advocating for and promoting the well-being of children. Even as one of the oldest child-serving organization in Illinois, Bright Promises Foundation remains responsive, agile and experienced in the face of the ever-changing needs of the children in our communities.
Bright Promises Foundation serves children by partnering with community agencies throughout Chicagoland. Bright Promises provides their partners with substantial, multi-year funding to build their partners’ capacity to serve children better. With Bright Promises’ help, their partners implement and expand forward-thinking programs that address the needs of children in new and meaningful ways. This year alone, Bright Promises has partnered with more than 75 Chicagoland organizations to help provide more and better services to over 6,000 children and families in need.
On Tuesday, Sept. 12, Bright Promises Foundation brought together nearly 300 community and business leaders, children’s advocates, and nonprofit partners to kick-off a series of special events and activities counting down to the organizations 150th anniversary.
The 2017 Awards was a celebration of the child-serving community in Chicago, especially three outstanding individuals who have gone above and beyond in their service to children: Dr. Linda Gilkerson of the Erikson Institute, Mr. Thomas Hale of the Montessori School of Englewood, and Mr. Anthony Clark of Suburban Unity Alliance.
The 2017 Awards celebration took place in Cathedral Hall of the University Club of Chicago. Sponsors of this year’s celebration included the Kreisman Family Foundation, the Ounce of Prevention Fund, LG Development Group, The Robert Thomas Bobins Foundation, and William Blair. The evening began with a bustling cocktail reception followed by a performance by the Oistrakh Symphony Orchestra Kaia String Quartet, recent artists-in-residence at WFMT.
Following the cocktail reception, Iris Krieg, executive director of Bright Promises Foundation, began the speaking program by announcing nearly a half a million dollars in multi-year grants to 22 child-serving organizations including Chicago Youth Centers, Voices for Illinois Children, and RefugeeOne as a part of Bright Promises’ multiple child-serving initiatives.
Ms. Krieg leads Bright Promises Foundation with a vision for the future drawn from her more than 35 years of experience serving women and children. Krieg is well known in the philanthropic community as one of the co-founders of both the Chicago Foundation for Women and Chicago Women in Philanthropy.
Ms. Krieg applies this knowledge and experience of both the philanthropic and child-serving communities to maximize the impact of Bright Promises’ initiatives. “We look carefully out in the community and see what is keeping our children back and what other agencies are not addressing. Then we jump right in there. We bring those resources, we bring those ideas, we bring those people together and then we help create solutions.”
Following the announcement of the 2017-2018 grant recipients, the 2017 Awards were presented. Mr. Thomas Hale was honored with the 2017 Champion for Children Award. This award recognizes excellence in civic leadership benefiting children and was awarded for the first time in 2016 to Gigi Pritzker, filmmaker and founder of Madison Wells Media, entrepreneur, mother, and philanthropist.
The 2017 honoree, Mr. Thomas Hale, is the president of the board of The Montessori Network and is helping to change a community struggling against dramatic segregation, institutional racism, and defunding of social services by establishing a safe, secure, supportive, healing and enriching environment at the Montessori School of Englewood. He is also the founder and president of Hale Technologies.
Bright Promises also recognized leading early childhood education expert Dr. Linda Gilkerson, director of the Irving B. Harris Infant Studies Program at Erikson Institute, with the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award. In addition to her roles at Erikson Institute, Dr. Gilkerson also serves on the Illinois Interagency Council for Early Intervention and as a board member of Zero to Three, where she also chairs their Infant Mental Health Task Force.
Finally, the 2017 Ed Marciniak Bright Star Award for young professionals was awarded to Mr. Anthony Clark, an Air Force veteran and special education teacher whose personal mantra — “More Love, Less Hate” — motivated him to found his own grassroots organization to bridge the gap between Oak Park, Austin and the surrounding communities. Additionally, Mr. Clark received a $5,000 honorarium to advance his work in restorative justice practices for the at-risk youth of Chicago. The Bright Star Award is given in memory Ed Marciniak, best known for his leadership as the director of the Loyola University Institute of Urban Life. Marciniak sat on the board of Bright Promises from 1955 until his death in 2004.
A short, yet inspiring video was shared featuring Shari Runner, former president of the Bright Promises Foundation Board and current president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League. Ms. Runner emphasized the many ways Bright Promises stands apart from any other organization she is involved with. “To give these kids access to resources so they can make different decisions, that they can make different choices, that they can live life in a different way. That’s critical. And this is why Bright Promises is so important to me.”
Dr. Dominica McBride, a past recipient of the Ed Marciniak Bright Star Award who is now one of several award-winning evaluators that provide thorough, evidence-based evaluation of Bright Promises initiatives, echoed Ms. Runner’s remarks. “The gaps in the ecosystem are numerous; no individual thought leader, academic or program model can provide the silver bullet. What is missing is knowledge about what practices are most effective, how to promote the development of key skills, and how to measure impact. Bright Promises is filling that gap.”
The speaking program also featured remarks from several other luminary individuals, including the 2017 Honorary Co-Chairs Dr. Barbara Bowman, co-founder of Erikson Institute and recipient of the 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award, and local philanthropist Elizabeth von Peterffy.
“It is not often in life that we are rewarded for what we do,” Dr. Bowman shared. “With these awards, Bright Promises shows its commitment to the well-being of every child, and validates the importance of the care and education of young children.”
In addition to offering recognition that is deeply deserved and rarely given to the people and organizations working tirelessly to create opportunities for Chicago’s vulnerable youth, Bright Promises and their community of supporters raised nearly $70,000 during the 2017 Awards celebration.
Not only the proceeds, but also 100 percent of the funds raised will support Bright Promises’ work in three main areas, which experts have identified as currently underfunded and under-recognized in Illinois. Through their multiple initiatives, Bright Promises is striving to:
- Help children impacted by traumas like violence, abuse, neglect and household dysfunction
- Improve the quality of early childhood education
- Engage parents and caregivers in children’s healthy social and emotional development
Bright Promises launched this third and newest initiative focused on Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in 2016. The research-based Collaborative for Social and Emotional Learning defines SEL as “the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”
The goal of Bright Promises’ Social Emotional Learning initiative is to ensure that Chicago’s most vulnerable children and youth, especially those who are growing up in violent neighborhoods where they are faced with daily traumas, have access to learning environments that build, promote and reinforce social and emotional skills vital to life success in the 21st century.
Alex Kotlowitz, national best-selling author of “There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America” who also received Bright Promises’ 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award, applauds the transformative impact of Bright Promises’ one-of-a-kind approach to serving children in Chicago: “Their commitment to vulnerable children inspires. And their ability to find the cracks in the foundation, to fund programs that otherwise might atrophy is what makes the foundation’s work so remarkable.”
Despite the challenges that we face in Illinois and across our nation, sometimes we still need to stop and take a moment to celebrate. On Sept. 12, Bright Promises Foundation reminded us that we are not alone in our concern for Chicago’s children and shone a spotlight on the great work being done by individuals and organizations across our city.
And by bringing together diverse leaders and stakeholders in the child-serving community, Bright Promises Foundation hopes to remind each and every one of us that when we stand together, we can create positive change and build the future we all envision for Chicago’s children.
Other past award recipients of Bright Promises Foundation awards include:
- Eduardo Bocanegra (2013 Ed Marciniak Bright Star Award) — Executive Director, YMCA of Metro Chicago, Department of Youth Safety and Violence
- Bernice Weissbourd (2009 Lifetime Achievement Award) — Founder of Family Focus
- Prudence Beidler (2012 Lifetime Achievement Award) — Past Chair of Chicago Children’s Museum, Planned Parenthood of Chicago, Jane Addams Hull House and YWCA of Lake Forest and Lake Bluff.
- Marjorie Craig Benton (2013 Lifetime Achievement Award) — Co-founder of the Chicago Foundation for Women and the Peace Museum, former chair of the United Nations Children’s Fund.
- Bryan Samuels (2014 Lifetime Achievement Award) — Executive Director of University of Chicago’s Chapin Hall, appointed by President Barack Obama as commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families (ACYF).