Future of Promise Dinner Celebrates Work in Little Village

March 25, 2016 | Chicago, IL

$550,000. Not a bad way to wrap up 15 years of service to the organization that gave now former executive director Celena Roldán her first job in the city.

The 2016 Future of Promise awards dinner on March 3 was the most successful fundraising gala to date for Erie Neighborhood House, a historic settlement house agency reaching over 5,000 low-income, primarily immigrant individuals each year in the city of Chicago and beyond. At the end of the night, the nonprofit organization had received more than $550K through event sponsorships, dinner reservations, a silent auction and the evening’s traditional paddle raise auction.


Celena Roldan received flowers from her son, Joseph, on her final day as executive director at the 2016 Future of Promse awards dinner. FILE PHOTO

It was an emotional evening for Roldán, who began her new role as president and CEO of American Red Cross of Greater Chicago and Northern Illinois earlier this month. Erie House board president Patricia Perez paid tribute to Roldán to begin the evening’s program, concluding her remarks by inviting Roldán’s twelve-year-old son, Joseph, to the stage to present her with a floral bouquet. It was a tender moment that brought the audience to its feet and brought Roldán to tears.

“People talk about how much I’ve given to this organization, but the reverse is also true: Erie House has given so much to me—far more than I could have ever possibly given Erie House,” Roldán said, bouquet in hand. “I am going to miss you.”

Roldán was also praised by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who gave congratulatory remarks on behalf of the City of Chicago. The mayor thanked Roldán for her service and wished her well in her next endeavor.

A spotlight on the Little Village community
The event highlighted programs and services offered by Erie House in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood. After watching a short film produced by Fig Media highlighting the organization’s work in this vibrant Mexican-American community, the audience was introduced to Erie House participant Maria de la Luz Gutierrez.

To put it simply, her story was powerful.

Gutierrez shared how she had immigrated to Chicago from Mexico to start a family with her newlywed husband, Froy, and the struggles she faced adjusting to a new language and culture. She had trouble finding English classes that were conveniently located and she didn’t feel like she was advancing in her language skills.

Maria de la Luz Gutierrez

Maria de la Luz Gutierrez shared her story of empowerment as a result of Erie Neighborhood House. PHOTO COURTESY ZUNO PHOTO

When Gutierrez finally discovered Erie House, her world changed. She began to blossom as an English learner at Erie House. Her children became involved in the Erie House READS program—her daughter, Mariana, went from reading below grade level in English to earning a spot on the principal’s list—and the whole family has volunteered at the Little Village site in one capacity or another.

“Erie House has created new opportunities for me. It was a bridge that gave me strength and confidence, especially in speaking English because I needed it to start my education,” Gutierrez told the audience. She went on by saying she has now earned an associate’s degree and is working toward her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, upon which the ballroom broke into applause.

Following her speech, Gutierrez was joined by her husband, Froy, and their children—Froy Jr., Isaac and Mariana—as well as Roldán, who took the stage to commence the evening’s paddle raise.

Most successful paddle raise to date
If you’ve never attended a paddle raise before, picture yourself at an auction. Except instead of selling jewelry or art, the auctioneer is soliciting donations at various levels; instead of bidding against each other, the participants are actually bidding together.

Roldán served as auctioneer, introducing each giving level with a description of what program initiative that dollar amount would enable before rapidly calling off numbers raised by audience members.

This year, event planner PJH & Associates implemented a new system for tabulating paddle raise pledges that projected the running total onto the ballroom’s two large screens in real time, adding an extra layer of palpable excitement to the frenzied activity.

“You could feel the energy mounting in the room as the total grew closer and closer to $100K,” says Kirstin Chernawsky, then senior director of development and now newly appointed executive director at Erie House. In all, the paddle raise totaled $105,000—the final $12,000 of which was achieved in pledges at the $100 giving level—and put Erie House over the $550,000 mark for the event.

Chernawsky says the success of the organization’s largest annual fundraiser served as a tangible reminder of the community of support committed to the mission of Erie House. “We are so grateful for the generosity our friends showed at the dinner as well as throughout the year,” she explains. “Even as we deal with the challenges of the ongoing state budget impasse, we have great confidence as we move forward as an organization.”

2016 honorees receive rice-and-beans awards
In addition, the Future of Promise awards dinner honored three individuals who have demonstrated a commitment to the community: Ed Wehmer, CEO of Wintrust (Community Leader Award); Terrence P. LeFevour, co-founder of McCarthy Ford (Corporate Leader Award); and Juan C. Campos, Secretary–Treasurer for Teamsters Local Union No. 705 (Legacy Award).

The coveted Erie House rice-and-beans award—a framed, handmade mosaic depicting a mask that evokes indigenous Latin American culture—was bestowed on each honoree.

A particularly touching moment took place when former Erie House participant Joanna Hernández spoke prior to LeFevour’s award. Hernández had shared her story two years earlier at the Future of Promise dinner, and afterwards LeFevour and Monterrey Security president and CEO Juan Gaytan, Jr., committed to financially supporting the then soon-to-be high school graduate in her four-year college aspirations.

“I want to one day be able to help my community just as you have helped Erie House and my family,” Hernández told her benefactor from the stage. “Thank you for teaching me a valuable lesson, for contributing to the Latino community, and especially for being part of Erie House.”

It was a poignant reminder of the impact generosity can make in creating opportunities for education and empowerment.

If you were unable to attend the dinner but would still like to make a contribution, please contact the Erie House development department at (312) 432-2236.


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