Photos: Congratulations to Our Making a Difference Award Winners

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Making a Difference Award winner, Chris Broughton. Chris is the founding Executive Director of the Bottom Line Chicago office, an organization that helps first-generation, degree aspiring students from low-income backgrounds get into college, graduate, and go far in life. Under Chris's leadership, the program has grown to serve 150 students in 2014 to serving more than 1,500 Chicago students this year. Thank you Chris for all that you do.
Making a Difference Award winner, Dani Swade. Dani has worked tirelessly to help boost educational experiences in classrooms and is dedicated to helping her community. Whether through advancing opportunities in early education, financial education or organizing supply drives to collect diapers and masks, it is her never-ending commitment to give back that inspires others to give of themselves. Thank you Dani for all that you do.
Making a Difference Award winner Karen Buckner. As a therapeutic foster care mom for Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, Karen works with team leaders, case managers, therapists, coaches, and specialists to help children adjust to their new home life. Most recently, she welcomed a foster care child who had suffered extreme trauma and she’s now thriving in her new environment. Thank you Karen for all that you do.
Making a Difference Award winner, Dr. Saloumeh Bozorgzadeh. Dr. Bozorgzadeh is a Chicago-based psychologist and founder of the “Caring 4 Our Caregivers” initiative. Since the pandemic began, Dr. Bozorgzadeh and her team have made it their mission to help the caregivers that are helping others. One way they do this is by delivering donated tablets loaded with resources to destress and cope. Thank you Dr. Bozorgzadeh for all that you do.
Making a Difference Award winner, Pascuala Herrera. After childhood polio left Pascuala with a physical disability, she’s been on a mission to spread disability awareness and the importance of education for Latino students. She was a
Professor and Accessibility Specialist for almost 30 years and is now a full-time consultant, author, and co-founder of Educators 4 Equity and Justice. Thank you Pascuala for all that you do.
Making a Difference Award winner, Deb Lewin. As co-founder of the ‘Path to Recovery Foundation,’ Deb helps those suffering from substance use disorder. After years of working within the community and promoting awareness, Deb and her team aim to fill the void after treatment and help those in a fragile place. She works tirelessly with family members, loved ones and the recovery community to help all affected and combat the stigma of substance use. Thank you Deb for all that you do.
Making a Difference Award winner is Phyllis Green. As a special needs teacher and case manager, Phyllis works nonstop to help her students pass their classes. Whether it’s spending her own money for supplies or working late into the night on personalized lesson plans, Phyllis makes sure every student has an equal shot to succeed. She does this all while going to school to add to her Master’s degree and hopes to one day open her own school for students with special needs. Thank you Phyllis for all that you do.
Making a Difference Award winner is Kiley Birch. While on maternity leave, Kiley’s been working tirelessly to schedule vaccination appointments for seniors, especially those who have no access to computers. She’s shown no sign of stopping and is constantly reaching out to people via phone, text, and email to set and confirm appointments for others, all while caring for her newborn baby. Thank you, Kiley, for all that you do.
Making a Difference Award winner, Abby Smith. As the owner of Felines & Canines, Abby takes on abused and overlooked pets to find them terrific homes. She even opened another location in Alabama to bring deserted pets to their forever homes in Chicago. They’ve saved over 3000 pets in the last year, all while Abby was battling her own health issues. Thank you, Abby, for all that you do.
Making a Difference Award winner is Greg Wojtkowski. After one of Greg’s employees, Austin Lockwood, was tragically killed by a drunk driver, Greg wanted to help raise awareness about these preventable crimes. He started ‘Austin’s
Lanterns’ to honor his friend by making and selling beautiful lanterns. All the proceeds are then donated to the organization, Mother’s Against Drunk Driving. Thank you, Greg, for all that you do.
Making a Difference Award winner, Danielle Dengel. As an activist in her neighborhood, Danielle recently co-founded ‘Renew 312,’ a non-profit collaboration on Chicago’s Westside. They work with the communities of Austin, Garfield Park, and Oak Park through mental health, education and community outreach programs. Thank you, Danielle, for all that you do.
Making a Difference Award winner is Michelle Kundrat. As a fierce advocate for homeless dogs in Chicago, Michelle founded the non-profit LEAD Rescue, which stands for Love Everything About Dogs. With the help of donations, a volunteer advisory board, and dedicated foster parents, Michelle has found forever homes for over 230 dogs in just 3 years. Thank you, Michelle, for helping our furry friends.
Making a Difference Award winner, Elizabeth Ferrazza. In fifth grade, Lizzie decided she wanted to help no-kill animal shelters. Now as a junior in high school, Lizzie has donated almost $10,000 dollars to no-kill shelters, thru her Lend Me
Your Ears foundation. She does this by re-making broken jewelry and selling it at local events, with 100% of the profits going to the shelters. Lizzie also partners with a local organization by donating supplies so they can offer jewelry making classes to adults with special needs. Thank you, Lizzie, for all that you do.
Making a Difference Award winner, Cecilia A. Butler. At 72 years old and retired, Cecilia continues to stay busy by delivering food daily to fellow seniors and the homeless in her Washington Park community. Cecilia also serves on the Washington Park Advisory Council and the Washington Park Residents Advocacy Center. She created the ‘Respect Life’ campaign to help remind people to respect each other and their community. Thank you, Cecilia, for helping others.
Making a Difference Award winner, Toy Ann McCray-Hawthorne. Toy Ann helps people across Chicago through various programs and organizations. She founded Sleepover for Success to help teens, organizes a drive for the homeless, works with mentoring programs, and much more. She’s received the highest honor from UPS for her community service, and even a Presidential award from the White House. Thank you, Toy Ann, for all that you do.
Making a Difference Award winner, Geri Hernandez. As the owner of Savory Crust Gourmet Empanadas, Geri goes above and beyond to provide meals to those protecting our community, especially during the pandemic. She’s raised enough money to provide hundreds of meals to hospitals, first responders, nursing homes, military troops and more. Thank you, Geri, for all that you do.
Making a Difference Award winner, Dr. Ann Jackson. While Dr. Jackson was receiving treatment for cancer, she was sickened by the struggle of other patients who didn’t have access to healthy food to help their bodies heal. She decided to create the ‘Center for Food Equity in Medicine’ to feed those patients and assisted more than 700 families across the metro Chicagoland area in 2020. Thank you Dr. Jackson for being an inspiration and Making a Difference.
Making a Difference Award winner, Scott Marvel. Scott founded ‘Give-a-shirt’ organization to partner with local artists who donate eye-catching designs for t-shirts. The t-shirts are then sold online and at pop-up shops with 100% of the proceeds going to organizations supporting the homeless. Thank you, Scott, for Making a Difference.
Making a Difference Award winners are Tyler and Brielle Stolberg. While 11 year old twin sisters, Tyler & Brielle, were stuck at home during the pandemic, they started a covid-friendly business making custom beaded mask holders. They’ve made hundreds of chains for people across the country and donate a portion of the proceeds to The Chicago Lighthouse North, which benefits the blind, visually impaired and veterans. Tyler and Brielle have already been able to donate over one-thousand dollars! A huge thank you to Tyler and Brielle for Making a Difference.
Making a Difference Award winner, Gregory Perez. In 2015, Gregory founded Deaf Planet Soul, a nonprofit dedicated to serving and empowering the deaf and hard of hearing. He’s hosted social events, led workshops, volunteered in refugee camps, created accessible sports leagues and more. Throughout this time, he continued working in a group home for deaf children and adults with cognitive and developmental disabilities, where he even quarantined during the pandemic so he could provide care. A big thank you to Gregory for Making a Difference.
Making a Difference Award winner Aparna Ramakrishnan and her organization, Beyond Charity. During the pandemic, Aparna saw a need to spread mental health awareness in kids and teens so she founded Beyond Charity. Her
organization uses presentations and personal stories to educate teens on mental health coping strategies. Even though Beyond Charity has only been working for a few months, they’ve already presented to over 700 students and will reach 2000 this year. A big thank you to Aparna and everyone at Beyond Charity for Making a Difference.
Making a Difference Award winner, Erika Castro. Erika and her husband opened their restaurant, Gyros Planet, in Evanston not long before the pandemic began. Since it started, they’ve been providing free meals to families in need and are now passing out over 100 meals daily. In addition to providing the meals, Erika is in constant contact with the families and helps them find solutions to other issues like past due rent or unpaid utilities. Thank you Erika for Making a Difference.
Making a Difference Award winner Carol Johnson, or better known in her community as Mrs. “J.” As a lifelong activist, business owner and organizer on Chicago’s West Side, Mrs. J is deeply involved in her community and even serves on three different boards in the area. From organizing youth groups to planting new wild life, Mrs. J dedicates her time to improving the neighborhood for others to enjoy. She even hosts sightseeing tours and safety walks to help the homeless! Thank you Mrs. J for your endless efforts that are Making a Difference.
Making a Difference Award winner, Katie Yohe. As the founder and Executive Artistic Director of A.B.L.E, which means Artists Breaking Limits and Expectations, Katie creates theatre and film projects for individuals with developmental disabilities. Many people with disabilities thrive on routine, and COVID-19 severely impacted both their social and emotional wellbeing. Katie didn’t miss a beat and led the team at A.B.L.E. in designing innovative virtual programs to keep them engaged and connected. Thank you Katie for Making a Difference.
Making a Difference Award winner, Robert Swiderski. When Robert is not busy working, he dedicates his time to supporting local families to ensure they have a Thanksgiving meal. He works closely with The Basket Brigade of Suburban Chicago to raise money and deliver thousands of meals by running multiple marathons. Last year, Robert ran over 150 miles to raise awareness for these families-in-need. Thank you Robert for Making a Difference.
In addition to being the Bank of America Chicago Marathon’s Executive Race Director for 30 years, Carey also leads the Charity Program. Since 2002, the Bank of America Chicago Marathon Charity program has grown from 14 charities with less than 2000 runners to over 170 charities with more than 10,000 runners. Together, the program has helped raise more than $234 million dollars to fund school initiatives, medical research, humanitarian efforts and much more. Thank you Carey for Making a Difference.
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​ Making a Difference Award winner Tzvi Montrose. After his young son had a seizure, Tzvi became a paramedic to learn what to do in an emergency situation and help others when they are in an emergency themselves. He also started a non-profit organization called, Hatzalah Chicago, which is a volunteer emergency service that provides emergency medical response to all who need it, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity. Countless of lives have been saved due to his efforts. Thank you Tzvi for Making a Difference. ====================================================================== Carmen Vega |
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​Making a Difference Award winner Michael Griffin. In addition to balancing work and family, Michael also spends time sharing his professional DJ skills by playing music at local nursing homes. Since the pandemic began, Michael has been unable to go inside the facilities so he came up with the great idea to play music straight from his car, outside the senior buildings. His music has kept the seniors dancing and singing, all while staying safe. Thank you Michael for Making a Difference.
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Making a Difference Award winner Ria Bawiskar. As a young high school student Naperville North High School Ria saw a need to help students struggling so she created a free pandemic pod opportunity in order to bridge the growing virtual education gap. She also created a program to bring computer science and STEM learning to elementary girls in her school district, Naperville School District 203, which has now spread to several other districts. Thank you Ria for helping educate others and for Making a Difference.
As the founder of The Southwest Collective, Jamie’s dedicated to helping families and small businesses to build a community for all on the Southwest side of Chicago. One of her events, Freebies for Families, allows people to exchange unwanted baby clothes and items. She also leads the Little Free Libraries Project to bring books to others. Thank you, Jamie, for Making a Difference.
In addition to running her bakery, Justice of the Pies, Maya-Camille has been dedicated to helping those in need during the pandemic by feeding frontline workers and educating her community about food insecurities. When life gives Maya lemons.. she makes strawberry lemonade pies for others.. Thank you, Maya-Camille, for Making a Difference.
As part of his mission to spread love and peace, Anthony created the Heart’s Project after receiving a grant from the city of Chicago. The Heart’s Project is a collection of cards made by artists, firemen and many others in the Clearing and Garfield neighborhood. Anthony also dedicates his time to helping seniors throughout the community by running everyday errands. Thank you, Anthony, for Making a Difference.
Eddie is small business owner, continually finding new ways to help his West Lawn community by volunteering with several non profits. He’s helped organize various programs for those in need like Love Fridge, Little Dry Pantry, the Traveling Lemonade Stand and more. Thank you, Eddie, for stepping up and Making a Difference in your community.
This team of teenage brothers spent their summer creating over 1000 face shields for essential workers. Using 3D printers and laser cutters, they manufactured and assembled the parts before safely distributing them to hospitals, schools, fire and police departments, nursing homes and more. Thank you, Ravi and Rohan, for being such an inspiration and Making a Difference!
Minister Shirley is a pastor at Trinity Resurrection United Church. As part of their work to provide mission, vision and praise, Minister Shirley has helped transform the church into a non-profit organization servicing those in need. During the pandemic, they’ve expanded their food pantry to feed about 1600 community members. Thank you, Minister Shirley, for Making a Difference!
Besides keeping busy with his professional career and family life, Dr. Tee is the founder of several organizations and museums that serve the Asian American community of Chicago. For years, he has worked tirelessly to represent his culture through leading organizations, fundraising for his community, and volunteering. Thank you, Dr. Tee, for Making a Difference.
This father and son duo were looking for a way to spend time together during the pandemic, so they began driving around the city, taking photos of the various murals that were painted on boarded up businesses. They compiled all the photos into a book called “Boarded Up Chicago,” that’s proceeds will go to the communities impacted by looting. Thank you, Chris & Zachary, for Making a Difference.
As an assistant principal, Maurice is on a mission to create an inclusive atmosphere for his diverse student body by injecting fun with his alter ego, Mr. McDizzle. While showcasing his personality, Maurice raps in both English and Spanish about topics to connect with his elementary students. Thank you, Maurice, for Making a Difference!
Sarah is the founder and executive director of Almost Home, an organization dedicated to helping the homeless and anyone else in need. Sarah and her team provide clothes, emergency funds, sponsor rehab stays, find halfway homes and much more. Thank you, Sarah, for helping your community and Making a Difference!
Jessica is a Senior Student Supports Manager with Communities In Schools of Chicago. Jessica’s efforts helped launch Art Xpress, a club dedicated to artistic self-expression. During the pandemic, Jessica raised money to provide at-home art kits so students could continue creating. Thank you, Jessica, for Making a Difference.
In honor of their daughter who passed away in 2017, Bob and Susan founded the ‘Center on Halsted’s Sloane Sullivan Backpack Project.’ Their organization provides backpacks and supplies to LGBTQ+ youth currently experiencing homelessness. Thank you, Bob and Susan, for Making a Difference.
Debra is a paraprofessional educator who works primarily with special education kids. During the pandemic, Debra went above and beyond to provide personal hygiene items, cleaning supplies and even masks to those in need by setting up a table outside her school. She would even make deliveries to families that were quarantined. Thank you, Debra,for Making a Difference.
Certified in youth suicide counseling, Gabriela hosts events for the public to help with suicide prevention. These events include art therapy, grief help and sharing personal stories. She’s currently in the process of creating a nonprofit foundation to help those in need. Thank you, Gabriela, for Making a Difference.
Karen helps run a local food pantry in her community. Since the pandemic began, Karen and her helpers have gone from serving 65 families a week to over 125 families in the Hazel Crest area. Thank you, Karen, for being an inspiration in your community and Making a Difference.
David, who plays professional basketball overseas, wanted to give back during the pandemic. His foundation teamed up with another organization for an event to provide fresh food and PPE to five hundred families in need. Thank you, David, for helping your community and Making a Difference!

Photo Credit: Kenny Smith Photography
Joanne is the executive director of Hopeful Beginnings, a nonprofit agency that helps women of childbearing age and women with children. Joanne has helped expand the program by adding social workers and providing free counseling services. She’s even managed to continue their work, safely, during the pandemic. Thank you, Joanne, for Making a Difference!

During her daily route as a postal worker, Akilah recognized a wandering senior citizen who was far from home. She went above and beyond her job to make sure he got home safely and was reunited with his family. Akilah’s act of kindness made all the difference for this local family. Thank you Akilah for stepping up to help others and Making a Difference.
Donald is celebrating 30 years as CEO of Habilitative Systems on Chicago’s West Side, where he and his team offer supportive programs to the city’s most disadvantaged residents. Focusing on mental health and alcohol and substance abuse, their efforts have provided services to over 7000 people. Thank you Donald for continuing to Make a Difference!
Elaine is the founder of Luft Ballons, known for creating bold and beautiful installations. Since the pandemic began, Elaine has been honoring frontline workers by decorating local hospitals with her amazing creations. She’s also working to support Black Lives Matter through art activism. Thank you Elaine for inspiring us and Making a Difference!
We’re honoring José Sánchez with our Making a Difference Award. As President and CEO of Norwegian American Hospital, José helped his team overcome many challenges during the coronavirus pandemic. With his leadership, the safety net hospital was able to serve the Latinx community by providing PPE, testing, food, and other resources to patients. Thank you, José, for Making a Difference.
Victor Love - Victor has been a helper in his community. During the coronavirus pandemic, he joined his mother Josephine Wade in delivering hundreds of meals to senior citizens through his mother’s Chatham restaurant called Josephine's Cooking. Victor also actively mentors young boys throughout the South Side. Thank you, Victor, for helping others and Making a Difference!
Courtney Schild - After hearing about 5-year-old Blake's battle with leukemia, Courtney knew he wanted to help. Courtney and the team at his landscaping and pool company, installed a pool, slide, fire pit and more for just one dollar so Blake and his family could have a special backyard oasis. Thank you Courtney for Making a Difference!
Cindy Thompson - Besides running her own catering business, Cindy volunteers in the kitchen at Sarah’s Circle, a center for women experiencing homelessness. Cindy has not let the pandemic stop her from volunteering.  She’s still cooking and dropping off meals twice a week. Thank you, Cindy, for your unwavering commitment to Making a Difference.
Photo Credit: Mark Joseph, Who We Are | National Project

Judge Stanley Hill - Since 2012, Judge Hill has mentored hundreds of children and young adults through his creation of the PUSH EXCEL Oratorical Contest and St. Sabina Church Oratorical Contest. Judge Hill's program includes weekly coaching classes, teaching young people the power of persuasive speech. Thank you Judge Hill for Making a Difference!
At only 10 years old, Olivia is on a mission to help feed the hungry during the pandemic. When the fourth grader saw a need at her local food pantry, she reached out to her classmates for donated goods. With so much support, Olivia’s been able to do multiple rounds of donations! Thank you Olivia for Making a Difference!
After a night of looting, Mylana stepped up to help her neighborhood by organizing clean up efforts and a donation drive for those impacted. Mylana and her organization, Chaos Chicago Incorporated, were able to raise over $5,000! Thank you Mylana for Making a Difference!
After losing her beloved dog Obi, Carolyn wanted to honor his memory and help other pet owners by creating a donation box in her neighborhood. Through Obi’s Pet Pantry, people can donate items and others can take what they need for their pet, no questions asked. Thank you Carolyn for Making a Difference!
At only 7 years old, Olivia already has a strong passion for helping the homeless and those in need. So when the Coronavirus pandemic hit, Olivia made sure the homeless could also stay safe by donating and passing out hundreds of bandana masks. Thank you Olivia for Making a Difference!
In response to Coronavirus and looting, Jeremy organized a relief fund to help Black-owned restaurants in Chicago. Jeremy’s original goal was to raise $20,000 …but thanks to an amazing show of support, he raised over $75,000. A big thank you to Jeremy for Making a Difference!
Sabryna is using her passion for sewing by creating modified masks for people with hearing loss. She’s shipped thousands of masks to people across the entire country, and even in Europe, all for free. A big thank you to Sabryna for Making a Difference and inspiring others!
Jermaine helped organize a large group of volunteers to clean up several South Side communities and businesses that were devastated by looting last month. A big thank you to Jermaine and all the volunteers for Making a Difference!
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