Early in their courtship, nearly 30 years ago, Carrie and Tom Buchwald took a Chicago Architecture River Cruise. While traversing all three branches of the Chicago River, they passed more than 40 notable structures.
And learned a thing or 40.
Carrie looked up often during the date. The city’s striking, awe-inspiring skyline features towering buildings, some standing even taller than Tom’s 6-foot-6 frame.
Carrie Buchwald has been focusing straight ahead—and from terra firma—these days, steering the Waukegan-based neighborhood community center Beacon Place as its board chair and serving as senior vice president of the Lake Forest Center for Leadership at Lake Forest Graduate School of Management (LFGSM).
“Two special organizations,” says the 58-year-old Buchwald, a Lincolnshire resident and mother of two (Ben, 24, and Emily, 18) with husband Tom. “It’s been a ball for me, working with the corporate education team at the graduate school and providing solutions and leadership development for businesses. I was so lucky to have received the opportunity, and then, a year in, to be able to start my pursuit of an MBA degree at the school. As for a place like Beacon Place, it’s more vital than ever today, given its commitment to support families in need and the educational and economic challenges associated with the pandemic. So much about Beacon Place is about getting kids to believe in the possibilities of tomorrow.
“Both organizations,” she adds, “are making the world a better place.”
In early December, Beacon Place made southeast Waukegan a brighter place—at night. Under the direction of new Beacon Place Executive Director Joshua Fulcher, a festive force of 200 volunteers lined sidewalks with 7,500 luminarias. The blinding message of the “Sharing Light, Sharing Hope” event: Count on Beacon Place to maintain its presence, warmth, and optimism. Established in 2012 by a group of inspired, bighearted folks in Lake County, Beacon Place offers programs for children and families that focus on academic growth, improved health, and building the skills that allow individuals and families to see their own path to brighter days.
“Beacon Place has been a life-changer for many,” Buchwald says. “It has helped people reach their full potential. The education component drew me to the support agency; I’ve always been into education. But what really impressed me about the organization is how Beacon Place gets families involved. It’s not a drop-off place. The parents’ commitment motivates their children, with every family member learning and growing from each experience.”
Beacon Place’s three-pronged response to COVID-19 for families in need last year began with its food support, as it provided grocery bags of food and essentials. Since March, 100,000 pounds of fresh meat/poultry, milk products, and vegetables have been distributed. Its stay-at-home survival kits included games, crafts, and parenting guides and resources to help families mitigate the harmful effects of isolation. And Beacon Place produced between 80 to 100 academic packets, ensuring students wouldn’t fall behind while learning remotely and that their minds would be stimulated regularly.
“Joshua and his team put a lot of thought into customizing and creating a packet for each child, knowing our physical building in Waukegan had to be off-limits to the children we were serving,” Buchwald says. “You had targeted lesson plans in each packet, along with fun things. It’s been documented that losses in grade-schoollevel learning during the pandemic is more amplified in communities with economic challenges. That’s one of the reasons Beacon Place has an intense focus on gap-filling in education. Doing so builds a student’s confidence. Joshua hopes, as do all of us, that we’ll be able to introduce business leaders to students on-site as part of our new mentorship program in 2021.
“One more arrow in the quiver for our students,” she adds.
Among the aims, meanwhile, of the Lake Forest Center for Leadership at LFGSM is to develop real-world leadership through fully customized, end-to-end, blended solutions. It relies on proven business leaders, not professors, to “give the outside perspective from the inside.” An integral component of the center’s mission advises business leaders to liberate their employees rather than empower them.
“Our team at the school, it’s the best, and it’s one that cares about service and clients,” says Buchwald, who worked as a regional vice president for the human resource consulting firm Robert Half International and was a board member and engagement director for the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association. “It has such an entrepreneurial spirit.”
While attending the Academy of the Holy Names in Tampa, Florida, Buchwald—a Girl Scout who achieved First Class status in the youth organization—worked as a switchboard operator for the nuns at the college preparatory high school for young women. Opportunities to camp or to canoe or to hike or to engage in any outdoor activity thrilled the daughter of Richard and Lela. The adventurous Buchwald can’t wait to watch the pandemic fade in the rearview mirror and resume her cherished pastime of traveling.
“I liked to try new things when I was young,” recalls Buchwald, a self-described “leadership junkie” who volunteered for nearly 10 years at CauseHealth in Waukegan. “I still like to try new things. I’m never bored, and I never will be, as long as I’m surrounded by wonderful people at Beacon Place and the Lake Forest Center for Leadership. It’s a privilege to be affiliated with both organizations.”
She earned a degree in business, with a concentration in finance, at the University of Notre Dame. Her late father, an architect who enjoyed painting in retirement, was a huge fan of the Irish. Nobody, not even the school’s Leprechaun mascot, wanted Notre Dame teams to win more than Richard did. Daughter Carrie continues to appreciate the sense of community she saw and felt each semester at the South Bend college.
“It was life-changing for me, studying there and experiencing the many aspects of campus life,” Buchwald says. “Once you’re in that type of community, where you’re connecting with people whose values you share, it’ll be a part of you forever.”
A hungry boy consumes a nourishing Beacon Place meal, allowing him to concentrate and devour the details in a book he has to read for a school assignment. Boy later aces a test. Boy’s interest in the subject grows.
Boy’s confidence soars.
Hope lifts the boy higher.
Beacon Place becomes a part of the boy. Forever.
Beacon Place, 847-497-5787, is located at 603 S. McAlister Avenue in Waukegan. For more information visit beacon-place.org.