As we publish the 150th issue of Forest & Bluff, we celebrate five local residents who represent the selfless generosity our communities embody.
Kristin Jackson McCain, Lake Forest
Lake Forest Open Lands Associate Board. Spirit of 67 Foundation. Women’s Board of Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital. Friends of Gorton Board. Sheridan Elementary School ATP. Imerman Angels. Gorton Children’s Drop-In Center Parent Board President. Lake Forest Collaborative for Environmental Leadership.
Kristin Jackson McCain has been in Lake Forest for five years and her volunteer résumé reads like that of someone who has been around for several lifetimes.
“When we first moved to Lake Forest, my husband had just been diagnosed with testicular cancer on the eve of his 30th birthday. He underwent three major surgeries and chemotherapy,” explains Kristin. “Having gone through such a life-altering experience at a young age made both of us realize how precious life is, so we are strong believers in doing good works.”
The Women’s Board of Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital is a cause close to Kristin’s heart, because her and her husband’s strong advocacy of preventative medicine, which she believes the community hospital provides. “Next October, I’m co-chairing the Women’s Board Annual Benefit, which will be a Parisian-inspired family affair promising fun for all ages. It’s the first time in 10 years that the Women’s Board will host a family event.” Kristin cites her work on Lake Forest Open Land’s Bagpipes & Bonfire as inspiration to host another family-centered event in town.
Actually, Open Lands is a place where Kristin finds plenty of inspiration, as she recently headed up their popular “Story Time with Santa” and will be co-chairing the Associate Board’s new “Cattails & Cocktails” in May. Also involved in the relaunching of the Gorton Children’s Drop-In Center after some issues in 2010, Kristin quickly learned that just a few people can make a difference. “I learned that if you care about an organization, especially one that positively impacts your community, you can’t always assume it can survive on its own.”
Germaine Arnson, Lake Forest
One would think that over 18 years of volunteering for more than 15 organizations, time would begin to wear on even the most empathetic of souls. But Germaine Arnson, giver extraordinaire, shows no signs of slowing down.
“I’ve always tried to balance my commitments between groups within the Lake Forest/Lake Bluff area and those that address needs outside of our community,” says Germaine, who gives her time to Bravo Waukegan and North Chicago Community Partners. “The commitments that mean the most are the ones where I actually have had the opportunity to interact directly with people in their own environment.” Citing her chance to tutor students at A.J. Katzenmaier Elementary School in North Chicago, Germaine plans to focus her volunteer efforts in the area of education. She believes the exposure to quality education is the key to success for at-risk kids.
And here in town, many of Germaine’s commitments are reflected in her strength of communications. She has served in the capacity of publicity for the LFHS APT, LFHS Foundation, Boys & Girls Club, Spirit of 67 Foundation, District 67 APT Executive Board, Friends of Gorton, Cherokee Elementary School APT, as well as Task Force Leader for the Mission & Outreach Grant Committee within the Church of the Holy Spirit.
But it was advising the Deer Path Middle School Class of 2010 on their class gift project that struck the real chord for Germaine. “The students worked closely with the administration at Neal Math & Science Academy in North Chicago, raising money to donate a sign for their school, of which they did not have,” says Germaine. The new sign made the Neal students feel a sense of identity and school pride, but the real joy was seeing its effect on the soon-to-be graduates. “It was especially fulfilling for me to help the Deer Path students learn that they could make a real difference in others’ lives by sharing their time and ideas.”
Brian Floriani, Lake Forest
“The only way out of poverty is to read your way out. Literally.”
Brian Floriani and his silhouetted logo of Bernie’s Book Bank have seared themselves into the collective minds of nearly all Lake Forest and Lake Bluff residents. After his father’s sudden death in 2005, Brian left a promising career as a golf instructor in California to come to Lake Forest to begin his life’s true calling. “My father’s death shook me and my family to the core and set in motion a chain reaction of events in my life that would lead to the founding of Bernie’s Book Bank.”
He began teaching at Shiloh Park Elementary School in Zion and was overwhelmed by the amount of children who were not “reading ready” upon entering kindergarten—and therefore behind and facing an uphill educational journey from the start. Brian saw that this made their chance at having legitimate success in life be out of reach so early, even at 6 years old. “I was encouraged by the eagerness of the children I was working with to become better readers, and their willingness to put in the hard work to do so.”
The next problem? No access to books. The parents never took them to the library, and they were not allowed to take books home from school. After much research, Brian figured the lack of quality book ownership was not a supply issue, rather a matter of logistics. And he wanted to fix the problem as soon as possible.
Bernie’s Book Bank was born in 2009, and the organization’s first processing center was Brian’s garage. A 5,000-square-foot warehouse in west Lake Forest has now become home, with thousands of books going out each day to at-risk infants, toddlers, and school-age children throughout Chicagoland.
Brian calls out to the important people in his life—his mother Cathy Floriani, his mentor, the late Brad Bradshaw, and his “selfless” mother-in-law Dianne Johnson—as all being a part of making Bernie’s Book Bank a success. But Brian really points to one word when it comes to his organization’s accomplishments: perspective. “After having the privilege of working within the communities we serve, I now know what a bad day really can be. I have had tough days, but no more bad days. It is my hope that Bernie’s Book Bank can continue to be a place where folks, young and old, may build perspective in their lives as well, for many years to come.”
Ann Lynch Burke, Lake Forest
If the meek are set to inherit this earth, then Ann Burke should be prepared for what’s coming her way.
“I have served in many capacities: president, board member, chairman, and volunteer,” explains Ann. “And yet in each organization, I have come to realize that it’s not the title that makes the difference, but the people and the service. I’m always happy to lend my skills in a leadership role, or to volunteer at coat check.”
Known lovingly as “St. Ann” in many circles, Ann has played large roles within the Guild of St. Mary, as well as the school’s Parent Club and Youth Board. “My volunteer efforts center around organizations where I can be involved in them with my family,” she explains. When her children were in high school, she helped begin a Kairos Program for the parish, a spiritual retreat experience where high school students lead and direct fellow students within a faith journey. While her children are grown, Ann continues to support this program because she can see firsthand the impact it has on a young adult’s faith formation.
She has given her time over the years to Misericoridia, but her current efforts are being funneled toward Camp Hope, a summer camp for disabled children and young adults. As an originating board member, Ann cites the organization’s growth as one of its biggest accomplishments. Camp Hope provides a summer camp experience for those affected by developmental disabilities and is staffed by many young Lake Forest and Lake Bluff youths who served as “buddies” or counselors. “To see our buddies form friendships with our campers and care for them 24/7 is a highlight of my summer,” says Ann. “I have been privileged to work alongside my children and so many other children in our community.”
Ann says that Lake Forest and Lake Bluff provide such a unique opportunity to get involved, due to the community’s strong sense of service which is supported by the local schools and churches. “There are so many worthy organizations that welcome volunteers.” Ann suggests jumping in with both feet to begin volunteering, but learn about an organization by starting small scale. Finding where passions lie is the key to the best type of volunteer. “Following your heart will never steer you wrong.”
Catherine Driscoll, Lake Bluff
“Unquestionably, the person who taught me the value of giving and volunteering was my mother, Shirley Dillon, who passed away this past September,” explains Catherine Driscoll. “Throughout her life, I learned from her example.”
Her mother can look down from heaven knowing her daughter is carrying out her legacy, because it’s tough to find a bigger advocate for the community than Catherine.
A professional writer and lover of books, children’s literacy has always been a lifelong passion for Catherine. “Children who grow up in poverty are the most vulnerable in our society. They don’t create their circumstances, they are born into them,” says Catherine. “Yet all children are born with brains and the ability to use them.”
From 1992 to 2000, Catherine worked on the Mad Hatters Children’s Literacy Project through the Junior League of Chicago, reading aloud to little children in libraries around the city. As parent coordinator for Ink Blots Literary Arts Magazine, Catherine met weekly with a team of student editors from Lake Bluff Middle School to edit, lay out, and publish a magazine of the students’ work. Each spring, Braeside Elementary School in Highland Park holds a writers’ conference, where professional writers are paired up with aspiring fourth and fifth grade student writer. “This workshop is something I look forward to each year.” And Catherine will never forget when a kindergarten girl hugged her knees, thanking her for the first book she ever owned, during her time as managing director at Bernie’s Book Bank.
Mothers Trust Foundation’s popular Betty Bash had Catherine as a co-chair in 2009, and she represents the Village of Lake Bluff during all CROYA Adult Board meetings. But perhaps Catherine’s most recent venture reflects all her true passions of communications and not-for-profits: RED Communications LLC. Providing integrated marketing and public relations for businesses, not-for-profits, and Fortune 100 companies, RED Communications has opened the door for Catherine to work closely with Beef4Hunger, as well as serving as a volunteer student mentor at Lake Forest College. “Volunteering means taking action and not waiting for someone else to do it.”
-Stacy Flannery // Photography by Jim Prisching