Mimi Murley and Charlene Huang Olson, chairs of the 2016 Summer Ball, were faced with a dilemma—choosing a theme for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago’s largest annual fundraiser. “Big Dreams” was an early contender—an apt moniker for a gala supporting the organization’s mission of enabling boys and girls from some of the city’s most challenged neighborhoods to reach their full potential as productive, responsible, and caring citizens. Yet, the phrase struck the two dynamic women as too passive. So, with a slight twist, the passive “Big Dreams” became the active “Dream BIG!”—a perfect theme for an event sponsored by the Woman’s Board of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago, a board whose members take a very active and hands on approach.
Founded in 1949, the Woman’s Board has evolved into a philanthropic powerhouse whose membership has raised $76 million over the last 67 years. A postcard campaign raising $5,000 was the Board’s initial foray into fundraising. Over the decades, other efforts included a celebrity-hosted telethon and a fashion show featuring husbands of Board members. In 1952, the Summer Ball was created. The Summer Ball now ushers in the city’s gala season and, as the city’s oldest black-tie event, serves as a model for other nonprofit events.
They have a real desire to connect with our mission and are there to give,” remarks Lake Forest’s Murley, a 14-year-member of the Woman’s Board. This generosity begins well before the night of the event.
“We are fortunate to walk into the night of the ball with over $1 million already raised from our corporate and event sponsors,” adds Huang Olson, who lives in Lincoln Park and joined the Board three years ago.
The Woman’s Board’s commitment to the Clubs does not end with the planning of the Summer Ball. In 2014, former Woman’s Board President Linda Gantz and her husband, Wilbur, of Winnetka established a $2.5 million endowment—the largest single gift ever made to the organization. Gantz’s daughter, Winnetka’s Caroline Gantz Burns, joined the Board in 2013. “Generations of families support the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago because this organization gets fabulous results. People remain committed to this cause because they see true change being created,” explains Lake Forest’s Anne Patel, Woman’s Board President and 2011 Summer Ball Co-Chair. Consistent commitment is a hallmark of the Woman’s Board—many members serve for decades.
“This is a Board you join and stay with, in many cases, for a lifetime,” observes Patel. “On some nonprofit boards, you will see many of the members rotating on and then off. One of the reasons I was attracted to the Woman’s Board is because of the length of service you see among our members,” Huang Olson adds. “Members stay because they are passionate about our mission and because they are able to directly connect with our Club members through two programs exclusive to our Board—the Share Chicago program and our Scholarship program.”
Share Chicago, spearheaded by Kim White of Lake Forest, is a field trip program that provides Club members with access to Chicago’s cultural institutions and other unique opportunities. Board members underwrite all the costs of the program, organize the outings, and use their well-placed connections to create truly unforgettable experiences. “Renée Crown arranged for the kids to experience a private cooking demonstration at the Palmer House Hilton with the hotel’s executive chef. She planned every detail and even chaperoned the bus,” recalls Brice Kanzer, Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago Associate Director of Development. “Share Chicago gives our Woman’s Board members a chance to share something that is really special and meaningful to them with our kids.”
The members of the Woman’s Board Scholarship Committee personify the Woman’s Board’s belief that support of Club members should continue into their college careers. Each year, the Scholarship Committee awards five $5,000 scholarships and one $25,000 scholarship to students attending institutions like Marquette University, Washington University, and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Currently, 20 Club members have received four-year scholarships for a total annual award of $100,000—an amount exclusively funded by the Woman’s Board members.
“Our Clubs have such a strong focus on education and really stress academic motivation. We are thrilled to be able to help some of our members continue to achieve their academic goals,” notes Huang Olson, a member of the Scholarship Committee. In addition to financial support, the scholarship recipients receive emotional support as well. Care packages are sent during finals, and the scholarship recipients are often invited to attend a Board meeting to share updates on college life.
Murley describes these updates as “Some of my favorite moments—it is so inspiring to see what these young people have achieved.”
Club and Board members regularly interact within the walls of Chicago’s 21 Boys & Girls Clubs. On a windy February afternoon, the Woman’s Board met at the Logan Square Boys & Girls Club. Following a meeting peppered with exciting updates from the Summer Ball Live Auction Committee, the Board members were joined by 40 Club members. The women and kids eagerly sifted through piles of brightly colored paper and silky ribbon provided by “Scraps to Art,” a donation program that recycles materials leftover from luxurious wedding invitations created by Hannah Handmade, an Evanston-based business. Guided by an art therapist from ATC (Art Therapy Connection), the group used the materials to express an aspect of themselves they wished to share with the group.
Wielding orange scissors, a 12-year-old girl carefully transformed a rectangular piece of gleaming gold paper into a triangle. Pasting the triangle on top of a drawing of her curly hair, she quietly explained the triangle represented the cap she would wear when she graduated from medical school someday. A big dream to be sure, but then, the Woman’s Board offers her an opportunity to “Dream BIG!” The Woman’s Board of Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago 67th Annual Summer Ball will be held on May 20 at the Hilton Chicago.
To learn more, visit BGCC.ORG/EVENTS/2016_SUMMER_BALL_DREAM_BIG.