CEO Sara Schastok and Incoming ECF Board Chair Mike Brody.  Photo by Jill Brazel

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Evanston Community Foundation hosted a special edition of its annual meeting and reunion dinner on April 15 at the Crystal Ballroom at The Merion. Approximately 75 supporters, including board members, donors, business partners and committee members gathered to reconnect with colleagues and friends, and hear the latest news on the Foundation’s goals and accomplishments.

Each year the event features a keynote speaker to provide an insider’s view of one of the Foundation’s key initiatives. This year’s speaker was President and CEO Sara Schastok, who in 2015 is winding down her 14 year tenure at the helm of the Foundation, a period marked by tremendous growth and change.

Ms. Schastok spoke on the theme of “Looking Back to Forge Ahead,” and shared examples that underscored the organization’s growth from $3 to $20 million in assets, and the new restatement of its mission, from “enriching lives” to “helping the community thrive,” as ECF has evolved to address equitable access
to educational achievement.  

She highlighted the Communityworks initiative, as an agent of transformation for the Foundation. The multi-year collaboration with the Grand Victoria Foundation resulted in a new $6.8 million dollar fund dedicated to early childhood education and workforce development. 

“We learned that the connections we can make and leverage are more important than the individual component parts of our work,” said Ms. Schastok. “Our story is also part of powerful changes in Evanston as represented by the cross-sector, public-private, tax-supported community-based coalition of Cradle to Career. … Kindergarten to workforce readiness… is becoming the means to improving the economic security of families and to protecting what we value so highly – being an inclusive and just community. This is the most important way in which our past connects to our future.

“We’ve pooled what we have – this is a moment to step back and enjoy the sight!   As I leave the helm, the Foundation has the mix of funds and resources to open many doors going forward…In the face of widening wealth and educational gaps between haves and have-nots and growing evidence of the threats these gaps pose to core American values and experiences…it is hard to argue against ECF doing what it can to address the challenges to those raising children on low incomes.”  

Prior to the keynote, Pete Henderson was named the 2015 recipient of the Jim Kogen Foundation Spirit Award, an annual award recognizing exemplary board service. The award was presented by Diana Cohen, recipient of the 2014 Kogen Award.