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As people across the globe continue to experience uncertainty and loss amid the pandemic, we are seeing some of the best that humanity has to offer on a local level. The Evanston Chamber of Commerce recently recognized four who embody hope in community during a time of crisis.
Monique Jones, Meleika Gardner, Heather Bublick and D’Andre Carter were honored at the Chamber’s 101st Annual Fundraiser Celebration, a virtual broadcast on Feb. 5.
“The folks that we are recognizing tonight are only a few of the many deserving individuals who gave contributions to the Evanston community over 2020 and make us proud to be Evanstonians,” said Chamber Executive Director and program host Roger Sosa.
Ms. Jones is the 2021 Non-Profit Person of the Year. She served as Evanston Community Foundation president and CEO from 2015 until December of 2020, and now leads the Illinois-based nonprofit Forefront.
“I’m humbled to be recognized for this honor. I accept it on behalf of the entire nonprofit community,” said Ms. Jones in a video directed by Meleika Gardner celebrating the honorees.
In thanking the Evanston Community Foundation, its board and staff, Ms. Jones said, “It’s my hope that we plotted a course where concrete can be poured later. Just be sure to take a little stick and write, ‘Monique Jones was here’ before it dries.”
Ms. Gardner, founder and host of Evanston Live TV, was honored as Community Leadership Person of the Year. Ms. Gardner also co-authored Bill HB4954 for Black history expansion and helped draft the Inclusive American History Bill, HB5851, with Representative La Shawn K. Ford.
“Evanston Live TV is a vehicle, a service for the people of Evanston…where they can tell us of their celebration of a business opening, or being appointed a City official. It’s a platform where people can voice their concerns…It’s here to provide information. It’s here to wake people up. It is here to entertain people as well. It’s a platform for the people, and that’s why I do it…I’m emotional about this work, and it means the world to me,” said Ms. Gardner.
Heather Bublick and D’Andre Carter of Feast & Imbibe and Soul & Smoke received the Business Person of the Year award. When the pandemic hit, they responded on day one by feeding those in need. With the help of generous donors, they and their staff started making free meals available to residents of Evanston and Englewood who need it the most.
“We started eight years ago out of our home kitchen,” said Chef Carter, a classically trained chef. “The food that I know best, the food that I grew up with, is comfort food and barbecue. … We’ve had the Soul & Smoke Food Truck for about six months now. …The reason we got the food truck is that 2020 has not been your average year … so we wanted to take our food mobile … to bring the delicious food to you,” said Chef Carter.
Mayor Stephen Hagerty congratulated the honorees and welcomed Chamber members and guests.
“There has never been a more important time for our Evanston Chamber of Commerce to help our community recover from this deadly pandemic. We need our business leaders and our community leaders to step up and to help us rebuild back stronger and better, and more resilient and more equitably in the future. There’s a lot to be done, and we’re going to need the help of everyone,” said Mayor Hagerty in his remarks.
Mr. Sosa announced the launch of numerous Chamber initiatives in 2020, including the formation of the Chamber Racial Equity Counsel, formed to promote equity, diversity and inclusion in the local business community, and chaired by Jared Davis of Evanston Community Bank & Trust.
Mr. Davis introduced the Evanston Racial Equity Committee, a sub-committee of the Chamber’s board of directors. The committee has launched the Evanston Racial Equity Promise (E-REP).
“This promise to our community places an emphasis on the relationship between anti-racist behavior and economic development. We invite you to take this step with us, and join the fight to end racism of all forms in Evanston,” said Mr. Davis.
One of the committee’s first steps was a commitment in the form of a new mission statement for the Chamber of Commerce, which is complete and can be viewed on their website, www.evchamber.com.
Videos of representatives from some of the Chamber’s key community partners were also part of the event program.
“Over the past year … I’ve seen the Chamber shift and pivot and transform their strategy to meet the emerging needs of our small business community,” said Northwestern University Executive Director of Community Relations Dave Davis in his message to Chamber members. staff and guests.
Cindy Rawlings, Market President of Evanston Community Bank & Trust, congratulated Director Sosa, Membership & Development Director Angela Iantosca, and Director of Marketing Sara Jane Abbott for “a job well done.”
“The Chamber stepped up through offering access to PPE equipment, Recovery University, marketing services and staying in constant communication with businesses to help them through these very difficult times,” said Ms. Rawlings.
Recovery University is a Chamber program that helped struggling businesses maintain stability during the pandemic.
“I am particularly thankful for the work that you’re doing on safety in terms of providing PPE and also bringing equity to the forefront among Evanston businesses,” said Katherine Gotsick, Executive Director of the Main-Dempster Mile commercial district, in her message to Chamber members and staff.
Outgoing Chamber Board President Paul FIschl of Fischl Dental Associates handed the gavel to incoming President Mohammed Ali of Alim Insurance Brokerage. In addition to Mr. Alim, the 2021 slate of Board members includes President-Elect Nasutsa Mabwa, ServiceMaster Restoration by Simons; Vice President Laura Levine, Geiger Promotional Products; Treasurer Valerie Romano, Romano Wealth Management, and Past President Dr. Fischl.
Mr. Alim recognized retiring board members Steve Anderson, Glantz Design; Sandy Chen, KOI Fine Asian Cuisine and Lounge; Susan Felts, Minuteman Press; Tom Figiel, Figiel Coaching & Consulting and Monique B. Jones, Evanston Community Foundation.
Replacing the retiring board members are Linda Brennan, Ph.D., Focal Point Coaching; Mark George, Music Institute of Chicago; Annette Patko, Bordeaux Studio; and Allie Payne, Compass Realty.