44th Faces of Philanthropy Awards Luncheon

On October 2nd,  AFP Chicago will proudly honor eight amazing individuals who represent the very best of our community: they are transformative leaders, diverse thinkers, eager trailblazers, and prominent philanthropists — each a shining beacon of possibility, change, and hope for Chicago. These individuals leave an undeniable footprint on the work we do in and around Chicago. They represent the best and brightest of Chicagoland’s philanthropists and fundraisers, and exemplify the common bonds that connect us in our work. They are our mentors and yes, even heroes.

Please allow us to introduce you to this year's eight recipients!
Check back each week, as we add a spotlight for each of our honorees.

AFP Chicago Honoree Spotlights 


Distinguished Philanthropists Award

Visionary philanthropist, thought leader, passionate advocate, trusted mentor, committed volunteer, these are just a few of the words that describe Helen Zell. For decades, Helen, the Executive Director of the Zell Family Foundation, has been an avid supporter of the arts and education, with an emphasis on music, literature and visual arts.

Helen’s passion and commitment to Chicago is beyond measure. Among numerous other initiatives, Helen led the Zell Family Foundation’s underwriting of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s music director position in perpetuity, now known as the Zell Music Director.

Helen’s lifelong passion for great literature and commitment to her alma mater are reflected in her advocacy of the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. The Zell Family Foundation provides significant ongoing support for the university’s Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree program in Creative Writing, now known as the Helen Zell Writers’ Program, which is a two-year graduate program in creative writing with a concentration in either fiction or poetry. The program also provides each student with the opportunity for a “Zellowship,” a post-graduate year of financial support that enables writers to dedicate their time solely to writing. As part of the program, the foundation endowed the Zell Visiting Writers Series. It also endowed the department’s first visiting professorship in fiction, later named the Nicholas Delbanco Visiting Professorship, and the Helen Zell Director’s Fund for the MFA program in Creative Writing. The program is recognized internationally for its excellence and regularly produces award-winning authors.

Helen is the Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association. She is also a member of the Board of Trustees of Steppenwolf Theatre and serves on the executive committee. Helen is a Trustee, and former Chair, of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. She also serves on the boards of directors of: the Ounce of Prevention Fund, a public-private partnership dedicated to the healthy development of at-risk children; the Chicago Public Education Fund, a nonprofit organization working to improve public education in the city; and Teach for America, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting educational equity and excellence for children in low-income communities.  

For these reasons and so many more, we are proud to recognize Helen Zell as the recipient of the 2020 Distinguished Philanthropist Award.

Professional Grantor Award

Community activist. Trailblazer. Teacher. Consummate professional. These are just a few of the terms used to describe Evette Cardona, winner of the 2020 AFP Faces of Philanthropy Professional Grantor Award.

For more than twenty years, Evette has found a perfect home at Polk Bros. Foundation, a foundation which focuses its work at the intersection of Chicago's most pressing issues to address the complex roots and devastating effects of poverty, challenge inequity, and ensure all Chicagoans have the opportunity to reach their full potential. Evette started her career at Polk Bros. Foundation as a program intern from the University of Chicago, School of Social Service Administration. Serving as its Vice President of Programs since 2012, Evette has helped manage the Foundation’s annual $27 million grantmaking portfolio, which supports 400 plus human and health service, education, and arts organizations as they tackle some of Chicago’s greatest challenges.

Through her work as Vice President of Programs, Evette has opened the doors for new grantees to have greater access to funding and is leveraging the Foundation’s resources to support issues inclusive of immigrant rights, housing for LGBTQ youth, and lack of opportunity for people of color and for women.

In addition to her service at Polk Bros. Foundation, Evette has provided leadership and governance to other organizations whose mission is to support and grow the philanthropic sector. She has served as the Board Chair of Forefront (formerly Donors Forum), while also serving as chair of the organization’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusiveness Committee. Additionally, she has served on the Board of the national Funders for LGBTQ Issues and steering committees for Nuestro Futuro, Chicago Latinos in Philanthropy, and the Chicago Foundation for Women LBTQ Giving Council. She is also proud to teach a course on philanthropy, public policy and social change at her alma mater, U of C School of Social Service Administration, helping future social workers, policymakers, and nonprofit leaders understand the power, privilege, and responsibility philanthropy has to effect change.

In 2002, Evette was inducted into the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame and, over the years, has served on the Boards of the Center on Halsted and the Lesbian Community Cancer Project.

Throughout her accomplished and wide-ranging career, Evette has spent 22 years as a professional grantor dedicated to building and strengthening Chicago's families and communities, especially those marginalized or disenfranchised. For these reasons and so many more, we are proud to recognize her as the recipient of the 2020 Professional Grantor Award. 

Executive Leader Award

Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance - Samuel Johnson.

This quote fully captures the legacy that Adela Cepeda is building and the impact that she has had on so many. When we think of great women who have done it all; women like Ursula Burns and Sheryl Sandberg, we cheer them on but we rarely really take a deep dive into the amount of time it takes to perfect their craft and to give 110% each and every day on top of supporting families, friends and their communities. There is no doubt that Ms. Cepeda has gracefully accomplished it all. Her narrative is clearly one of PERSEVERANCE.

Ms. Cepeda’s career has been about breaking barriers. A finance specialist since 1980, she has advised municipalities and corporations on the structuring and execution of capital markets transactions exceeding $150 billion. In 2016, Adela sold A.C. Advisory, Inc. to PFM, the top ranked municipal advisor in the United States and became managing director of PFM until 2019. As a corporate finance executive at Smith Barney, Harris Upham for over 10 years, Ms. Cepeda developed a strong expertise in handling public and private debt and equity transactions. She then left Wall Street to build her own firm, A.C. Advisory, which she led to a national leadership position in municipal financial advisory services.

Ms. Cepeda is a director of BMO Financial Corp., the U.S. holding company for BMO Harris and serves as chair of BMO’s Capital Committee. She also serves on the boards of the UBS Funds, the Pathway Mutual Funds and chairs the Mercer Mutual Funds. Ms. Cepeda previously chaired the audit committee of the board of Wyndham International, Inc., a 20,000 employee, publicly traded company that owned and operated hotels and resorts in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.

Ms. Cepeda has extensive community involvement and serves on the Cook County Council of Economic Advisors and the City of Chicago Community Development Commission. She also serves on the boards of the Chicago Foundation for Women, Arrupe College, Rush, and is president of Teatro Vista. Until 2011, she served as an appointed executive committee member of The Chicago Community Trust, one of the nation’s leading community foundations. From 2011 to 2013 she served on the board of the Chicago Housing Authority, chairing its audit, finance and pension committees.

Ms. Cepeda is an honors graduate of Harvard College with a major in Economics and has an MBA from the University of Chicago School of Business. She has three daughters, Alexis, Alicia and Laura Maule and is the widow of Albert Maule.

Emerging Philanthropist Award

Combining two of her passions—the arts and caring for her community—Chanel Coney is making a lasting impact on the artistic and social landscapes of Chicago. Having developed an understanding of the world of theater and the arts during her studies at Princeton University and apprenticeship at Steppenwolf, Chanel realized the impact such a world has on the workings of everyday life, particularly the expression and well-being of the disenfranchised.

Chanel is a dedicated humanitarian, using her unique and intimate knowledge of the world of the arts combined with her position as a savvy young professional in Chicago to make very real and very crucial changes within the community. Her understanding of philanthropy drives her presence in the business world, particularly her work at CFI Partners. As Director of Marketing, Chanel manages the communications that power the firm’s work with the Academy Group, a partner of CFI Partners focused on guiding underrepresented students toward a successful future in business.

Chanel is the recipient of many accolades, including Crain’s 20 in their 20’s, and the Emerging Philanthropist Award from The League of Chicago Theatres in 2016. Her philanthropic efforts are embedded at her core as a result of a lifetime of exposure charitable giving through the efforts of her family, Lester, Dawn, and Javon Coney. In 2017, her family founded the Coney Family Fund for the Chicago Artist Coalition which awards a $5,000 unrestricted gift to emerging Black or African-American artists.

In addition to her philanthropy, Chanel was engaged as a director on the boards of 3Arts and Congo Square Theatre where she was appointed their youngest Board Chair. Chanel currently serves on the boards of Victory Gardens Theater, Chicago Artists Coalition, Congo Square Theatre, Forward Momentum, and the Leadership Advisory Committee (LAC) at the Art Institute of Chicago, among others.

For these reasons and many more, AFP Chicago is truly honored to recognize Chanel Coney with the 2020 Emerging Philanthropist Award.


Join AFP Chicago in celebrating Chicago's philanthropic community on Friday, October 2nd.