47th Annual Philanthropy Awards | 2023 Honorees

On Tuesday, September 26, 2023,  AFP Chicago will proudly honor our 2023 honorees 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 honorees 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.

Congratulations to all our 2023 honorees! 


AFP Chicago 2023 Honoree Spotlights 

Joan and Paul RubschlagerDistinguished Philanthropists Award
Joan and Paul Rubschlager

Giving back is not just something Joan and Paul Rubschlager do; it is central to who they are and their purpose in life. Lifelong Chicagoans, Joan and Paul were the longtime owners of the Rubschlager Baking Corporation on the West Side, where for nearly half a century, they baked bread - including their signature foot-long cocktail rye - in RUSH's own backyard on Grand Avenue in Humboldt Park. In the early 1960s, they turned to what was then Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center to care for their employees, became patients themselves and soon joined the RUSH family as donors and volunteer leaders.

In January 2023, RUSH University Medical Center celebrated the opening of the Joan and Paul Rubschlager Building. Made possible by the Rubschlagers' generosity - the largest-ever gift in RUSH's history - this 10-story outpatient facility, located on the RUSH University Medical Center campus, is a hub for world-class clinical expertise in cancer, neurological, digestive disease and complex care. The facility, which provides the best care to patients during what could be some of the most difficult days of their lives, represents the pinnacle of the Rubschlagers' commitment to improving health for all.

Asked why they chose to make this transformational commitment, the Rubschlagers answered, "Giving what we can makes us feel good, and we know that what we give comes back in many ways. We've had a lifetime of good health with the help of RUSH. Supporting this building makes us feel that all our hours of work may be producing something good for other people."

In addition to the Rubschlager Building, the couple has funded other facilities across RUSH's campus, including the Joan and Paul Rubschlager Tower and the Joan and Paul Rubschlager Bridge. Beyond facilities, their support benefits research programs across RUSH in orthopedics, cancer, mental health programs for veterans and their families, and more. In 2014, Joan and Paul received the Trustee Medal, RUSH's highest honor. Joan joined the RUSH Board of Trustees and Quality of Care Committee in 2017 and the Campaign Executive Committee in 2019. Both Joan and Paul also served on the Leadership Committee for the Arthritis and Orthopedics Institute.

The Rubschlagers' charitable spirit is felt across the Chicago area by other nonprofit organizations where they formed deep connections and became generous supporters. We all stand to benefit from the research and programs they have funded - for which they have received numerous awards - at the Alzheimer's Association, American Heart Association (where they also have more than 30 years of volunteering service), Arthritis Foundation, Easterseals, Field Museum, Les Turner ALS Foundation, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Lookingglass Theatre Company, Make-A-Wish Illinois, National Kidney Foundation, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Northwestern Medicine, Salvation Army, the University of Chicago Medicine and elsewhere.

The Rubschlagers have created a legacy through their philanthropy that will be felt for generations - leaving an indelible impact on the city of Chicago and the future of medicine.


Deborah E. BennettProfessional Grantor Award
Deborah E. Bennett, Polk Bros. Foundation

Deborah E. Bennett has more than 30 years of experience as a community development practitioner.  She is currently a Senior Program Officer at the Polk Bros. Foundation, where she is a program area leader for affordable housing, community economic development, workforce development, and safe communities. Prior to joining the foundation, Deborah held several positions at Shorebank Corporation including senior consultant for Shorebank Advisory Services where she crafted housing, labor force, and commercial development strategies for a variety of community development entities around the country.  She has also worked as an economic development planner at the UIC Center for Urban Economic Development and as director of an employment initiative for low-income women.

Deborah has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in economics from Stanford and Kent State Universities, respectively. She is currently a board member of the Chicago Low-Income Housing Trust Fund and the National Public Housing Museum and a member of the Community Investment Advisory Council of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago. 


Greg CameronBenjamin Franklin Award
Greg Cameron, The Joffrey Ballet

Inspired by his lifelong love for the arts, for his hometown, and for connecting with people from every background, Greg Cameron leads the Joffrey Ballet as President and CEO, responsible for organization-wide administration and strategy. Under Greg’s partnership with The Mary B. Galvin Artistic Director Ashley Wheater MBE, the Joffrey has set new records at the box office and built the strongest financial foundation in its history.

Before joining the Joffrey, Greg spent three decades supporting art and artists and creating meaningful experiences for others at the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and WTTW/WFMT. In addition to leading the Joffrey, Greg throws himself into his community, volunteering for a wide range of nonprofit organizations and civic committees, including the Facing History and Ourselves Chicago Advisory Board and the State Street SSA Commission, where he currently serves as Chair.


Pastor Corey B. BrooksOutstanding Community Leader Award
Pastor Corey B. Brooks, Project H.O.O.D. Communities Development Corporation

Pastor Corey Brooks is the founder and Senior Pastor of New Beginnings Church of Chicago and founder and CEO of Project H.O.O.D Communities Development Corporation. Pastor Brooks attended Ball State University, University of Florida, Dallas Theological Seminary, and Grace Theological Seminary. He has been pastoring since 1990. He established New Beginnings Church of Chicago in November 2000 in the heart of Chicago’s most dangerous neighborhood – this opportunity was his first glimpse into the despair in the city of Chicago and served as the catalyst to his ongoing efforts to date.

Pastor Brooks’ efforts received national acclaim when he spent 94 days living on the roof of a rundown motel, located across the street from the church. It had become a center of drugs, prostitution, and violence. Within three months he raised enough money to buy the building and tear it down. The land is now earmarked to be the location of a 35 million dollar state-of-the-art community center. The goal of the proposed community center is to offset violence, provide the support necessary to make the neighborhood a safer place, and give children the tools to reach for a brighter future.

Pastor Brooks and his wife Delilah are fully invested in the community of Woodlawn on Chicago’s South Side. He and his wife are spearheading a community initiative called Project H.O.O.D. to revitalize the neighborhood. Through it, they are raising up a new generation of peacemakers, problem solvers, and entrepreneurs. Current Project H.O.O.D. programming includes a Core and Carpentry Level I course, which places participants in entry-level construction jobs post-program, an entrepreneurship course and separate business workshops for aspiring and new business owners, a co-working office space for business owners, job placement programs and community-wide events including The World’s Largest Baby Shower.

In 2019, Pastor Brooks was appointed Illinois Director for St. Francis Community Services, Inc. – an organization dedicated to the needs of children and youth since 1945.

On November 20, 2021, Pastor Brooks returned to the “rooftop”, this time a replica of the future Leadership and Economic Opportunity Center – and this time not to tear down but to build up. The return to the “rooftop” launched Project H.O.O.D.’s capital campaign to raise the 35 million needed to build the new center and to “be the change" Chicago needs.


Kelsey Malnati HowellEmerging Philanthropist Award
Kelsey Malnati Howell, Marc and Jeanne Malnati Family Foundation

One of Kelsey Howell’s favorite words is “relentless,” which she uses to describe the approach of organizations and people she admires. As Executive Director, Kelsey oversees the foundation’s strategic direction and partnerships. She is a passionate advocate of trauma-informed approaches to public health, creating opportunities for economic advancement, and the imperative for a peaceful and unified city.

Kelsey’s commitment to Chicago has been shaped in part by her career in the Chicago Public Schools, serving first as a special education teacher at Roberto Clemente High School in Humboldt Park, and then as a special education middle school teacher in the East Garfield Park and Englewood neighborhoods. In her classroom, Kelsey saw first-hand the systemic obstacles young people and their families face when pursuing their goals, as well as the positive impact of wraparound support and genuine connection. This was further reinforced when she traveled to schools across the city coaching Teach for America corps members with Dominican University. While the neighborhoods may have been different, the challenges were the same.

Kelsey also designed and launched the employee ESL program for Lou Malnati’s Pizza, as well as spent a year as a teacher and volunteer in the Casa Hogar Torre Fuerte orphanage in Arequipa, Peru. She holds a B.A. in special education from Indiana University Bloomington, and an M.A. in curriculum and instruction from Concordia University Chicago.


Ava GresserOutstanding Youth in Philanthropy Award
Ava Gresser

Ava Gresser is a proud Illinoisan, born and raised in Chicago. She attends a pre-engineering and STEM program for middle schoolers and studies at a high school level. A rising 9th grader in the Fall, she has an interest in computer coding, robotics, designing websites and public speaking.

Ava believes that at any age, kids can tackle problems and lead change. It is not enough to acknowledge a problem, but know that we have the power as the next generation of policy makers to create solutions now - locally, nationally and globally. At eight years old, she was recognized for her community service as a Disney “Be Inspired” grantee. Thereafter, she was a Guaranteed Rate youth impact grant winner, speaking to national media about change and urgency. She continues to do her part to strengthen Chicago and recently recognized as a three-time Hershey Heartwarming Young Hero impact award recipient. Each grant awarded, she donates to The Honeycomb Project, Chicago’s go-to organization for family volunteering. Introduced at six years old, she has grown up in the beehive as a volunteer, and currently a member of the teen leadership corps and the social media correspondent.

As a young leader, Ava credits The Honeycomb Project Organization and Founders, Kristina Lowenstein and Catherine Tannen for providing the skills to address social issues. In 2020, during the pandemic, she launched, Advocating with Ava to explore pressing topics that impact tweens and young adults, mobilizing girls to use their voices for action and in 2022, she began hosting confidence workshops, to help build self-esteem so girls see themselves as leaders. With her coding background, she is currently working on a video game that promotes confidence, courage, kindness and self-acceptance.

When Ava is not serving, she loves to dance, hit the mall with friends and a Hello Kitty collector, who aspires to be a news correspondent to keep informing and keep advocating.


Jennifer GuzmanOutstanding Volunteer Award
Jennifer Guzman

As a leader and board member, Jennifer considers herself an anchor of Chicago's business community. She is proud to be known for her mentorship of small-to-middle market businesses and leadership development with women and communities of color. Her unique personal background, being raised by her Mexican immigrant father and Jewish grandparents, instilled in Jennifer the values of working hard, supporting your community, and giving back at a young age. These values have shaped Jennifer into the business leader she is today.

Jennifer believes that the art of relationships and cultivating trust is the key to success. Her genuine care for people, aptitude for listening, and ability to form authentic connections that earn trust have allowed her to positively impact the companies, clients, mentees, and boards that she has served.

With over twenty years of experience practicing HR and Client/Employee Experience, Jennifer has worked with large corporations to family-owned businesses. From her vantage point, she strives to lead the industry back to a holistic view of what it means to take care of the people who are the lifeblood of any company. Jennifer advocates for strengthening employee experience programs and employing strategies that create authentic feelings of community and belonging. When this is achieved, the client experience takes care of itself.

Recently, as the Vice President at EmPower HR, a leading HR Outsourcing Firm & PEO, Jennifer was responsible for Client and Employee Experience for all 500 of the firm's clients. Outside of her full-time executive role, she takes great pride in her philanthropic work. She is the HR Committee Chair for the Chicago Community Loan Fund, and proudly serves as Chair of the Board of PODER, a Chicago non-profit that connects Latino immigrants with job opportunities, language skills, and other integration resources.

In 2021, Jennifer helped lead the kickoff for the PODER Capital Campaign, which has raised over 6 million dollars to date. Throughout her career, Jennifer has been a part of cross-cultural mergers, scaled a team from 40 to 300, and secured multiple Best Workplace recognitions. Serving people where and when they need help and paving the way for others to serve is a core part of Jennifer's DNA and what fuels her personally.