45th Annual Philanthropy Awards | 2021 Honorees

On Friday, November 5th,  AFP Chicago will proudly honor our 2021 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.

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Congratulations to all our 2021 honorees! 


AFP Chicago 2021 Honoree Spotlights 

Denise and Gary Gardner

Denise & Gary Gardner
2021 Distinguished Philanthropists Award

Denise and Gardner have a deep commitment to improving the lives of their community, and particularly support initiatives that foster educational opportunities, academic success, safe neighborhoods, and access and equity in the arts. Together they exemplify and inspire philanthropy through graciously donating their time, talent, and treasure to improve and uplift our city, especially Chicago’s African American community. That is why they are receiving the Association of Fundraising Professionals Chicago 2021 Distinguished Philanthropist Award.

For over twenty years, the Gardner’s have operated the Gary and Denise Gardner Family Foundation. The foundation has the goal of financially supporting the operational and programmatic goals of arts, cultural and civic organizations in the Chicagoland area.

Denise and Gary’s commitment to making lasting change is embodied in the time spent serving on nonprofit and public governance boards. Gary has served on the Board of Trustees of City Colleges of Chicago, and Denise has served on numerous boards including her ten years of service as an Executive Committee member of The Chicago Community Trust and its initiative, the African American Legacy Fund.

The Gardners have given of their talent by emerging as advocates and champions in education, the arts and health care. They are long-standing supporters of OneGoal, Ora Higgins Youth Foundation, The University of Chicago Medicine’s Urban Health Initiative and its innovative Violence Recovery Program, the Chicago Public Library, among many others. They also contribute to equitable opportunity in arts education through the Gary & Denise Gardner Scholarship Fund at The School of The Art Institute of Chicago.

Gary is a lifelong resident of Chicago’s South Side. He is the president of PFG, LLC, a Chicago-based private equity firm, and is the retired president and co-founder of Namaste Laboratories, one of the nation’s largest minority-owned beauty companies. He is also the former president of Soft Sheen Products, Inc. Gary graduated with Honors from University of Illinois at Chicago and has an MBA/JD from Northwestern University.

Denise has distinguished herself with her commitment to access and equity in the arts including being the Board Chair-Elect of The Art Institute of Chicago. Denise is a retired marketing executive and a co-founder of Namaste Laboratories. She holds a BSJ and MBA from Northwestern University.

Deeply committed to Chicago, Gary and Denise have supported and will continue to support scores of organizations and initiatives in the city. They are grateful and humbled by this prestigious recognition from the Association of Fundraising Professionals Chicago.


Scott C Swanson

Scott C. Swanson
Executive Leader Award

Scott C. Swanson, PNC Bank president of Illinois, is generous with his time, energy and resources. He mobilizes PNC and his peers toward meeting the needs of the greater Chicago community. AFP Chicago is proud to recognize Scott with the 2021 Executive Leader Award.

In his role, Scott leads PNC’s overall growth strategy, including the executive banking team in Corporate Banking, Asset Management and Retail Banking. In addition, he represents PNC and its employees in the community and directs the company’s philanthropy, including PNC Grow Up Great®, a bilingual, early education initiative that has committed $14 million to multiple community-based organizations in the region.

Scott is an exemplary philanthropic leader who is committed to making a difference. He gives of his personal time through countless activities to help drive the local economy, advance social equity and improve education for children. Scott is often seen participating and supporting early childhood education events, such as reading to children or building early learning play spaces in underserved areas of Chicago.

He serves as a member of the executive committees for the Adler Planetarium, the Commercial Club of Chicago and the Executive’s Club, and serves on the board of directors for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, United Way of Metropolitan Chicago, the Big Shoulders Fund and many more.

Scott has 25 years of banking and other corporate experience. He earned his M.B.A. from the University of Chicago, where he graduated with honors. He is also a graduate of the University of Illinois, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in finance.


 Robert Rizzo

Robert Rizzo
Outstanding Volunteer Award

When the COVID-19 Pandemic first hit, the ever-growing need for access to healthy food became increasingly pronounced. Robert Rizzo sprung into action during this difficult time, not only by leading the Conagra Brands Foundation in its efforts to address the issue, but by personally investing significant amounts of his own time and energy into the cause.

Robert has been leading the philanthropic efforts at Conagra Brands since 2016. Since taking on his role, Robert has worked to restructure the company’s grant program to better align with the organization’s values, giving priorities, and focus. But giving back to the community has gone far and beyond his career.

For one organization in particular, Lakeview Pantry, Robert could be seen as more than just a volunteer. Under Robert’s lead, the Conagra Brands Foundation invested in Lakeview Pantry’s effort to establish a first-of-its-kind online food market providing greater access to harder to reach communities while prioritizing client choice.

Beyond his professional commitment to community investment, Robert has donated his personal time, talent, treasure, and testimony to many Chicago based nonprofits. In 2019, Robert joined the Board of Directors of Lakeview Pantry and since then has fully engaged with its work. In early 2020, when the pandemic hit Chicago, Robert rolled up his sleeves and began volunteering regularly. He is a loyal Thursday evening volunteer with the Online Market, showing up every week ready to take on the program’s needs. In the past year, Robert has volunteered 96 times with Lakeview Pantry and donated an incredible 286 hours.

As a way to merge his professional priorities with his personal interests, Robert has been
instrumental in galvanizing Conagra employees to volunteer at a wide variety of nonprofits in Chicago and in the many communities where Conagra employees live and work. Volunteerism is encouraged throughout the year and is emphasized every April when Conagra hosts its annual Month of Service program. This year, by prioritizing safety and following CDC and local health guidelines, employees participated in 121 projects in 14 states and two international locations.

Robert goes above and beyond and has volunteered at many nonprofits over the past year including: Growing Home; Northwestern Settlement; Common Pantry; La Casa Norte; Northern Illinois Food Bank, Greater Chicago Food Depository; Heartland Alliance; YWCA of Metro Chicago; Ravenswood Community Services and Care for Friends. As stated on their website, the Foundation is similarly supportive of diverse organizations and is “inclusive in offering people of all ages and diverse identities essential programs and services that are aligned with our core focus areas: food access, nutrition education, cooking skills, healthy and active lifestyles, and select urban agricultural programs that give the community access to fresh produce while instilling entrepreneurial skills to help individuals participate in the farm-to-fork economy.”

The dedication to philanthropy and to addressing food insecurity in Chicago through both personal and professional avenues is invaluable and makes him very deserving of the Outstanding Volunteer Award.


Ravi and Rohan Mahajan

Ravi & Rohan Mahajan
Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy Award

Brothers Ravi and Rohan Mahajan, students at Hinsdale Central High School, wanted to help provide a solution to the PPE need in their community. Using 3-D printers and laser cutters, they developed a process to make face shields that were sanitizable and reusable, as they were created in a disinfected environment. The Mahajan brothers were able to design and donate more than 1,000 reusable face shields for firefighters, police officers, healthcare workers, teachers and staff in long-term care facilities across Illinois. AFP Chicago is proud to recognize Ravi and Rohan Mahajan with the 2021 Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy Award.

Ravi and Rohan worked on the face shields in their spare time after completing their virtual school and schoolwork. For their efforts, the Mahajan brothers have received accolades from several organizations and government officials including Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, Illinois Senators Steve Stadelman and Suzy Glowiak Hilton, U.S. Representative of Illinois’ 6th Congressional District Sean Casten, and NBC 5 and Telemundo Chicago’s Making a Difference Award.

Ravi is a freshman who plays golf, is involved in the debate team as well as band, and is a champion chess player. He is proficient at gaming and has attended thousands of hours-worth of TinkRworks classes and robotics training. TinkRworks is a STEAM-based education company. Ravi’s most memorable and successful competitive robotics teams were First Lego League (FLL), and First Tech Challenge (FTC). His FLL team was awarded the regional Core Values Award, an honor of exceptional teamwork and attitude. Additionally, his FTC team was the highest scoring rookie team in the entire regional tournament.

Rohan is a senior with a blackbelt in Taekwondo who played baritone for band and also competed in cross country at the state level. In 2018, Rohan and his team won the Champions Award in the regional competition of First Lego League and went on to place 12th overall in state. He is interested in sports analytics, investing in the stock market and volunteering as an instructor for a drone development course at TinkeRworks.


 Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation Future Philanthropists Program

Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation, Future Philanthropists Program
Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy Award

The Future Philanthropists Program provides high school students with the opportunity to learn how to be philanthropists and grantmakers. With this unique program, high school students learn the art, science, and business of philanthropy and make decisions about the distribution of $50,000 in grant funds to worthy local nonprofit organizations. The students also evaluate the impact of their decisions on youth issues as a result of the grants they distribute and learn to raise funds in an effort to maintain this grant-making effort.

Over the past 11 years, 245 students have participated in the program and more than $225,000 has been granted to 32 different local nonprofit organizations.

Because the 2020-2021 Future Philanthropists Program year was almost entirely virtual, they were unable to hold their traditional Capstone Ceremony. However, the junior cohort was still able to award $41,000 in grants to local nonprofit organizations serving youth. Additionally, the senior cohort raised more than $109,000 to support the ongoing Future Philanthropists Program, providing assets to build an endowment for program support and dollars to grant in 2022 and beyond.

This year, they have the largest, most diverse group in FPP’s history, with 55 students representing Oak Park and River Forest, Trinity, Fenwick, and St. Ignatius high schools. At their core, they are a leadership program that invests in the future by preparing the next generation of philanthropists. As they raise and donate funds to local nonprofits, their driving goal is to empower and serve the youth of our community.

AFP Chicago is proud to recognize the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation Future Philanthropists Program with the 2021 Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy Award.


 

Maree G. Bullock

Maree G. Bullock
Benjamin Franklin Award

Maree has encouraged and inspired so many individuals and organizations in Chicago’s nonprofit community. She is a consummate professional that has always possessed a boundless willingness to teach others.

She has dedicated her professional career to the nonprofit philanthropic sector. Maree is currently a Vice President with The Alford Group, a national, full-service, equity-forward consulting firm serving the nonprofit sector. Through her work over the past 32 years with The Alford Group, she has provided consulting services in fundraising, strategic planning, organizational development, interim staffing and executive coaching. Maree’s passion for this work has resulted in deepened impact across all sectors. Maree is honored to partner with nonprofit charitable organizations that are changing the world.

Prior to her work at The Alford Group, Maree was appointed the Executive Director of the W. Clement & Jessie V. Stone Foundation and served in that capacity for 29 years. At the Stone Foundation, Maree managed the distribution of $275 million in charitable grants to nonprofit organizations worldwide. Traveling around the world identifying grantees in Asia, Europe and South America was part of her responsibilities. She initiated and contributed to the authorship of The Successful Volunteer Organization: Getting Started and Getting Results.

Maree has served on many nonprofit boards including The University of Chicago Cancer Research Foundation, Forefront, The Council on Foundations, The John R. Houlsby Foundation, Children’s Home + Aid of Illinois, National Runaway Safeline and Sacred Heart Schools of Chicago. Also, she has volunteered at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago and Community Schools. 

When Maree is not working or volunteering, her favorite activity is traveling throughout the world.

AFP Chicago is honored to recognize all that Maree has contributed to the fundraising profession throughout her career with the 2021 Benjamin Franklin Award.

Check back often as we unveil additional 2021 Honoree Spotlights.