3 awards dinners, 2 appearances, 1 hungry man
By Denise Crosby email@example.com April 28, 2012 10:56PM
Compassion Foundation Community Champions
Clayton Muhammad: Founder of Boys II Men anti-gang program and community volunteer. Jo Fredell Higgins: Former Literacy Manager at Waubonsee Community College and volunteer at Family Focus.
Bette Schoenholtz: Advocate for seniors.
John F. McKee: Volunteer and fundraiser for his church and other non-profits.
Floyd Hoffman: Advocate for VNA hospice.
Patty Lowry: Advocate for refugees.
Frances Jones: Advocate for the homeless.
Carlos and Carmen Navarro: Volunteers for Patient Care; helped start Hispanic bereavement program.
Other nominees: Joan Burroughs, Dorothy Fairbanks, Ralph Gebes, Bill Johnson, Scott McCleary, Rick McKinley, Sue Rahn, Sandy Schaeffer, Christine Goerlich Weber
East Aurora Distinguished Alumni Awards
Vincent Thompson, A. George Fuller, William Settles, Ronald Ream, Robert O’Connor, Richard Schindel, Amos Nicholson
CASA Kane County Volunteer Awards
Carole Grahn-Hayes — Pro Bono Attorney of the Year
Bob Mehrens — The Doris J. Hunt Volunteer of the Year
Updated: May 30, 2012 8:24AM
When it comes to awards dinners, Thursday night in Kane County had to be the trifecta.
Within half an hour of each other, three separate banquet rooms — one in St. Charles, two in Aurora — were filled with hundreds of people honoring those who have defined their lives by service and excellence.
At the St. Charles Country Club, CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) Kane County was holding its Volunteer Recognition Night. At Gaslight Manor in Aurora, it was East Aurora High School’s Distinguished Alumni Awards. And on the same side of town, the large room at Piper’s Banquets was full of applause for the Compassion Foundation’s Community Champions.
Seriously, that’s a whole lot of folks doing good in our ’hood. It also proved a bit tricky for a few people — such as Arlene Hawks, who would have attended the East Aurora event had she not been serving as emcee for the Community Champion’s dinner.
But no one had it harder than Clayton Muhammad, public relations director for the East Aurora School District, who has served as emcee for the Alumni Association dinner since its inception eight years ago.
This time, however, he had to bow out of his alma mater’s dinner because he’d already accepted the role as keynote speaker at CASA’s event, not realizing both were on the same night.
Things got really dicey, however, when it was revealed that Muhammad not only was a nominee but a winner of the Compassion Foundation award. That meant even if he took a pass on the East Aurora event, he still had to be in two places at once. And to complicate things further, Muhammad didn’t know he’d won, as those names would not be revealed until after the dinner.
So what’s a non-profit to do? When Compassion Foundation Executive Director Carole Arliskas — herself a former CASA volunteer — found out there was an issue, she got on the phone with CASA Executive Director Gloria Bunce. Thankfully, both women — no doubt used to plenty of conflict resolution — agreed to compromise. The CASA reception would be cut short, with dinner starting early; and Muhammad’s keynote would move to the top of the program.
At the same time in Aurora, Community Champions would push back their awards presentations by starting dinner a little later.
And both groups would pray Muhammad could zip down Route 25 without getting pulled over by a cop.
“I was a little anxious,” he admitted the next morning.
I could sympathize. I was also at the CASA volunteer dinner in St. Charles — and had been asked to present the Compassion Foundation award to Muhammad in Aurora that same evening.
Arliskas says this confusion shows the need to have some sort of clearinghouse for big community events. There was a similar issue in early March when Aurora’s 175th birthday bash fell on the same evening as “Viva Las Vegas,” Paramount Theatre’s annual fundraiser. One concerned volunteer told me that whoever figured out how to eliminate cross-scheduling “would get a standing ovation, and deservedly so.”
Still, Thursday turned out to be “a magical evening,” according to the man who should be cloned.
Muhammad received a standing ovation by the CASA audience after delivering a powerful message about the ability to change the course of a child’s life. He spoke of his own childhood — raised in the Aurora housing projects by a single mom — and how former East Aurora Superintendent Charles Ponquinette not only became a life-changing mentor but also Muhammad’s inspiration for dedicating his own life to helping at-risk kids.
We can all make an impact in the world, he told his audience, when you declare, “I am for the child.”
And it’s Muhammad’s dedication to doing just that which earned him the distinction of Community Champion.
In spite of being an honoree at these two prestigious dinners, Muhammad didn’t get a chance to enjoy either meal.
“I don’t like to eat before I speak,” he said of the St. Charles Country Club, “because I’m afraid I’ll spill something on my clothes.”
By the time Muhammad got to the banquet facility in Aurora, the food had already been cleared.
“That’s OK. I ate later,” he chuckled. “You can’t beat a grilled cheese from Goody’s.”