On Saturday, October 26, 2019 WITS hosted The Blackboard Affair gala at The Geraghty. The 1920s themed event celebrated our 20 years of corporate partnerships. The event was attended by more than 620 members of the WITS community – including our Superintendent Sponsors, Exelon, GCM Grosvenor, and NBC Chicago.
This years event honored Bank of America with the Outstanding Corporate Partner of the Year Award; Stacy Ratner, Founder of Chicago Literacy Alliance and Open Books with the Community Builder Award; and Philip Hildebrandt, CEO of Segall Bryant & Hamill with the Alter and Stone Outstanding Volunteer Award.
The evening started with remarks from WITS CEO, Tena Kunik, who emphasized that #readingmatters and the importance of WITS programs in guiding students toward a love of reading throughout their life.
Lauren Rocklin, President of the WITS Board of Directors, then presented this year’s Outstanding Corporate Partner Award to Bank of America to WITS Board Member, Kanika Chakravorti, Senior Vice President at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
Bank of America has participated in WITS volunteer programming for 18 years. Since 2001, they have provided literacy mentorship to more than 450 students at John A. Walsh Math and Science Academy. Cara Pan, Bank of America Chicago Market Executive, and member of this year’s Blackboard Affair Host Committee said, “Bank of America is proud of our partnership with WITS. Together we’ve helped hundreds of students develop vital reading skills that will enable them to live a more fulfilling life, while at the same time instilling a sense of pride and enriching the lives of our Bank employees. This partnership truly embodies Bank of America’s commitment to the neighborhoods where our employees and our customers live and work.”
Lauren Rocklin, WITS Board President, then presented Stacy Ratner with this year’s Community Builder Award.
Stacy Ratner has been an integral part of the literacy community in Chicago. Ratner founded Open Books and the Chicago Literacy Alliance, and championed the establishment of the Literacenter in the West Loop, where WITS is an anchor tenant. Jimmy Martin, Managing Director of the Chicago Literacy Alliance credits Stacy as an innovator in the literacy field: “The word ‘visionary’ gets thrown around a lot, but I think in Stacy’s case that term is 100% on point. The concept of 100% literate Chicago is pretty visionary and taking actual steps to get there is something is something I’m overwhelming proud to be a part of, and I owe so much of that to Stacy.”
After dinner, Chris Crane, President and CEO of Exelon, presented Philip Hildebrandt with the Alter and Stone Outstanding Volunteer Award.
This award honors the years of dedication Hildebrandt has shown to WITS. Hildebrandt took the role of President of the WITS Board of Directors in July 2011 and took on the role of Chairman in July 2015. Under his guidance, WITS experienced 120% revenue growth. He provided leadership alongside other past presidents during the merger with Boundless Readers, which expanded WITS program offerings to include teacher professional development. This merger tripled the number of schools that provided WITS programming and took the number of students empowered by WITS from 2,762 in 2012 to 5,116 in 2019. Current Board Chair Jeremy Cole, Partner at Jones Day, said, “WITS is a fundamentally different organization today because of the care and commitment that Phil has shown to the mission. He has been a tireless advocate for CPS students WITS serves and a bold visionary that has made WITS the premiere literacy organization in Chicago.”
The evening was a success, raising over $700,000 in support of WITS literacy programs.
For more pictures from the event, please visit our Facebook album