GIVING BACK| Charitable Crusaders of the Year

DECEMBER 2016 – by Kristen Kucharski & Mindy Kyle 


There are many residents who give back throughout the year. From helping special needs kids and preventing bullying, to creating awareness of life changing illnesses and accidental occurrences. These 10 Charitable Crusaders were chosen for their bravery and their passion. Each west suburban resident featured here has the drive and perseverance it takes to move mountains in the community around them, making a heartfelt difference to others. We are so honored to have been given this opportunity to share their stories with you.

Paul and Gianna DelleGrazie, St. Charles, The Pauly D. Foundation

On June 14, 2014, Paul and Gianna DelleGrazie were forced to live the nightmare most parents fear – the loss of their four-year old son, Pauly, to a drowning accident. Backed with the knowledge that drowning is the #1 cause of accidental death in children ages 1-5, Paul and Gianna established the Pauly D. Foundation to raise awareness and advocate for water safety and drowning prevention.

Last year, the foundation kicked off their first program in partnership with Coach Bill Wadley from the Ohio State Men’s Swim Team who started working with underprivileged children where swimming lessons may not be affordable. The Pauly D Foundation has funded swim lessons for many of these kids, as well as several families in their local community. “We are excited about a new partnership with FMC Aquatics and the Natatorium in Westmont planning to open in 2017,” says Paul. “Our goal is to provide swim lessons to over 300 children from local low income families next year.” In addition to funding swim lessons, the DelleGrazies found a need in the community to bump up education in the schools. “We realized our children were receiving zero education about being in or near water,” says Gianna. “We felt this needed to change.” So, this year, the foundation kicked off five Water Safety Education Assemblies where children from elementary schools, local pool events and early childhood facilities attend an interactive presentation on water safety rules. Each child is gifted a beach towel with the water safety rules printed on it and all of them take a pledge to follow the rules. The Pauly D Foundation, only two years in the making is continuously growing with new partnerships. “We hope to save lives,” explains Paul. “If we can just save one family the pain that we endured, our efforts were worth everything.” -MK

Simyra and Zinyra Ross, Aurora, Special Needs Superheroes

As a full-time caregiver for her mother and brother, one wouldn’t think Simyra would have the time to drive her 20 year old daughter, Zinyra (Z), back and forth to Brookfield Zoo from Aurora for her job as a Play Partner Assistant at the Hamill Family Play Zoo. But, after being told by a Speech Therapist that Z should be institutionalized at age 7 due to her Apraxia of Speech, and watching Z be tormented by middle schoolers in the Chicago Public School system, Simyra will stop at nothing to ensure her daughter’s happiness and success.

At the time, she researched the best schools in the state for children with special needs, and without hesitation, left her Chicago house and job and relocated to Aurora to enroll Z at Waubonsie Valley High School. Since moving to the west Suburbs, Z has fully immersed herself into everything good. She served as a director for Best Buddies Illinois for the Western Suburbs and then became an ambassador; and proceeded to develop a Best Buddies program at Aurora University. Z is also an athlete for Special Olympics Illinois, as well as Global Messenger for Special Olympics. As a Global Messenger she advocates on behalf of all ages with disabilities. Since she does not wear her disability, she is redefining what a disability is and spreading awareness. In addition to recently giving a speech at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois encouraging continued sponsorship of Special Olympics, Z also went to the State Capitol and promoted work inclusion to the governor, state representatives, and various corporations. Both Simyra and Zinyra believe in helping each person find their gift. Using Simyra’s expertise as a professional seamstress, both mom and daughter also give their time together to teach sewing to students with special needs. -KK

Jonah Maxwell, St. Charles, The Bully
Jonah, a 7th grade student at Haines Middle School enjoys Tae Kwan Do, basketball, Coding Club, Jazz Lab; as well as, playing musical instruments. Life is good for Jonah, but that wasn’t always the case. When he moved to Chicago from Ireland in 2011, he was the smallest kid in his class and had an accent. He suffered bullying at the age of 7. Eventually, Jonah found a great group of friends, but along the way he witnessed ongoing bullying in school. Wanting to make a difference, Jonah’s dad helped him create a video entitled “The Bully”. He highlighted the faceless bully on social media, and revealed proof that surrounding yourself with people who are kind to you, can change your life for the better. “It’s as easy to be nice, as it is to be mean, and manners cost nothing,” Jonah says. “The Bully” has been viewed nearly 600,000 times worldwide. -KK

Leanne Lacewell, Naperville, The Max Lacewell Foundation
When a Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG) brain stem tumor took her young son, Leanne vowed to honor Max’s memory by giving other kids a fighting chance; thus, creating The Max Lacewell Foundation, LLC, a 501 (c) (3) non-profit foundation established to finance medical research for pediatric brain tumors. With the help of family and community members supporting the Best Evuh Golf Tournament, the Best 5K Evuh, and the Best Day Evuh Gala, the foundation has raised over $750,000 and has donated $550,000 to Lurie Children's Hospital's Pediatric Brain Tumor Program since 2010. “I knew we would be able to achieve whatever we set out to achieve,” Leanne shares. “Wherever there is love and a will, there is a way.” Leanne’s fight is not simply for her own son, but she is a Charitable Crusader at heart, supporting Aidan's Army, Benny's World and Donna's Good Things; as well as, Naperville CARES and Loaves & Fishes. -KK

Lisa Lambert, Hinsdale, The Community House
Several years ago, Lisa Lambert’s children started getting involved in many of the various recreational programs offered up by Hinsdale’s Community House. As Lisa heard more about the events and charity programs the organization supported, she knew she wanted to get more involved. As an active board member for almost five years and currently the co-chair for The Community House’s 75th anniversary celebration, she has been involved in a multitude of fundraisers, celebratory events and awareness programs. “I am most proud of The Autism Walk ‘school tour’ that I helped launch,” says Lisa about the program that is partnered with Charlie’s Gift Autism Center, a program of The Community House. Every April, local schools raise awareness by encouraging kids through friendly competition amongst the schools to sign up for the annual Walk for Autism. “Since we started this five years ago, thousands of students have come out to support this cause and raise funds for local families dealing with autism.” -KK

Eliza Grace Peters, Geneva, Hear the Cheers
Imagine if every child with hearing loss had the finances to afford the necessary equipment to hear their friends, family, and teachers. 16-year old, Eliza Grace, knows the true power of wearing bi-lateral hearing aids as she wears them herself. She also knows they cost thousands and are not covered by insurance.
Eliza teamed up with Sarah Spain of ESPN and the Chicago Hearing Society to spread awareness and raise funds for her organization, Hear the Cheers, which has raised over $100,000 and helped 35 children in the past 4 years. Making a difference in her community, Eliza is also the Secretary of the Student Council at Geneva High School, as well as, the Varsity Girls basketball manager, a sports reporter for GTV (the school TV station), and involved in Key Club. Outside of school she dances and participates in youth group at First Baptist Church of Geneva. -KK

Anne Healy, Downers Grove, Downers Grove Junior Woman’s Club

When Anne Healy was young, she was heavily inspired by her mother who was the President of their local Junior Woman’s Club, a philanthropic organization dedicated to supporting the community. She would drive with her while doing Meals on Wheels and help with service projects that involved kids. Fast forward to today, Anne lives in Downers Grove with her husband, Tom and her three children, Tommy (8), Jimmy (7) and Mary Katherine (5) and is now herself, the President of the Downers Grove Junior Woman’s Club. The club is a group of 70+ women who give freely to help others less fortunate in their community via fundraising, service projects, volunteer efforts and support of local educators and students. “I am only one piece of the puzzle,” says Anne. “So many of these women give their time and energy to our projects. We love being connected to this community we call home and to be able to simply give back.” -MK

Photos by Veronica Adams & Mike Catuara Unless Otherwise Submitted