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Hero Awards honor lawyers who give their expertise

Wed, Nov 13, 2013

Illinois Supreme Court Justice Charles E. Freeman, attorneys Richard Gleason and Douglas E. Wambach, the law firm of Sidley Austin LLP and U.S. Bank were all honored at the 10th annual My Hero Awards Luncheon September 17.

The My Hero Awards are presented each year by the Lawyers Lend-A-Hand organization to lawyers, judges, law firms and businesses that have demonstrated devotion to mentoring and tutoring Chicago’s underprivileged youth. The Chicago Bar Association and the Chicago Bar Foundation created the awards program in memory of Judge Abraham Lincoln Marovitz.

The Making a Difference Award went to Richard Gleason of O’Mara, Gleason & O’Callaghan LLC for his work as a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters at the Logan Square Boys & Girls Club. In nominating him, his former mentee, Jose Gonzalez, said, “When I was at the bottom he was one of the few people who helped me. He had my back like a true friend and mentor.”
Gonzales said they worked together for six years. “He helped me with my homework every single night we met. He got me through elementary school and guided me through high school and into college. He really deserves to be honored with this award.”

Boys & Girls Club Director John Stephan, who also nominated Gleason, said he has provided legal guidance to club members and assists with a smile or encouraging word.

Douglas E. Wambach of Burke, Warren, MacKay & Serritella P.C., was honored for 10 years of service — board member, legal counsel and a mentor — at Boys Hope Girls Hope of Illinois, a residential program for scholars who are at risk or struggle financially. Upon completing his two-year chairmanship in 2009, Doug began to mentor a young man, Jacquan, who was a candidate to become a scholar at Boys Hope Girls Hope.

In nominating him, Jacquan wrote that the Wambach family welcomed him into their home, where he lived during the first semester of freshman year. “Throughout my time at Boys Hope, Mr. Wambach and his family supported me during my times of stress, they helped me financially, and they attended almost all of my track meets.”

Jacquan also said that Wambach mentored him, as well as others, with the goal of helping get him admitted to college. He also made numerous trips to the school, helped him obtain scholarships and obtained a summer job for him at his law firm so that he could pay for books.

“In closing, I feel that I haven’t been writing about a mentor, I’ve been writing about a father I never had.”

Sidley Austin LLP was recognized for its 25 years of support for Kanoon Magnet Elementary School in Pilsen.

Under the leadership of Chicago partners John Levi and Michele Ilene Ruiz, Sidley lawyers and staff are involved in mentoring activities at Kanoon, including the Principal for a Day program, mock trials, educational field trips, book chats and a Lawyers in the Classroom program, as well as programs such as book and winter clothing drives, school supply drives and Thanksgiving food baskets.

The relationship began in 1984 after Newton Minow, partner in the firm’s Chicago office and former chair of the Federal Communications Commission, was quoted in Chicago magazine about the importance of improving the city’s public schools. Kanoon’s principal at the time, Belkis Santos, saw the quotation and called Minow to see if he would make a commitment to improve education by adopting the school. He agreed.

U.S. Bank received the Corporate Partnership of the Year award. The Bank has been recruiting employees as mentors to The Bridge Youth & Family Services in Palatine since 2009. Bank employees not only have donated food and grilled it for the annual Bridge picnic, they also organized games, brought prizes and surprised the children with a piñata and goodie bags. Bank employees who attended the picnic even found time to get to know the families and volunteers.

Nancy Kukankos, supervisor of prevention & volunteer services at The Bridge Youth & Family Services said, “Reductions in public funding have limited The Bridge’s ability to serve the community’s continuing need for mental health services for young people. Having consistent support from U.S. Bank during years of financial uncertainty guaranteed that the favorite activity of the children, their families and their mentors could continue. The Bridge primarily serves families who cannot afford services elsewhere. Many of the families have suffered substantial misfortunes. For these families and for us at The Bridge, U.S. Bank’s efforts bring a sense of community and a feeling that others care, something that those we serve do not often have.”

The Hon. Charles Freeman of the Illinois State Supreme Court was honored with the Judge Abraham Lincoln Marovitz Award, which goes to a judge who reaches out to mentor others as Judge Marovitz did.

Justice Freeman started the Illinois Supreme Court’s New Judge Mentoring Program in 1998. Several states offer mentoring programs for new judges, but Illinois, which has one of the largest judiciaries in the nation, is believed to be unique in making such a program available to all its judges.

By Prepared Materials
Lawyers Lend-A-Hand

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