Big City Night Gala 2017 Broke Records & Barriers!

“Different is not less.” – Brett, Angelina’s dad

More than 500 friends, partners and supporters joined Aspire to celebrate the 19th annual Big City Night Masquerade Gala, presented by Walgreens, on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017 at Chicago’s beautiful Radisson Blu Aqua, and set a record by raising more than $313,800 to benefit kids with disabilities.

Emceed by longtime Aspire supporter and NBC5 Chicago investigative journalist, Lisa Parker, and Aspire Board member, pediatrician and TV health commentator, Dr. Lisa Thornton, the evening raised crucial funds and awareness for Aspire Kids, which helps more than 600 kids with autism, Down syndrome and other disabilities to reach important milestones and be included in every facet of the community.

The evening provided a “first look” at All Are Welcome, Aspire’s pioneering initiative designed to systematically educate and support 30 Catholic schools across Chicagoland that want to include kids with disabilities in the classroom. In partnership with Loyola University’s Greeley Center for Catholic Education and Big Shoulders Fund, All Are Welcome has the potential to impact 10,000 students. Watch Dee’s story, the very first kindergartner with Down syndrome at her school.

Later, Brett and Angelina, a father-daughter duo from Aspire, had the ballroom in tears of joy as Brett chronicled his journey with seven-year-old Angelina, who has a rare genetic disorder called Joubert syndrome. Brett expressed gratitude towards Aspire and our mission to create inclusive communities. He spoke of Angelina’s abilities and what he hopes for her future and received a standing ovation when he concluded, “Different is not less.” Watch their story.

The evening continued with the presentation of Aspire’s Advocate for Inclusion Award, which is given to an individual who has made a profound impact in furthering Aspire’s mission. Aspire Board Chair, Larry Hartley, took the stage to present the award to Bernie Lacayo, former Aspire Board Chair and Managing Director and Head of Loan Syndications at ‎The PrivateBank, for his outstanding dedication, leadership and generosity.

Throughout the evening, guests bid on fabulous items and experiences during the silent and live auctions, which included an expenses paid trip to wine country, a 6-night safari trip, and private dinners prepared by Chicago’s hottest chefs.

After dinner, guests and newcomers headed upstairs for Midnight at the Masquerade, an after party presented by National Van Lines filled with decadent desserts, cocktails and DJ Lonnie 007 Bonds, who kept everyone dancing into the night!

View photos from the Masquerade Gala, which was chaired by Cheryl Carter and Jessica Payne, on Facebook!

Get Involved at Aspire!

  • Schedule a tour. Visit our Headquarters or future Aspire Career Academy (Coming May 2017) and see the magic firsthand. 
  • Volunteer. We have exciting opportunities for individuals and groups. Ask about our event with the Chicago Wolves on April 9!
  • Join a Board or Committee. We rely on expert partners to help us stay strong and vibrant.
  • Drink our coffee in your office or home. Aspire CoffeeWorks is our social enterprise coffee company in partnership with Metropolis Coffee that employs adults with disabilities. 100% of net proceeds benefit Aspire.


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