Bright Promises Announces 2023 Awards to Transformational Leaders Empowering Children and Youth  

September 5, 2023

Bright Promises Foundation Announces Awards to Transformational Leaders Empowering Children and Youth  

2023 Awards celebration will support programs addressing underrecognized needs of Chicagoland children and youth  

Together with the Board of Directors and 2023 Awards Selection Committee, Bright Promises Foundation is thrilled to announce it will honor three outstanding change-makers who are transforming the lives of children and youth in Chicago and beyond at the Bright Promises 2023 Awards on Thursday, November 2, 2023.  

This year, Bright Promises Foundation will present awards to:

Each year, Bright Promises Foundation recognizes and celebrates individuals and organizations whose commitment to Chicagoland children and youth is a model and inspiration for others. Honorees are exemplary leaders in service to children in either a professional or volunteer capacity who have contributed to notable improvements in the lives of Chicago-area children and youth. Past award recipients include philanthropist Gigi Pritzker, Founder and CEO of My Block, My Hood, My City Jahmal Cole, and Founder of the Erikson Institute, Dr. Barbara Bowman.

Bright Promises Foundation will honor this year’s award recipients at the 2023 Awards on Thursday, November 2 from 6:00-9:00p at Lacuna Lofts (2150 S. Canalport Ave, Chicago, IL 60608). For more information and to purchase tickets, visit  

2023 Awards Selection Committee

The 2023 Awards recipients were selected through a competitive public nomination process and chosen to receive this distinction by the 2023 Awards Selection Committee.

Bright Promises Foundation offers our sincere gratitude and appreciation for the 2023 Awards Selection Committee, an outstanding group of experts and leaders from across the field of children and family services. Thank you to:

Tony Alvarado Rivera, Chicago Freedom School
Nick Bruce, Wintrust
Jahmal Cole, My Block, My Hood, My City
Mark Anthony Florido, Paul M. Angell Family Foundation
Leslie Helmcamp, Strengthening Chicago's Youth at Lurie Children's Hospital
Devon VanHouten Maldanado, SkyART
Agnes Meneses, AGMeneses Consulting
Nannette Zander, Azteca Foods Inc.

About the Honorees

Champion for Children Award

The Champion for Children Award recognizes the outstanding contributions of a civic, corporate, philanthropic, or community leader who demonstrates exceptional dedication to helping at-risk children and youth in Metropolitan Chicago.

Jessica Yavitz  
Vice President of the Chicago Fire Football Club and Executive Director of the Chicago Fire Foundation  

Jessica Yavitz is passionate about effecting change. Under her leadership, the Chicago Fire Foundation (CFF), the charitable arm of the Chicago Fire Football Club, has made significant contributions to at-risk youth in underserved areas in Chicago. Her ability to adjust to the needs of the community and find practical solutions to complex problems of Chicago inspires others.    

In 2013, Jessica established the Foundation’s internationally recognized proprietary P.L.A.Y.S. (Participate, Learn, Achieve, Youth, Soccer) Program, tying soccer and Social and Emotional learning (SEL) to help improve academics. Since then, more than 250,000 hours of soccer has been played by more than 4,000 youth across 50 Chicago Public Schools in the city’s most underserved neighborhoods.  

To Yavitz, it is imperative for the Chicago Fire Foundation to be at the forefront of impactful initiatives, helping to bring safer communities and programming to so many across the city. Yavitz’s professional commitment to make permanent improvements and contributions to the welfare of low-income and at-risk youth throughout Chicago is second to none. Giving back is part of her DNA and Chicago is a better place because of her commitment to making a difference.

Elevating Youth Voices Award  

The Elevating Youth Voices Award is given to an early to mid-career child-serving professional with 5-10 years of experience in direct service who is dedicated to empowering children and youth and amplifying youth voices in Metropolitan Chicago. The Elevating Youth Voices Award is accompanied by an honorarium of $5,000 to further the recipient’s knowledge and work on behalf of vulnerable children

Denzel Burk and Destine Phillips  
Co-Founders and Directors of the R.E.A.L. Youth Initiative  

Denzel Burke is a community builder, facilitator, and organizer. Destine Phillips is a Chicago native, activist and entrepreneur. Together, they are the Founders and Directors of REAL Youth Initiative, a program which develops revolutionary consciousness and community among currently and formerly incarcerated youth to work towards the abolition of prisons and the conditions that (re)produce them.

The duo founded R.E.A.L Youth Initiative in August of 2021. With the R.E.A.L Youth Initiative, they hope to take their lived experiences and create positive change among incarcerated youth. When they were serving their time, they needed genuine acceptance of their true selves. In addition, they needed attainable role models to inspire hope for their future, connections to people and ideas, and outlets outside of their detention walls to help create a safe space to envision their future and goals. They feel fortunate to now have access to these resources. With their commitment to R.E.A.L, they recognize that imprisoned youth are in dire need of similar opportunities. And with this reversal of roles, they hope to change the course of the future for other youth, as it has for them.  

Lifetime Achievement Award

The Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes a child-serving professional with 15+ years of experience in direct service to children and youth and who has made outstanding contributions to the welfare of low-income and at-risk children in Metropolitan Chicago.

Maria Woltjen
Founder and Former Executive Director of the Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights  

Maria Woltjen founded the Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights in 2004 to advocate for the rights and best interests of unaccompanied and separated immigrant children facing deportation. At the time, there was no Child Advocate for children in immigration proceedings. Without guaranteed access to counsel to represent their wishes and no one to fight for their best interests, children often faced the byzantine immigration system all by themselves.  

From the start, her work wasn’t limited to individual cases but to changing federal policy. She worked with Congress to enact a provision in an anti-trafficking law that allows for the official appointment of Child Advocates to the most vulnerable immigrant children. That 2008 law helped change the way our immigration system treats children seeking safety. In 2013, Congress recognized the transformative role of Child Advocates and expanded the program to serve far more unaccompanied and separated children thrown into government custody and into adversarial court proceedings.  

Today the Young Center is a national organization with nearly 80 staff members in 8 offices across the country. Her organization has protected the rights and best interests of thousands of unaccompanied and separated children from more than 80 countries across the world.