Bright Star Award Recipients Shining Bright

June 27, 2018

Past Bright Star Award Recipients Are Making a Big Difference in Communities Across Chicago

As we countdown to the celebration of Bright Promises Foundation's 150th Anniversary and prepare for the celebration of the 2018 Awards, Bright Promises recently caught up with past recipients of the Ed Marciniak Bright Star Award.

The Ed Marciniak Bright Star Award is given to an individual who shows great motivation, enthusiasm and promise in exemplifying our mission to benefit disadvantaged children in Illinois.  The Bright Star Award is accompanied by an honorarium of $5,000. This honorarium is to be used to further the recipient’s knowledge about and work on behalf of vulnerable children.

Sarah Ward - 2008 Bright Star Honoree

“I opened the doors of the South Chicago Art Center, now SkyART, in 2001. When I received the award, I was so honored to be recognized by a group of people that believed what I believed in, deep in my heart. Now in our 17th year of operation I would say definitively that we have been successful in creating long-term solutions that have increased access and equity to our programs.”


We asked Sarah what she thought the most urgent, unmet need of children in Chicago today. She says,
“Youth do not feel safe because there is a lack of consistency and stability of people in their lives. The attrition rate for teachers in low-income neighborhoods is 42% and the average low-income household moves two times a year. When I opened in 2001, I made it my charge to be there for the youth, every day, year after year.”

Since receiving the Bright Star award in 2008, Sarah has successfuly grown SkyArRT from serving 18 students in an 800 sq ft facility, to occupying a fully owned 6,000 sq ft facility called SkyART Studios and reach over 3,800 youth a year. SkyART uses free visual arts programming as a vehicle for young people to create, to communicate effectively, and to learn the essential skills and creative thinking needed to succeed.

Casey Holtschneider - 2011 Bright Star Honoree

“The honorarium from Bright Promises Foundation allowed me to pursue a PhD at the University of Illinois at Chicago. While there, I was able to conduct the first ever study in the United States that investigated the long-term outcomes of young people leaving transitional housing programs for homeless youth. I have since taken the findings from this study and founded a nonprofit organization, the LYTE Collective, that supports young people experiencing poverty and homelessness here in Chicago. The PhD has also opened the door for me to be able to teach the next generation of social workers."

We asked Casey how receiving the $5,000 honorarium impacted her work today. She says, “I believe this story of where my work was at the time of the award to where it is today is the direct call to action outlined by the mission of Bright Promises—to understand unmet needs and provide solutions that result in enduring change. My ability to attend a doctoral program where I could complete this research, which is now fueling the work of LYTE Collective, would quite simply not have been possible without the support from Bright Promises Foundation.”

Since receiving the Bright Star Award and completing her doctorate, Casey has founded the LYTE Collective, which is preparing to open their first program, a community center for youth experiencing poverty and homelessness on the south side of Chicago. The LYTE Collective is an organization that is defined by an expressed commitment to social justice and to the freedom for young people in high-risk situations such as poverty and homelessness to live their truth and have the support they deserve to discover their own unique and remarkable place in this world

Maria Munoz - 2016 Bright Star Honoree

“The $5,000 honorarium has giving me the opportunity to pursue my master’s degree on a concentration of Leadership in Higher Education. I am so excited to be able to continue my education and all thanks to the Bright Star award! This Master’s will allow me to continue impacting our underrepresented communities at the Higher Educational level. It is important to continue assisting our young adults in achieving a higher educational degree to better their lives and the lives of their families.”

We asked Maria what she thinks is the best way to advocate for low-income and at-risk children in Chicago. She says, “We need to encourage families to continue supporting their children in their educational career. We have to support families to teach them how to find resources, and to give them the tools to fight for their rights to access higher education."

Since recieving the Bright Star Award, Maria has been promoted to the Assistant Director of Youth Options Unlimited (YOU) at Erie Neighborhood House. YOU is a safe, supportive and enriching environment that both supplements and enhances formal classroom activities, while also stimulating a close-knit familial structure. YOU programs spark an interest in learning and improve academic and life skills; provide opportunities for peer mentoring and leadership development; and also facilitate safe, recreational alternatives. 100% of the young people who participated in the YOU mentoring program this year graduated from high school.