What does it look like when a community says “yes” to educating, enriching, and empowering children and families?

On Thursday, May 16, it looked like 280 Carole Robertson Center for Learning supporters gathering at Venue West for our annual E3 Gala. It looked like a diverse lineup of awardees and speakers inspiring attendees to invest in Chicago’s young learners. It looked like a room of community champions raising over $280,000 toward accessible, high-quality learning environments for our city’s families.

Thank you to everyone who said “yes” to supporting the Center’s work—our mission is stronger because of you.

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Program Highlights

With a cocktail reception, dinner, silent auction, raffle, paddle raise, and time to mix and mingle over dessert, E3 Gala guests enjoyed a lively evening full of exciting, mission-driven activities.

And the evening’s speakers and awardees anchored the crowd in E3’s true meaning: to educate, enrich, and empower.

Three-time E3 Gala emcee and City Cast Chicago host Jacoby Cochran began the night’s program with a warm welcome and bold call to action: “This organization [the Carole Robertson Center] represents the best of what Chicago is and can be, and I implore you to do your part to ensure a bright future for our community’s young people.”

Afterward, Governor Pritzker shared his admiration of the Center’s work via video, highlighting our “tremendous impact in Illinois and beyond” as “early childhood champions.”

PNC Illinois accepted their award as this year’s Corporate Partner of the Year, highlighting their contributions to a new nature-based outdoor learning and play center for our Little Village flagship site.

“This space will help bring children closer to nature with a focus on using all five of their senses for hands-on engagement—and directly address and overcome the opportunity to get kids outdoors.” said Cathy Grover, executive vice president of human resources at PNC Bank.

Our Board Chair Carter Culver acknowledged the many contributions of Center leadership, staff, board members, and elected officials in “driving the Center’s future” and bolstering our mission to educate, enrich, and empower children and families.

Contessa Houston, Chair of our Family & Parent Policy Council, reflected on the Center’s mission to empower Chicago’s families through her own story of community, resilience, and finding support when she needed it most—after surviving a catastrophic car accident. 

“The warmth, love, and care our whole family received when I enrolled my son in [Center] programs goes beyond what I can put into words. Safe spaces save lives, and that couldn’t be truer for us,” said Houston.

Houston closed her remarks with a rousing call to action: Say “yes” to the Carole Robertson Center like they said “yes” to my family two years ago.

This year’s Carole Robertson Center Memorial Scholarship recipient and Out-of-School-Time (OST) program alumna Gissell Garnica was introduced by Kenny Riley, Senior Director of OST, and Julissa Cruz, Senior Director of Community-Based Advocacy.

Gissell’s inspiring speech reflected her legacy at the Center and beyond, as she shared aspirations to attend university as the first in her family and become a sonographer: “My parents immigrated from Mexico to the States to give my brother and I a better future. It’s important that I develop my legacy to not only make the people that care about me proud, but also myself.”

State Senator Ram Villivalam, this year’s Curba Merrill Friend of the Center Awardee, was able to send his acceptance remarks via video, saying, “This award is more than just a recognition—it is a testament to all the work that has been put in by all of us to make sure youth within our communities have access to reaching their full potential.”

E3 Gala keynote speaker and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of King: A Life Jonthan Eig engaged in a thought-provoking conversation with WTTW’s Chicago Tonight anchor Brandis Friedman on Dr. King’s fight against segregation in both the South and the North, drawing parallels with our ongoing efforts to advance social justice for Chicago’s future generations.

“Why did Carole Robertson die? Because there were some people who wanted to maintain our status quo, who did not want a more perfect union,” Eig said of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that killed our namesake, fourteen-year-old Carole Robertson, along with Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, and Denise McNair.

Carole Robertson Center President & CEO Bela Moté concluded the evening’s program with a message of gratitude for everyone who makes our mission come to life—as well as a hopeful glimpse into the Center’s future.

“We’ve been thinking a lot about the ways we impact the community, our partnerships with families, and the investments the Center needs today and in the future,” Moté said.

Moté highlighted upcoming projects to “create more vibrant, sustainable learning environments; provide resources for innovating, scaling, and continuously improving our programs; and ensure our ability to continue being a beacon of excellence, impact, and community stewardship for the next 50 years.”

On Thursday, May 16, saying “yes” to the Carole Robertson Center looked like nearly 300 supporters gathering at Venue West. It looked like a diverse lineup of awardees and speakers inspiring attendees to invest in Chicago’s young learners. It looked like a room of community champions raising funds—and exceeding our fundraising goal—to make high-quality learning environments accessible for our city’s families. 

Thank you to everyone who said “yes” to supporting the Center’s work—our mission is stronger because of you.

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Since 1976, the Carole Robertson Center for Learning has been dedicated to educating, enriching, and empowering children and families through comprehensive child and family development programs.