We Grow the Most When Times Are Tough: From Personal Struggles Come Reasons for Gratitude

Last week, I wrote a Gratitude Daily Devotional shared by my church, Kenilworth Union Church. These daily devotionals are rooted in scripture and provide a brief opportunity for reflection and gratitude as we prepare to face the day ahead. Whether you’re religious or not, a daily gratitude practice has been shown to be one of the most reliable ways to improve your mood. Here, I share a recent challenge I faced and the opportunity for growth I’m so thankful it afforded me.

We make our plans and God laughs. That’s the story of my complicated, abundantly blessed life, and I’m so grateful for this!

Growing up in the most diverse and integrated section of Indianapolis, working in our family owned grocery stores, attending a 90% black high school, I thought my generation modeled the ideal, color-blind future rapidly in development. I also imagined I’d marry a man who felt similarly about Indianapolis and that we’d raise two kids who would grow up working in our family business too.

Ha! God’s plan actually included me commuting from Chicago to Indianapolis for almost a year while pregnant with my fourth (our combined sixth) of eight children, in the black fog of grief, to navigate that beloved business through bankruptcy and closure. My dad died of a stroke soon after the “big box” grocery stores came to Indianapolis. The stores died from the overwhelming competition which devastated similar businesses across the country.

Fortunately, it is true that we grow the most when times are difficult—if we stay close to God. I’ve carried important lessons from that difficult time with me in my entrepreneurial social impact endeavors ever since. (I pray that this will influence my children and grandchildren too.)

Kenilworth Union Church has been a North Star and strong connection point in my unexpected life, helping to keep me focused on the importance of living generously and with trust in God’s abundance. Blessings rain down, I pay them forward. Trials come, I grow with God’s guidance. An example of this is that long-time, beloved Kenilworth Union Church member Dick Kiphart recruited me to the small board of trustees for the Poetry Foundation (PoFo).

People find solace in poetry during troubled times like these—a pandemic, racial injustice, environmental disasters, a contentious election. So I expected my affiliation with the largest endowed poetry institution in the world to be a comfort to myself and others. Instead, when #BlackLivesMatter came to the forefront, PoFo was attacked by other poetry leaders for being out of step, insensitive, and unresponsive to opportunities which would serve poets and social justice needs well. Their open letter demanded the resignation of all leadership, including our board. It prompted the widely reported resignation of top leaders within the institution, but not the entire board.

Once again, I’m confronting a hard personal truth. Despite a lifelong progressive perspective and good intentions, I’ve been blind to—and unwittingly exacerbated—profound racial inequities. And not just through my PoFo board service. Now, though, I’m grateful for the PoFo position, because it’s helping me learn faster how to be affirmatively “antiracist.”

I’m also grateful that PoFo makes it easy to find solace in poetry through their “Poem Of The Day“—and that the one which arrived in my inbox on Saturday, October 2, inspired this reflection on my life, God’s plan, this church, perspective, and gratitude:

Thank You

By Ross Gay

If you find yourself half naked
and barefoot in the frosty grass, hearing,
again, the earth’s great, sonorous moan that says
you are the air of the now and gone, that says
all you love will turn to dust,
and will meet you there, do not
raise your fist. Do not raise
your small voice against it. And do not
take cover. Instead, curl your toes
into the grass, watch the cloud
ascending from your lips. Walk
through the garden’s dormant splendor.
Say only, thank you.
Thank you.

Let Us Pray:

Dear God,
Thank you for the gift of love through family, church, and community.
Thank you for blessings that arrive disguised as challenges.
Thank you for your constant, loving presence—even when we forget to look for it.
Thank you for opportunities to serve others, which pay forward the blessings you rain down on us, and further enrich our own lives.
Please bless everyone now suffering because of the pandemic or other health crises, racial or other social inequities, natural and man-made disasters, and political distrust.
Please show each of us ways to help navigate these challenges and arrive at a better world.
Please bless our political leaders and give them wisdom to navigate these complicated, painful times too.
In Jesus Christ’s name we pray,

Parkland, Kids and Gun Violence

Yes, you can help the grieving Parkland community, and you can become part of the solution to deter future gun violence, too. We make it easy for you to get started with Make It Better’s How to Help: Support Parkland’s Victims and Students and Fight Gun Violence.” Donate, march, or give blood to directly impact Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Please don’t turn away, become numb, forget the pain of Parkland, Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, Orlando, Columbine, and our country’s roughly 35,000 gun deaths each year. Because, you really can make a difference by spending only a few minutes online.

Common sense solutions may be complex to implement, but if everyone does a little something to help, we get to that better place much faster.

All children are our future, and it’s our duty to ensure that they have the physically and emotionally safe spaces they need to blossom. They need opportunities to explore their interests — nurture body, mind, creativity, and soul — in order to have hopeful futures, too. Without hope, it’s more likely a person will turn despair into violence. So, our best hope for the future is taking better care of all children and teens as a society.

But also, guns need to be harder to get and use in public spaces — particularly rapid-fire assault weapons. The National Rifle Association (NRA) and legislators who support extreme interpretations of the 2nd Amendment need to change their views on this or be made irrelevant.

To help make guns less accessible and our public spaces safer, you can visit Every Town for Gun Safety, The Courage To Fight Gun Violence, or Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense In America.

You can help by learning more about the issues, expressing your views to elected state and federal officials, and supporting candidates committed to fighting for better gun control legislation. You can lobby your legislators to support common sense gun reform legislation, and learn about pending state and national legislation here.

Vote for candidates based on their gun control positions. If a candidate’s gun control stance isn’t obvious, ask the candidate, and check his or her National Rifle Association funding or rating. If the NRA supports the candidate, chances are they don’t support stricter gun control legislation.

Another way to help is to foster more opportunity for underserved youth. If you give hope and a better future to one child, you also help transform their family and community. You could be saving the lives of many, too. Your gift of time, talent, or treasure to any of these organizations will have great impact.

We also need to work to strengthen our mental health public safety net. We won’t ever be a safe society again if we don’t take seriously the mental health of everyone. Discuss mental health issues publicly, and do your part to wipe out any remaining stigma about mental health struggles. We need to ensure that everyone has access to professional help, too.

We know that the government can’t afford to tackle mental health alone. That model has been tried and failed. Institutions with expertise and deep pockets need to collaborate with the government — ideally through private/public partnerships. You can help by advocating for such collaborations and electing politicians with this type of vision.

Also, you can help by supporting outstanding collaborative public/private programs already in place. In Chicago, these include The Rush Hospital West Side Total Health Collaborative and the Text-A-Tip Hotline.

There usually is a reason others behave badly. Some pain is pushing them hard. Rather than reacting with anger or turning away when we are confronted with someone struggling, we as individuals and as a society need to listen with love and help them find help.

It’s heart-rending to learn how many occasions were presented to authorities and others to learn more about accused gunman Nikolas Cruz and his pain — and to do something that could have kept him from becoming the Parkland shooter. Too many “if only” moments ….  If only the person who reported his social network “professional school shooter” post to the FBI had followed up to make sure that someone had acted on it … If only the school system had provided more resources and support specific to his autism spectrum diagnosis, instead of repeated expulsions … If only others could have connected with him emotionally after his mother’s death …

Next time you encounter someone angry, pained, challenging, please take the time to listen with love. Show them you care. Connect them to help.

This is particularly true with respect to children. If you can find the time, please find a way to interact with children in less fortunate families or communities than yours. Show just one child the love and trust that every child deserves, and you could transform a life and the world. That’s time well spent indeed.

Q&A: WGN Radio’s Steve Grzanich

Steve Grzanich hosts “The Opening Bell,” one of WGN Radio’s most popular segments. He regularly interviews CEOs, but features anyone with something intriguing to teach about the “life of business and the business of life.”

He’s also loves dogs, can’t get enough of Adler Planetarium, and cherishes life and work on Chicago’s lakefront and water ways — as I learned during my interview with Steve on Oct. 30.

I think you will enjoy learning from Steve through this Q&A too.


Steve Grzanich

Susan B. Noyes: How do you describe yourself and your show?

Steve Grzanich: The positioning statement or slogan for “The Opening Bell” says it’s a broadcast that focuses on the “life of business and the business of life.” Rather than be a show about numbers and stats including stock prices and trends, we try to put business news in perspective for all audiences, not just business types. We select compelling guests with compelling stories, covering just about every industry and/or organization you can think of. Topics abound, from the business of agriculture, business of politics, business of science, business of education, business of religion, and on and on and on. We’re moving into the third year of the broadcast and can proudly boast it’s become one of the most listened to shows on WGN. As for me, I describe myself as a lifelong learner, always curious and always challenged to ask the kinds of questions that make listeners react with “Wow” or “I never knew that.” My goal going into every broadcast is to make sure listeners hear something they didn’t know before and help them.

How long have you been interviewing CEOs and other business leaders?

I’ve been interviewing newsmakers including business leaders for most of my 35-year career in broadcast journalism. We’ve been doing the CEO segment on The Opening Bell for two years now. The feature airs every Monday on the broadcast but we have business movers and shakers on the program almost every day and sometimes two per show.

What are some of your favorite interviews? 

Some of my favorite interviews are with CEOs of startups and a couple stand out. One was with Ramses Alcaide from Neurable.com. Ramses is barely out of college and has developed a brain-computer interface (plus software), which allows people with disabilities to interact with the world in many ways including with prosthetics. Even though his creation will eventually be used by everyone, he’s been passionately guided by helping people regain independence and not be left behind by society.

Another memorable interview was with Alex Niemczewski of the voting app Ballot Ready. She’s helping citizens become more informed voters. Her passion for making sure the citizenry is informed before they cast their ballots is only surpassed by her knowledge of coding and information presentation. I firmly believe her company will be at the forefront of digital voting someday.

Another memorable interview was with Marc Gyongyosi from IFM Technologies. He too created his company with fellow students at Northwestern University utilizing the school’s tech incubator. The company was featured on TechCrunch’s “Disrupt” in San Francisco. It involves using drones to perform inventory inside large warehouses, which is currently a difficult and almost impossible process. As I asked questions about his company, it was just obvious that his generation will help us find the answers to some of our big problems as a society. There’s no doubt his creation will someday make him a billionaire. I knew him when.

Have you observed any common characteristics of CEOs in Chicago?  If so, what are they?

The successful CEOs I’ve interviewed have all gotten to where they’re at because they understand the importance of having successful teams of employees below them. These are CEOs who make sure their workers are inspired, equipped, and happy, like Amanda Lannert of Jellyvision and Tom Gimbel of LaSalle Network. Both companies always make the lists of best places to work. Many of the successful CEOs I’ve interviewed also share qualities that include having a personal routine that begins their day including exercise, meditation, not hitting the snooze button, and even remembering to make the bed.

Chicago is known for the success of its public/private partnerships and civic support by business leaders. It also ranks as the most philanthropic city in the U.S., according to a study published by Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. How have your guests reflected this sensibility (if at all)?

I always ask CEOs about civic support and corporate philanthropy and almost every one of them is involved personally in some way with one group or another (and often multiple groups). But there are many who bring this into their organization as well. Instead of holiday parties, they make sure employees get involved in the community by volunteering at food banks or other charities. They get their employees involved with helping local schools too. And several companies give part of their profits directly to charity. Flowers for Dreams is a perfect example of this, where they focus on locally crafted flowers and free flower delivery with each bouquet benefiting a local charity. These CEOs also understand that millennials are more loyal than other generations to companies who do good things. They’re not doing business with companies that aren’t socially conscious.

What advice do you have for people aspiring to business leadership positions, based on your interviews with CEOs?

My advice is don’t exist in a bubble. Search out and learn as much as you can about as many CEOs as you can. Study what works and what doesn’t for those CEOs. Also, get out there and network as much as possible and make yourself for mentorship. Welcome being mentored or pay it forward to someone you might be able to mentor. I’d also recommend that aspiring business leaders learn how to communicate effectively with interviewers like me. There’s very good chance a journalist is going to interview you someday, so be ready. Be informed about your industry, your company, and your community. If you struggle with this kind of thing, do some practice interviews with yourself or a colleague. The most engaging CEOs I’ve interviewed have mostly mastered this. I say mostly because there might always be a journalist like me who asks a question you weren’t prepared for. Handle this successfully and you’re genuine… the real deal.

What are your Chicago favorites — places, restaurants, things to do, ways to give back?

My favorite places to play and learn include Adler Planetarium, The Field Museum, Chicago History Museum. I’m a member of Adler and can’t get enough of science and astronomy. I spend free time along the lakefront with my dog (Edward Rover Murrow) and enjoy mountain biking and hiking. My favorite organizations to donate time and/or money to include Anti-Cruelty Society, Lutheran Charity Comfort Dogs, and Gilda’s Club. Me and Murrow have volunteered together at Gilda’s Club to play with children battling cancer.

Thanks to Steve for his time and thoughtful answers — it’s a true pleasure to work with him.

5 Investment Experts Explain the Growing Importance of Impact Investing

Evaluating businesses for their social impact has become an important investment trend. Savvy long-term investors realize that companies who do good, also do well.

As examples, think Starbucks, Whole Foods, TOMS, Hershey’s, and Lyft (not Uber).

More than ever, businesses succeed and grow when good values are embedded in their core business practices — like treating employees well, fostering sustainability, helping others.

[Note: Make It Better’s 10-year history also proves this. Bucking publishing trends, we’ve flourished because everything we write and do fosters powerful, positive connections, which help to make life better for our audience and others.]

Correspondingly, a growing number of the top investment firms offer social impact advice, insights, and tools too. Here’s a look at five such firms.

Morgan Stanley

At Make It Better’s recent Money, Values and Impact symposium, Morgan Stanley Vice Chairman Carla Harris presented a compelling description of her work with large corporations across the United States and around the world on their social impact.


Carla Harris

“I’ve had more ‘Courageous Conversations’ with CEOs where we discuss ills, issues in their communities. They acknowledge that they must do something… lock arms with their employees to understand how they are dealing with problems [and how their companies can help] too.”

Furthermore, she explains, a growing number of firms now believe that they are responsible to four or five constituencies — not just the traditional three. Until recently, corporations identified shareholders, customers, and employees as their primary constituencies. Most now include “community.”

Some — like Starbucks and Hershey’s — include supply chain resources as an area of primary concern too.

“Hershey’s sources a lot of cocoa from Africa,” Harris says. “It asks itself how to empower and educate those farmers, how to innovate and impact those countries and others around the world too.”

William Blair

Social concerns like how a business impacts the environment have long been a core component of William Blair’s investment analysis strategy and advice, says Blake Pontius, CFA, portfolio specialist at William Blair. “We consider environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) issues to be… inextricably linked with our fundamental assessment of the quality of corporate management and financial statements.”


Blake Pontius

Pontius affirms a growing trend by corporations to examine core activities through a social lens too. “Many businesses are focusing on aligning core practices around social values, as interest in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investment factors is expanding at a rapid pace among institutional and retail investors. Some studies have shown that businesses with strong corporate governance and social considerations such as racial diversity and employee satisfaction can lead to improved performance.”

Northern Trust

While Northern Trust does not yet include analysis of social impact as a core investment analysis strategy, it has devoted considerable resources to understanding and promoting social impact through philanthropy — initially through its own work helping underserved communities, and more recently as part of its work advising institutional investors, too.

Connie Lindsey, the firm’s head of corporate social responsibility and global diversity & inclusion, explains, “Northern Trust has a long history of investing its own capital in underserved communities to create sustainable positive change. We believe in the power of capital and the unique role patient flexible capital can have in creating social impact.


Connie Lindsey

“As more clients have become interested in investing capital for impact, we have created a partnership between Northern Trust’s Corporate Social Responsibility group and our Foundations & Institutional Advisors group to share our direct experience of investing capital for impact. This partnership, Social Impact Advisors, works directly with foundation and institutional clients as an extension of their investment management relationship.”

Because collaboration between well-informed philanthropists creates powerful synergies, this strategy likely amplifies philanthropic social impact, too.

J.P. Morgan

J.P.Morgan did not identify an executive whose work incorporates social impact analysis, but Kristen McNamara, banker, J.P. Morgan Private Bank, enjoys working in this space.  Because the influence of millennials and the dramatic growth in the percentage of wealth controlled by women helps drive the increasing role social impact plays in business and investing, this is a smart career choice for this junior banker.


Kristen McNamara

McNamara explains, “It is important that clients’ investments align with their specific financial objectives and personal goals. Screening and performing research on potential investments is key to begin. Then, investors can think about investing according to specific environmental or social themes, as well as the potential impact of companies or funds.”

Next, McNamara describes a three-step process. “Test the waters… test implementation through a [small] carve-out in their portfolios. Create an impact-driven carve-out. [Designate a larger percentage of the portfolio to impact investing]. Pursue broad integration… adopting a sustainable investing lens across all asset classes.”


Wintrust Financial not only gives strategic consideration to social impact, but it also provides an excellent example of the power of embedding good values in core banking practices. Founded by Ed Wehmer as Lake Forest Bank and Trust in 1991, the bank thrived by immediately developing strong community connections, looking for opportunities to help, and prioritizing quality of life for employees.


Ed Wehmer

“To be a successful community business, get the community involved and treat people like you want to be treated,” Wehmer says.

Not surprisingly, Wintrust just kept replicating its good values and community-centric model as it rapidly expanded. Now it consistently ranks among Chicago’s very top financial institutions.

Wehmer’s perspective confirms Harris’ statement about constituencies and communities served, too. Incorporating a larger number of them into the core business model ultimately leads to a better bottom line.

Hopefully this impact investing trend will continue to build on itself — generating greater knowledge, better advice, and more lives made better with each passing year.

Catholic Charities Gifts Stolen by Thieves


Catholic Charities Hit by Thieves: Need Replacement Gifts

The Catholic Charities Christmas Gift Program, which last year provided gifts for nearly 15,000 of Lake County’s neediest citizens, is in dire need of donors again this year. This adopt-a-family program primarily matches children and limited-income seniors with donor families who want to make a difference in the lives of society’s marginalized population.

Thieves recently broke into the program’s storage facility and stole all of last year’s unclaimed gifts earmarked as this year’s starter inventory. Anyone wishing to purchase gifts for a family this December can call Jim Wogan or Barbara Campbell at 847-782-4210 or e-mail jwogan@catholiccharities.net. Generic gifts and/or gift cards to replace the stolen items can be dropped off at or mailed to the Catholic Charities Bernardin Center at 671S.LewisAve.,Waukegan, between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.

847-782-4210 | catholiccharities.net

COCO KEEVAN, for Make It Better

Openlands Space to Grow in Chicago

A Virtuous Circle To Grow –  Art, Environment, School, Philanthropy, Government, Business

Space to Grow OpenlandsThanks to Co-Chair Suzette Bulley – mother, artist, environmentalist, philanthropist – I recently attended the inspiring Openlands Annual Luncheon honoring a similarly remarkable woman and artist – Terry Evans.

Suzette Bulley

The inspiration of these two women alone would have made for a great day; their humanity and love of nature shine through in all they do. But, fortunately, I also learned about a new Openlands program – Space To Grow, which transforms urban asphalt into school yard spaces for outdoor learning, play, gardening, physical education, art and community connection. View the videos by Board Chair Richard Calrson and another by honoree Terry Evans here. Take a look at some of her most extraordinary workChicago photos in Chicago and the glorious prairies of Illinois.

Openlands is a smart collaborator – facilitating support from the water district and input from surrounding communities – to launch the program with four Chicago schools.  It’s a smart fundraiser too, because it recognized the philanthropic heft of female artists and environmentalists – over 900 attended the event sponsored by ArcelorMittal, ComEd, ITW and more.

Space to Grow OpenlandsArts, environment, education, philanthropy, government, community engagement – a powerful virtuous circle indeed.  Please help grow this one and others that are similar.

For additional reasons to support such collaborations, please see these ten common sense reasons every school should have a non-asphalt schoolyard too:

Space to Grow Openlandshttp://greenschoolyardnetwork.org Also, please watch an overview video on Openlands.


Part 1: Author Harry Kraemer’s Values-Based Leadership

Harry KraemerBy focusing on values and leadership, Wilmette father of five Harry Kraemer quickly rose through the management ranks of Baxter International to ultimately serve as Chairman and CEO. He retired from Baxter ten years ago, at age 49, to become a Managing Partner at private equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners and also a professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business, where he teaches growing numbers of MBA students each quarter about values-based leadership.

His life’s example and his lectures so inspire the Kellogg students, that they convinced Kraemer to write From Values to ActionFrom Values To Action – The Four Principles of Values-Based Leadership.” Kraemer funnels all proceeds from the book, related lectures and seminars to the nonprofit One Acre Fund. The fund was founded by his ’06 Kellogg student Andrew Youn. It’s mission is to help African subsistence farmers lift themselves out of poverty and hunger.

Kraemer’s message and One Acre Fund relationship has created a powerful virtuous circle of successful human development.  He lives his life focusing on the values and activities about which he is most passionate. This influences future leaders and grows a successful nonprofit model. This success further grows Kraemer’s influence, producing additional opportunities for Kraemer to share his values-based message.  It’s a win for Kraemer and a win for those who learn from him. It’s a win for the world.

In brief, Kraemer’s four most essential principles for aspiring leaders are:

Self-Reflection – “The ability to reflect and identify what you stand for, what your values are, and what matters most.”

Balance – “The ability to see situations from multiple perspectives, including differing viewpoints, to gain a holistic understanding.”

True Self-Confidence – “More than mastery of certain skills, [it] enables you to accept yourself as you are, recognizing your strengths and your weaknesses, and focusing on continuous improvement.”

Genuine Humility –  “The ability to never forget who you are, to appreciate the value of each person in the organization, and to treat everyone respectfully.”

One Acre FundBy regularly referring to these principles, individuals not only develop into their best selves, they inspire others to do the same thing.

To help promote a CrowdRise online fundraiser The Social Entrepreneur’s Challenge hosted by the Skull Foundation for the One Acre Fund,

Lyric Opera Chicago Celebrates 60 Years

With my hostess, Liz Stiffle in her stunning new Oscar De La Renta ball gown, and internationally acclaimed soprano Susan GrahamThis weekend we had the pleasure of attending this 60th Anniversary party for the Lyric Opera Chicago. I’ve been active on the Women’s Board of the Lyric for years and was honored to be part of this celebration. Enjoy the visual journey below. Here’s an overview of the event;

lyric opera chicago's 60thTo commemorate Lyric’s first sixty years a historic concert was held, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, emceed by comedic genius, Jane Lynch. The event also featuring world-renowned improv comedy troupe The Second CityJane Lynch, Renée Fleming, jazz legend Ramsey Lewis, Susan Graham, Ana María Martínez, Johan Botha, Eric Owens, Samuel Ramey, and members of the Ryan Opera Center and the Lyric Opera Orchestra.

JAC_8891-3664500533-O dessert presentation




Please Help Bring Back Monarch Butterflies!

Monarch ButterfliesPlease help bring back Monarch Butterflies, Goldfinches & More:
UIC and @Friends of the GreenBay Trail looking for corporate (CSR) funds. Please send their way http://ow.ly/DFjw8