Better Makers: Winnetka Youth Organization Honors 10 Teen Leaders

An elite group of young leaders from Chicago’s North Shore were honored at the Winnetka Youth Organization’s (WYO) golden jubilee celebration.

Since 1969, the nonprofit organization has opened its doors to all local teens in providing a safe space to explore, express themselves, learn, and grow. Through leadership development programs, mentoring, and volunteer opportunities, WYO empowers teens to become engaged in the community and embrace their skills and passions.

Held on April 13 at Sheridan Shore Yacht Club, the exclusive celebration welcomed 150 guests from the Chicago area. The fête not only honored the standout teens, but also celebrated 50 years of success, made possible thanks to the generous local community members, businesses, and organizations.

“The success of this event was due to the teens we have encountered throughout the year and the many generous community partners that believe in our mission,” said WYO’s Executive Director Christina Gikas.

Teens who’ve exhibited extraordinary acts of leadership, talent, influence, and dedication to service — in both WYO and New Trier Township — were recognized during the 50th Anniversary Benefit. Ten people were recognized: nine awardees and one scholarship recipient. This was WYO’s first year awarding a scholarship. Sophie Krajewski, a senior at New Trier High School, was the proud recipient of the inaugural grant.

Along with the award ceremony, guests enjoyed appetizers and an open bar, live music from Jack Sundstrom Collective and The Jacks, and live and silent auctions.

Together, the community raised a record-high for the beloved Winnetka nonprofit. Over $21,000 was raised in support of WYO’s mission in supporting North Shore youth. With the gracious support from benefit attendees, the community will continue to have a safe space for teens — outside of the classroom and home — to learn, grow, and express themselves.

The event was made possible thanks to the support of gracious partners, including The Winnetka Park District, The Family Institute at Northwestern University, North Shore Community Bank, and the Levernier and Koss families.

winnetka youth organization: John Fernandez, Rocco Fernandez, Nicole Fernandez, John Peterson, Julie Peterson, Audrey Peterson.
Left to right: John Fernandez, Rocco Fernandez (Youth Award Recipient), Nicole Fernandez, John Peterson, Julie Peterson, and Audrey Peterson.
winnetka youth organization: Tony Vitello, Pamela Gikas-Gajic, Slavko Gajic
Left to right: Tony Vitello, Pamela Gikas-Gajic, and Slavko Gajic.
winnetka youth organization
Left to right: Cari Alexander, Board Director; Christina Gikas, Executive Director; Stephanie Leese, Advisory Board Member; Sheila Dolkart, Board Director; John Hage, Advisory Board Chair; Susan Magill, Vice-Chair; John T. Thomas, Board Treasurer; Molly Dolkart, Chair; David Kelbaugh, Board Director; Lynne Levernier, Board Director; Stephanie Holz, Bookkeeper; Scott Edwards, Board Secretary; and Mary Komlofske, Program Director.
winnetka youth organization: Maggie Cao, New Trier High School, John Thomas
The Service Dedication Award was given to Maggie Cao, a New Trier junior, WYO volunteer, and member of the Youth Board and Social Service Committee. The award was presented by John Thomas, Board Treasurer of the Winnetka Youth Organization.
winnetka youth organization: Sam Ufford, Winnetka Youth Organization, Susan Magill, New Trier High School
The Youth Influencer Award was given to Sam Ufford, a New Trier senior, WYO volunteer, and drop-in participant. The award was presented by Susan Magill, Board Vice-Chair of the Winnetka Youth Organization.
winnetka youth organization: north shore, Loyola Academy
Impact: The money raised directly impacts youth in the North Shore and will continue to give them a safe space to lead, serve, create, grow, and connect with their peers. Pictured: Odyssey from Loyola Academy performing at the Winnetka Youth Organization’s Battle of the North Shore Bands. (Photo courtesy of WYO.)

Emily Stone is Associate Editor at Make It Better. She earned a degree in journalism from Elon University in North Carolina. Along with writing, Stone has a passion for digital storytelling and photography. Her work is published in Chicago Athlete Magazine. Stone is a supporter of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Stone is a fluent Spanish speaker who in her free time loves a good dance class.