Concern Worldwide, a charity based in Dublin, Ireland, has dramatically improved the lives of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people on earth. Witnessing and participating in this impactful work has forever altered Dolores Connelly, a board member of Concern USA, the U.S. branch of Concern Worldwide.
Some 13 years ago, Dolores’ sister worked on the ground in Afghanistan, part of a team from Concern charged with helping a small group of highly vulnerable Afghan women — some widowed, some who were orphans, and some who were no longer allowed to live with their families because they were raped. Thanks to funds raised, in part from a luncheon, Concern provided the seed money to start a tree nursery, literally empowering the women to plant the seeds of what is now one of the most successful nurseries in that region. The women have since increased their literacy rates, live independent of any charity, have access to credit during the winter months if necessary, and send their children to school so they too can have better lives.
“Again and again she [Connolly’s sister] shares stories of the incredible hope that Concern brings to some of the worst hell holes, especially for the women and girls who are so often voiceless and most vulnerable,” says Connolly, who has herself traveled with Concern to impoverished countries such as Honduras. “I’ve been able to do some expansion of awareness and engagement, and I have been equally enriched.”
Attendees of the upcoming Women of Concern luncheon and awards ceremony will learn about Concern Worldwide’s ongoing work in poor and often war-torn countries, providing relief and development for millions of people.
“A little difference can mean everything for these women,” Connolly says.
It’s fitting that this year’s honorees are three local women whose work has improved lives in Chicago neighborhoods and beyond. The Women of Concern Committee will present humanitarian awards to three recipients: Kerry Ryan Lynch, founder of the Choose Kind Campaign and the My Mary Cate blog; Sarah Wood, Vice President and Co-Founder of the Wood Family Foundation; and Margaret Hogan, founder of the Foundation for Nager and Miller Syndromes.
Kerry Ryan Lynch was “floored” when she received word that she would be honored by Concern. Four years ago, Kerry’s newborn daughter Mary Cate was diagnosed with Apert Syndrome, a rare condition marked by craniofacial malformation and fused fingers and toes. What started as a blog to keep friends and family up-to-date about Mary Cate’s multitude of surgeries, setbacks and successes, has since become Kerry’s mission to spread awareness and encourage others to “Choose Kind,” a message she has brought to more than 100 schools. Lynch’s Choose Kind campaign draws inspiration from the book “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio, which was published two months after Mary Cate was born and chronicles the life of a boy with facial abnormalities.
Mary Cate “didn’t ask to be born like this, yet she has to have this physical and emotional pain because people don’t always see the awesome person that she is,” Lynch says. “Kindness is not just about being nice, it’s about engaging those with differences.”
The work of the other two honorees is equally impactful. Sarah Wood, along with her husband, Kerry, co-founded the Wood Family Foundation. The foundation’s “Pitch In” mentoring program, based in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood, helps young people thrive personally and academically. The Foundation also targets exceptional students for a college scholarship program, and provides Chicago’s youth free access to the state-of-the-art Kerry Wood Cubs Field.
The Women of Concern Committee will also pay special tribute to Margaret Hogan, founder of the Foundation for Nager & Miller Syndromes (FMNS). In 1989, Hogan’s daughter was born with a genetic disorder that hospital personnel couldn’t identify, spurring Hogan to comb through medical journals and search far and wide for genetic specialists who could help identify the syndrome and help her daughter. Thus, FNMS was born, raising money for genetic research, and helping with hotel costs when parents have to travel for their children’s surgeries. Hogan passed away last year, before Concern was able to inform her of the award.
“This year, women- and children-centric stories absolutely spoke to us,” says Yvonne Derrig Bruce, an 18-year member of Concern and this year’s luncheon co-chair, along with Caroline Tierney. “Empowering locals is a big part of Concern’s success. They go where help is needed and they are like the Mother Teresa of charities.”
The luncheon will also feature keynote speaker Mahwish Javaid, Concern’s Social Impact Innovations Fellow. Prior to joining Concern, Javaid worked with the United Nations Women as their Provincial Project Officer to restore, rehabilitate and secure livelihoods for landless women farmers in 120 villages with the support of the United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security (UNTFHS). On March 7, 2016, she was nominated to sit on the United Nations Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment. The Secretary-General has established the panel to provide recommendations on improving economic outcomes for women and promoting women’s leadership in driving sustainable, inclusive, environmentally sensitive economic growth in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
When: Friday, April 22 (Reception at 11 a.m.; Luncheon and Awards Program at noon)
Where: Hyatt Regency Chicago, Crystal Ballroom, 151 East Wacker Drive, Chicago
Tickets: $150 per person
For more information, and to register online, visit Concern USA’s website.
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