Better Makers: Hope Through Caring Gala Brings Us One Step Closer to a World Free of ALS

Ninety minutes — by the time you finish watching your child’s Saturday morning sporting event or the new must-see movie, another person will receive the fatal diagnosis of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS is a rapidly progressing, deadly neurological disease.


For the Les Turner ALS Foundation, March 9 was one for the books. This year, the annual Hope Through Caring Gala was held at a brand new venue, Rockwell on the River, raising record-breaking funds for the foundation. The black-tie event welcomed 450 supporters to celebrate this year’s honorees, Mindy Evans-Williams and Robert L. Sufit, M.D. Together, supporters raised $617,000 for scientific research at the Les Turner ALS Center at Northwestern Medicine, as well as patient and family services and public awareness.

Both Evans-Williams and Dr. Sufit were honored for their steadfast commitment to the fight against ALS.

Evans-Williams was diagnosed with ALS in 1992. The Les Turner ALS Foundation and community have been a critical resource for Evans-Williams and her family throughout the years. To pay it forward, she has chosen to do the same for others suffering from the deadly disease. Laurie B. Fieldman, LCSW, her social worker and close friend, presented Evans-Williams with the Hope Through Caring Award.

The inaugural Harvey and Bonny Gaffen Advancements in ALS award was presented to Dr. Sufit, a neurologist at the Les Turner ALS Center at Northwestern Medicine for 27 years. He’s served thousands of patients and families, some of which were in the audience, helping to navigate and battle ALS.

Paul Lisnek of WGN-TV served as emcee for the evening, featuring a wealth of video presentations, a thrilling paddle raise, awards, and music from The Chicago Players.

Les Turner ALS Foundation CEO Andrea Pauls Backman and Board Chair Ken Hoffman gave a special shout-out to the 21 men and women in attendance living with ALS.

“We were honored to be joined by so many people living with ALS and are grateful to everyone we serve for trusting us with their care,” Backman said. “People living with ALS and their families are the spirit of what we do, and every decision we make and step forward we take is informed by and because of them. They are our constant motivation to put an end to this devastating disease.”

The energy quickly shifted as auctioneer Wade Leist began the paddle raise. Hands were raised across the entire hall as dollar amounts were matched to tangible needs and services. A $250 gift funds one full day of respite care for a patient living with ALS. Honoree Evans-Williams raised the stakes through a surprise gift of her personal suite at Guaranteed Rate Field for the upcoming baseball season. This year’s paddle raise exceeded projections, raising $243,000.

If you missed the event, donations can be made online in support of the foundation’s research with Northwestern Medicine.

ALS: Bonny Gaffen, Harvey Gaffen, Rob Sufit, M.D.
Bonny and Harvey Gaffen with Rob Sufit, M.D., recipient of the Harvey and Bonny Gaffen Advancement in ALS Award.
ALS: Andy Shackelford, Josh Newsome, Jordan Shackelford
Andy Shackelford, Josh Newsome and Jordan Shackelford at the Les Turner ALS Foundation gala.
ALS: Brian Andre, Lori Andre, Anita Andre-Stringer, Paul Lisnek
Brian and Lori Andre, Anita Andre-Stringer and Paul Lisnek, WGN-TV Political Analyst and event emcee, at the 2019 gala.
ALS: Northwestern Medicine
Impact: Funds from the Hope Through Caring Gala will help support the Les Turner ALS Foundation’s four research laboratories at Northwestern Medicine, which are leading global advancements in ALS research and treatment through partnerships with investigators across the globe. (Photo courtesy of Les Turner ALS Foundation and Northwestern Medicine.)

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.



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