Educate, Enrich, Empower: Carole Robertson Center’s E3 Gala Raises $269K For Programs

When we invest in Chicago’s youngest learners, we invest in this city’s brightest potential. In this spirit, the Carole Robertson Center for Learning hosted its annual celebration— now called the E3 Gala —in honor of our mission to educate, enrich and empower children and families. At its core, E3 is a celebration of the Carole Robertson Center’s impact and a reminder that this crucial work must continue.

We’d like to give a heartfelt thank you to everyone who made our 2023 E3 Gala an incredible success! Your support, enthusiasm, vibrant smiles and shared sense of community made the night truly unforgettable. Your presence and generosity made a profound impact on our early childhood education and youth development efforts. We are thrilled to announce that together, we raised an astounding $269,000! This amount surpasses our fundraising goal and will fuel our mission to empower and nurture young minds.

To our amazing donors, sponsors, guests — 280 strong — staff and volunteers, your dedication and belief in our cause are the driving force behind our success. You are changing lives and shaping the future of early childhood education.

Program Highlights

Throughout the evening, we heard powerful speeches from Carole Robertson Center leaders, dedicated partners, board members and awardees — and the joy didn’t stop there. Our robust, mission-focused program also included drinks and hors d’oeuvres, delicious dinner, silent auction, live auction, paddle raise and mix-and-mingle time!


E3 Gala emcee and City Cast Chicago host Jacoby Cochran kicked off the night’s events by engaging the crowd with high-energy opening remarks. Setting the tone for the evening, Conchran called the gala “a love letter to the children and families who make Chicago, Chicago.”

City Cast Chicago host Jacoby Cochran


Board Chair Carter Culver’s remarks were rooted in gratitude as he thanked policy champions, sponsors, staff and his fellow board members. Culver also introduced Governor J.B. Pritzker, who delivered a warm message over video to the E3 Gala’s attendees.

Carole Robertson Center for Learning Board Chair Carter Culver


Speaking directly to everyone in the room, Gov. Pritzker emphasized the Carole Robertson Center’s lasting impact on Illinois’ young people: “You believe that educating and serving children from birth to adolescence is a public good. And you couldn’t be more right. Studies have proven that for every dollar invested early in a child’s life, there is about a $9 return. Key to that vision is the Carole Robertson Center’s staff.”


Julissa Cruz, Senior Director of Community-Based Advocacy, presented the Curba Merrill Friend of the Center Award. We are proud to recognize U.S. Congressman Mike Quigley, Illinois’ 5th District, as this year’s recipient for being a champion of early childhood education. Thanks to Congressman Quigley’s advocacy, the 2023 fiscal year federal funding omnibus included $750,000 to be used toward improvements to our Albany Park flagship site. Jenny Herman, Director of Community Outreach at the Office of Rep. Quigley, accepted the award on the Congressman’s behalf.

“Thank you for the work you do and the role you play in the lives of so many Chicago families,” Rep. Quigley said in his video acceptance speech.

Julissa Cruz, Senior Director of Community-Based Advocacy at CRC and Jenny Herman, Director of Community Outreach at the Office of Rep. Quigley.


Labelmaster, our Corporate Partner of the Year awardee, is a global company with firm roots in Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood. Board member Scott Ahlman presented this award to Labelmaster President & CEO Alan Schoen

During his acceptance speech, Schoen reflected on Labelmaster’s vision and values, which are deeply rooted in local impact. Labelmaster has been a vital partner in sponsoring programmatic efforts at the Albany Park flagship site through initiatives such as employee donation programs, volunteer coordination, job fairs and back-to-school backpack donations. We’re so grateful for Labelmaster’s continued partnership!

Board member Scott Ahlman and Labelmaster President & CEO Alan Schoen


CRC had the honor of welcoming Dianne Robertson Braddock — sister of our namesake, Carole Robertson, and honorary board member — as an esteemed guest at our E3 Gala, alongside her daughter and nephew. Robertson Braddock gave an impassioned address, both as a member of the Robertson family and as a lifelong educator herself, on the importance of community in helping young people thrive. She then introduced Destiny Ortiz, recipient of this year’s Carole Robertson Memorial Scholarship.

Dianne Robertson Braddock


Ortiz, a junior at Mansueto High School, reminisced about spending her formative years at our Little Village flagship site. In her acceptance speech, she said, “The Carole Robertson Center helped bring out my true self: the best version of myself, someone who loves to have fun but still wants to learn as much as I can.”

Destiny Ortiz


Meanwhile, Shermann “Dilla” Thomas, founder of Chicago Mahogany and TikTok’s favorite local historian, captivated the E3 Gala’s guests as this year’s keynote speaker.

Dilla, as he’s affectionately known by his fans, connected Chicago’s stories with our own, underscoring the incredible potential of young leaders and the crucial role community organizations, like ours, play in fostering that potential. 

Shermann “Dilla” Thomas


Our President & CEO Bela Moté closed the night with a powerful speech reminding us all of our shared purpose to work together in partnership with families and communities and create positive learning environments for youth and children.


“Our environments must send clear messages to our children, families and staff that ‘this space is yours, you matter, you deserve environments where you feel safe, nurtured and give you a sense of belonging,’” Moté said.


The Carole Robertson Center is incredibly grateful for our community’s support in bringing the E3 Gala to life! Our hardworking staff, Host Committee, sponsors, partners and the staff at Venue West all embodied the true spirit of E3 — educating, enriching and empowering children and families through our collective efforts.


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