By: Lisa Bertagnoli; Make it Better
As a child, Kim K. W. Rucker trick-or-treated for UNICEF. But she never fully realized the reach and importance of the worldwide organization until last October, when she attendedUNICEF Chicago’s Humanitarian Awards luncheon. “The event was just amazing,” says Rucker, an attorney and executive.
The luncheon included a keynote address by Susan Bissell, then chief child protection officer and now interim director of UNICEF’s End Violence Against Children initiative. Barbara Bowman, one of the three faculty founders of Chicago’s Erikson Institute and an authority on early childhood education, also spoke and was honored at the event. “You got to see a little slice of life — what was going on in the world combined with unique and touching stories,” Rucker says.
Rucker was moved by the event’s content and its close connection to critical world affairs. The luncheon “touched my heart,” she says. “I was reading more and more about kids dying of preventable diseases,” she says, “and was thinking about how you can make a difference when you are so blessed and live in an amazing country.” Getting personally involved in UNICEF, not just supporting it financially, seemed the clear answer. Rucker met with Casey Marsh, managing director of the Midwest Region of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, to discuss opportunities.
The result: She’s co-chairing UNICEF’s Hope Gala, to be held April 9. “I was humbled and honored and a bit nervous, but Casey is a force of nature,” Rucker says, noting that this is her first time chairing a fundraising gala. “You don’t say no to Casey.”
This is the ninth UNICEF Hope Gala. The U.S. Funds for UNICEF team expects about 400 guests and has set a fundraising goal of $1 million, which has been the net for the past two galas. “It is the U.S. Fund’s significant fundraising event in Chicago and the largest annually,” says Elizabeth McCostlin, deputy director, major gifts, in the Chicago regional office of U.S. Fund for UNICEF.
This year’s theme: Imagine. “We want to inspire guests to pause in the busy-ness of life, and to imagine a world in which no child dies from a preventable cause,” Rucker says. Event décor will underline UNICEF’s work: In addition to beautiful centerpieces and delicious food, the event will feature displays of items UNICEF uses in the field, for instance a metal “school in a box” that contains school supplies to serve 40 children, plus ready-to-eat therapeutic food for malnourished children. The evening will include a performance by singer and actress Vanessa Williams, as well as a silent auction, live auction and raffle, which combined are expected to raise $350,000.
The evening doesn’t end there, though. A ticket to the main black-tie event, which costs $1,000, includes entry to the 10 p.m. After Party, hosted by UNICEF’s Next Generation, its board for young professionals.
Both parties will take place at The Geraghty, event designer Tom Kehoe’s space in Pilsen. The new venue marks a break from tradition, as previous Hope Galas took place at Four Seasons Hotel Chicago. “The Four Seasons has been an awesome home, but we were really thinking differently about our theme and our evening, and to put a different spin on a Saturday night gala,” McCostlin says.
Co-chairing the event with Rucker is Mark Mitsukawa, vice president and general manager of Barneys New York in Chicago. He says Barneys’ long partnership with UNICEF has included private shopping luncheons for clients and top designers, among them Mila Moursi, Mark Davis and Monique Lhullier. Barneys donated a percentage of sales from those events to the U.S. Fund for UNICEF.
Mitsukawa’s involvement with the Hope Gala “kind of grew from there,” he says. “They asked if I would be able to be the chair, and I was more than happy to do it.” Barneys has purchased a table and is also donating auction items, including a shopping experience, Mitsukawa says.
He, like Rucker, is a first-time gala chair, and lauds the “amazing support” he’s gotten from UNICEF during party planning. “The fact that they get the chairs involved in everything from the vetting of donations to being there to look at the menu and venue and space — they’ve been great partners,” he says.
Planning the gala has been “like playing dress-up one million times,” Rucker says. “I can’t tell you how much fun it’s been.”
The biggest thrill? Fully 90 percent of every dollar raised goes to U.S. Fund for UNICEF and its work in helping children around the world. That’s a figure that thrills the business executive in Rucker. “We meet all the high standards,” she says, noting that the U.S. Fund for UNICEF receives the highest ratings for transparency, accountability and administration from Charity Navigator. Of every dollar spent, 90 cents goes toward helping children. The U.S. Fund spends just 7 cents on fundraising costs, and 3 cents on administration. “The money goes to people it’s intended to go to.”
The sterling financials are “the head perspective,” Rucker says. For her, the “heart perspective” stems from the chance to be involved with an organization, and an event, that can truly make a difference. “When I think of what this will do for kids in more than 190 countries around the world — it is powerful and impactful,” she says. “This will be about inspiration and impact.”
Meanwhile, her personal involvement has her thinking about how to get her 13-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter involved in UNICEF. “I think a lot about the world they’re going to grow up in,” says Rucker. “I want to make them aware citizens and not take for granted what they have.” Her daughter is already on board, having donated some of her allowance and Christmas-gift money to help UNICEF buy mosquito netting to protect children from insect-borne illnesses.
Rucker praises UNICEF’s ability to efficiently turn donations into important, tangible, much-needed goods and services. “I love the tactical, tactile way UNICEF takes what they do and can translate it to real things that affect real children,” she says.
U.S. Fund for UNICEF’s 9th Hope Gala
When: Saturday, April 9, 6:30 p.m. cocktail, 10 p.m. After Party
Where: The Geraghty, 2520 S. Hoyne Ave., Chicago
Dress code: Black tie
Tickets: $1,000 per person for the main event and After Party, $85 per person for the After Party only