From Local Restaurants to Musicians: How the Howard Area Community Center Brought Community to Virtual Fundraiser

Courtesy of Catherine LaMendola | The Howard Area Community CenterA group of Howard Area Community Center volunteers pose with signs of their mission statements.

After a year of coronavirus-induced setbacks, the Howard Area Community Center (HACC) renewed its focus with the 2021 Benefit Event, under the theme of “Building Community, Together We Shine.” 

The annual event is designed to celebrate the accomplishments of the community through a night of fundraising events and will take place May 21 on Zoom.

HACC serves more than 8,000 people per year through a variety of services and programs, such as ESL tutoring, dental clinics and nursing programs. While HACC typically holds the fundraiser in person, safety protocols led them to switch to a virtual event in 2020 and 2021.

Chair of the benefit committee Pam Horan-Bussey, an alumnus of Loyola’s Social Work graduate program (‘97), has been on the board of HACC for the past five years. With the virtual event came a creative revamp to the traditional fundraiser.

For this year’s event, Horan-Bussey said they’re auctioning gift cards for local restaurants who have supported HACC in the past, such as Rogers Park Social and South of the Border.

“Usually with a fundraiser, you ask restaurants if they can give you a donation, but this has been a really rough year on restaurants,” Horan-Bussey, 53, said. “And so we’re not asking them for a donation, but we are buying a gift card from them.”

Courtesy of Catherine LaMendola | The Howard Area Community Center HACC serves more than 8,000 community members a year, with programs such as tutoring for children.

Joining Horan-Bussey on the benefit committee is Loyola graduate student Nathan Ellstrand, who’s been involved with HACC since 2017. He joined the center through Loyola’s Graduate Student Advisory Council (GSAC) as a member of the service committee, where he eventually served as chair.

Ellstrand, the 2018-19 president of GSAC and a doctoral candidate in the history department, built a relationship between HACC and the GSAC service committee. The group was recognized with a community partner award for their work in 2017-18 and 2018-19. 

“It was a great kind of relationship that we developed,” Ellstrand, 33, said. “We reached out to them whenever we wanted to help them, and vice-versa.”

In the fall of 2019, he was recruited by former HACC volunteer coordinator Maxine Bailey to join the benefit committee and help recruit vendors, due to his knowledge as a “foodie.” 

Although the transition to virtual events left food a moot point, Ellstrand’s commitment to the benefit didn’t cease. 

For the 2020 fundraiser, Ellstrand created a Spotify playlist to coincide with the event’s theme of diversity in Rogers Park. He curated music from the many different cultures represented in the neighborhood for the playlist, which he said was a big hit.

“Rogers Park is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Chicago, if not in the country. It has people from over 50 countries represented in the neighborhood,” Ellstrand said.

Courtesy of Catherine LaMendola | The Howard Area Community Center HACC offers adult education classes as part of their programs.

For the 2021 event, he expanded on the idea. To align with this year’s theme, Ellstrand posted a Facebook message in various Rogers Park groups asking for the names of musical artists and bands who live in or are from the neighborhood.

In addition to helping out restaurants, they wanted to focus the fundraiser on representing the community. 

“The committee just loved the playlist last year and they wanted to do something again this year,” Ellstrand said. “And the idea we brought up is, why not feature artists, musicians, bands and so on from Rogers Park.”

Dozens of replies led him to an abundance of artists from Rogers Park and the surrounding area, which he formed into an 18 song, 62 minute playlist. Ellstrand included one song from each included artist to adequately represent the varied crop. He said he wanted to keep the playlist upbeat and engaging.

From new artists to classics, the playlist covers the neighborhood’s rich diversity of music. After a Tik Tok trend resurfaced “Hey Lover” by the 1960s all-female rock band Daughters of Eve, Ellstrand learned of the band’s Rogers Park origins. Despite only releasing four singles in their musical history, the track has managed to survive obscurity. 

On the newer side is “Missing Piece” by Honey Butter. The band was founded by two Northwestern University students in 2017 under the original name Wop Street Bass Ritual. The coffee-shop, jazz-pop track is sitting at more than 600,000 streams on Spotify, burgeoning the band from the student artist realm to the mainstream.

Ellstrand said the committee plans to play the playlist as guests enter the pre-event, as well as bookending the event with the songs. He said he’d like to share it with guests after the event if interested, as he did last year.

Beyond the playlist and restaurant gift cards, the event also includes raffles, spoken word poetry by Shane Calvin and awards presented by local artist Lisa Dalke, who painted each award to fit the honorees’ specific contributions to the committee.

“What we really want is to engage different parts of our community,” Horan-Bussey said.

The committee is expecting roughly 100 guests to attend the Zoom meeting. Through their sponsors, they have already raised $68,280 as of Friday morning, but Horan-Bussey stressed the importance of further donations and new volunteers to help the programs continue running successfully.

“The Howard Area Community Center serves the community that’s right on the border between Chicago and Evanston,” Horan-Bussey said. “Sometimes that’s an area that gets a little bit forgotten, in my opinion. And so we make sure that it’s not forgotten.”

The Howard Area Community Center 2021 Benefit Event will be on Zoom May 21 at 7 p.m. Those who are unable to attend the fundraiser are still encouraged to donate at the link provided, with each standard donation providing an example of where the funds will be allocated.

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