Helping Kids Succeed in School and in Life

The Education Center will honor Tom Carroll, Thomas and Kathleen O'Donnell and local Rotary clubs at its annual Kids' Best Friend Benefit

The Education Center is proud to announce that it will honor Naperville's Rotary clubs and three outstanding community leaders at its annual Kids' Best Friend Benefit and Awards Dinner on Friday, October 20. According to Dr. Michael Litow, founder and executive director of the Education Center, "The organizations and individuals have had a major impact on children and families throughout the years. We are excited to be able to highlight them and some of the work they have done to make this world a better place for kids."

This year´s awards and winners are:

  • Kids' Best Friend Award– Tom M. Carroll, Executive Vice President and CAO (retired), RR Donnelley
  • Making a Difference Award– The Rotary Club of Naperville, The Rotary Club of Naperville/Sunrise, and The Rotary Club of Naperville/Downtown
  • George and Pat Pradel Humanitarian Award– Thomas and Kathleen O'Donnell

Kids´ Best Friend Award
Tom Carroll will receive the 2017 Kids' Best Friend Award from The Education Center at the annual Kids' Best Friend Awards benefit in October.

Tom Carroll is this year's recipient of the Kids' Best Friend Award. Formerly executive vice president and chief administrative officer of RR Donnelley. Recently retired, Carroll has dedicated his adult life to helping kids, families, and communities through his work and volunteerism.

In his early career as a psychologist, he worked at a nonprofit, The Baby Fold, in Normal, IL. The organization's mission, to "embody Christian principles to help families and children develop the hope, courage, and love they need to become whole and healthy" and "to never give up on a child" became part of his lifelong philosophy. After six years at The Baby Fold, working with children in residential treatment and home intervention programs, Carroll joined the staff of a local hospital serving kids with special needs, including those with neuro-psychological issues due to brain injuries and head trauma.

The principles that shaped Carroll in those early years have guided him throughout his corporate career. As an executive at RR Donnelley, he embraced the company's mission of making a positive difference in the communities in which employees work and live, drawing on its tradition of supporting youth, education, inclusion, and diversity. Under his guidance, RR Donnelley has been a major sponsor of many youth-focused programs throughout Naperville, Chicagoland, and nationally. Leading by example, Carroll has encouraged employees to give of their time, as well as their talents and treasure.

He has served on many not-for-profit boards including the Chicago Public Library Foundation (executive committee), the Naperville Area Humane Society (board president), Naperville Community Television (board president), Chicago YMCA (executive committee), Naperville Development Partnership (board member), and North Central College (board member).

With each organization, he has embraced the important role they have impacting children, young adults, and families. For example, RR Donnelley's dedication to the public library system includes support of summer reading programs around the country. Carroll adds, "The Chicago Public Library is about learning in the community and redefining the spaces where learning occurs." RR Donnelley's involvement with the Naperville Area Humane Society includes being part of the Paws for Tales animal-assisted reading program, in which children enjoy successful experiences while reading aloud to dogs in a non-judgmental, supportive environment. RR Donnelley supports the Safe ‘n Sound afterschool child care program and summer camps at the local YMCA and Y's across the country. The company's work with the Naperville Development Partnership includes support of its authentic learning programs for high school students in Districts 203 and 204.

Tom Carroll's board involvement began when he was chief human resource officer at RR Donnelley in Warrenville and joined the board of the Naperville Area YMCA. "I realized we were giving treasure but not time and talent, therefore, missing an opportunity to better serve the community," he observes. Working with Executive Director Tom Beerntsen and others, Carroll helped lead the merger of the Naperville Area YMCA and the Chicago YMCA. "The YMCA is very special to me," he admits. "It was the beginning for me."

As the former executive vice president and chief administrative officer, Tom Carroll had responsibilities for domestic and global administrative services for RR Donnelley – a $7 billion international company with 44,000 employees worldwide. His role included human resources, real estate, environmental health and safety, corporate marketing, community relations, postal affairs, government relations, communications, and advising an enterprise tech accelerator in New York. In addition, Carroll is a skilled business strategist, executive coach, team developer, facilitator, and motivational speaker.

His extensive responsibilities have never dampened his dedication to serving kids and families as a volunteer, and he encourages all business leaders to be involved in their communities. Carroll explains his personal philosophy. "Leadership begins with you, what you value, what your capabilities are – being generous and kind. People don't follow those they don't believe in and trust." He adds, "My own path was knowing and leading myself. Then knowing and leading others. Then knowing and leading the business."

A devoted husband and father, Tom met his late wife, Kay Dahlquist, when they worked together at the Baby Fold. They have three grown children, Andy, Tommy, and Mary.

Making a Difference Award
Rotary Club of Naperville

The eradication of polio is the goal of Rotary Clubs throughout the world. Naperville Rotarians have been involved by raising funds for this vital effort and by assisting international teams as they administer the polio vaccine to children in countries that still have endemic cases of the dreaded disease. The Rotary Club of Naperville, the Rotary Club of Naperville/Sunrise, and the Rotary Club of Naperville/Downtown will receive the Making a Difference Award at the Kids' Best Friend benefit.

Long admired for their support of community and international causes, the three Rotary clubs of Naperville are, together, being recognized with the Education Center's Making a Difference Award. The three clubs are: the Rotary Club of Naperville, chartered in 1941; the Rotary Club of Naperville/Sunrise, chartered in 1991, and the Rotary Club of Naperville/Downtown, chartered in 2007. The clubs are all members of Rotary International, one of the world's first humanitarian organizations, and they are part of over 34,000 Rotary Clubs in more than 200 countries and geographical areas with 1.2 million members worldwide.

While unified by the mission "Service above Self" and numerous international goals, such as the eradication of polio worldwide, each of Naperville's Rotary clubs has unique goals, projects, and fundraisers to make a difference in the lives of others. All are sources of fellowship and lifelong friendships.

Throughout the past 76 years, the Rotary Club of Naperville has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars and thousands of volunteer hours to support various projects and organizations, including: helping to fund capital projects such as Rotary Hill, the Millennium Carillon, the 95th Street YMCA, the Pre-Emption House, and Naperville's Riverwalk; funding sculptures for Century Walk; grants and personal involvement in building freshwater wells and a dialysis clinic in India; sending solar ovens to Honduras and the Dominican Republic; acquiring and shipping medical supplies to equip a hospital in Nigeria; supporting Upendo Village in Africa; providing thousands of dollars in college scholarships to local students, and supporting numerous local not-for-profits. The club is also dedicated to serving our veterans by helping with the regional Stand Down Day, organizing coat drives for homeless veterans, and awarding veterans with Quilts of Valor. The club's signature fund-raisers that enable this support have been Rotary Fest, Oktoberfest, Soup's On, Festiville, and weekly good-natured fines of members.

The Rotary Club of Naperville/Sunrise has focused many of its efforts on programs for teens, young adults, and families. The club supports the Rotary Youth Leadership Academy in the schools and youth leadership activities with the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce. The Sunrise Rotary club is also involved in the District 203 mock trial and youth exchange and donates to a number of local organizations dedicated to youth and family development each year. Through the School Backpack Program, each fall club members provide backpacks filled with essential school supplies to children in District 204 and Hesed House. The club also organizes an annual winter clothing drive, collecting coats, hats, gloves, mittens, and scarves in boxes throughout the community. The warm winter items are given to veterans and local organizations that provide services to people in need. International efforts center on providing clean water in Guatemala. The club also is involved in suicide prevention programs, placing hotline signs along the Burlington Northern train tracks throughout the western suburbs. Among its most delightful activities, the club offers the popular NaperLights holiday light display, which is free to the community throughout the holiday season on the grounds of Naper Settlement. Many of the club's philanthropic activities are made possible through Sunrise Rotary's annual St. Paddy's Day 5K Run.

The Rotary Club of Naperville/Downtown provides additional opportunities for individuals who want to make a difference in the community by putting service above self through membership in this worldwide organization. The downtown club, known affectionately as Naperville's 4:44 Club because of its late afternoon meeting time, focuses on supporting the Rotary Foundation and meeting unmet needs that make a difference in the community. To promote awareness of Alzheimer's and dementia, the club sponsors forget-me-not planters with signs at local businesses. Another inspiring and unique project sponsored by the club is its "Alive Inside Outreach." Using music as a vehicle for human connection via ArtSpeaks, high school students create playlists of favorite music from past generations and upload those songs to special wireless earphones for individuals who live in nursing homes or who are aging in place at home.

Elderly who have been unresponsive for years are frequently reawakened by the sounds of their youth in heart-warming meetings with the teens. The club's annual Rotary Ride for cyclists and bike riders raises funds for local nonprofits, including Naperville Responds for Veterans, Loaves and Fishes Community Services, SamaraCare, and End Polio Now, a Rotary Foundation commitment to eradicate this dreaded disease.

The Rotary Club of Naperville meets most Thursdays at 12:15 at Meson Sabika; the Rotary Club of Naperville/Sunrise meets most Friday mornings at 7:00 am at the Naperville Country Club, and the Rotary Club of Naperville/Downtown meets most Wednesdays at 4:44 pm at Hugo's Frog Bar Restaurant. The presence of three different clubs allows people interested in helping others a convenient choice of times and days to be part of this important international civic organization. Together, these three Rotary clubs make an important difference to people locally and around the world.

George and Pat Pradel Humanitarian Award
Thomas and Kathleen O'Donnell

This year's George and Pat Pradel Humanitarian Award is being given to Thomas and Kathleen O'Donnell. Once again, this important award is honoring a caring couple whose many contributions to the community have been made quietly behind the scenes. The impact of their lifelong efforts reaches deep within Naperville and beyond the ocean to foreign shores.

The children of Irish immigrants who came to America with little formal education, Tom and Kathleen were the first man and woman in their families to attend college. Armed with college educations, a strong work ethic, a country that valued achievement, and a strong devotion to God and family, this couple raised six children, volunteered in the community, found unimagined success in business, and used their personal blessings to help others.

According to Kathleen, "To me, it always begins with the children. Community starts at home. You teach your children to love one another and help others when they are in need. Today I enjoy watching my children contribute to the community in both visible and more private ways."

The O'Donnell's financial donations provided seed money for the founding of the Naperville Education Association and the Naperville Soccer Association. With a focus on education and Catholic Charities, they have quietly supported St. Raphael's School and parish, Sts. Peter and Paul, Benet Academy, Covenant Classical School, St. Patrick's Residence, Catholic Charities, and many other organizations. During the Vietnamese refugee crisis, they supported multiple families through local community organizations. They are also major supporters of Notre Dame, providing first-year scholarships to local high school students who attend the university in South Bend and four-year scholarships to several other students annually. They also funded two chairs at Notre Dame: the Thomas J. and Kathleen O'Donnell Chair of Irish Language and Literature and the Patrick B. O'Donnell Professor of Irish Studies, named in honor of their son.

The O'Donnells also believe that strength comes from knowing their heritage. "I feel it is important to know where you came from to know where you are going," explains Tom. This strong belief inspired the couple to co-found Notre Dame's Irish studies program with other business leaders, including Donald Keough, former CEO of CocaCola, and prominent Irish businessmen Michael Smurfit and Martin Naughton. In partnership with University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin, the Keough Institute for Irish Studies is the number one Irish studies program in the world. People travel to South Bend from cities around the globe to study Ireland's history.

Because of their commitment to education and the fact that Tom's uncle and father were involved in the Irish uprising in 1916, he was easily persuaded to "write a check" to help fund the award-winning documentary entitled "1916 The Irish Rebellion." Narrated by Liam Neeson, this three-part series tells the dramatic story of the events that took place in Dublin during Easter Week 1916, when a small group of Irish rebels took on the might of the British Empire. Although the rebels were defeated, the events of the 1916 Easter Rising were a precursor to an independent Irish state and inspired countless freedom struggles throughout the world.

When asked why supporting education is so important to them, Tom O'Donnell explains, "Because our parents had no education at all. Education is how you can progress in our society. You've got to get an education if you want to advance." He adds, "It is our obligation as a community to provide the best opportunity for youth to advance in our society. Andrew Carnegie believed this. He donated construction funding for more than 2,500 libraries throughout the world to provide the opportunity for other people to advance and get ahead."

Tom believes, "You have got to have a purpose. That purpose must go beyond you and your family, beyond your immediate world." Several years ago, he and his wife set up the Donegal Family Foundation so they could continue to support Naperville through their children. "When you are young, you can see the results of what you do," Tom explains. "If you work hard, you can see your business prosper and your children grow. When you get older, your role is to influence what is going to happen, knowing that you will never see the result. You have to take inspiration knowing that what you do will have an influence sometime down the road. Your efforts will make a difference for someone else."

Litow, who has dedicated his professional life to helping young people find success in school as well as in life, honors community members and organizations each year at the annual Kids' Best Friend Benefit and Awards Benefit. "Naperville is blessed to have such a depth of people who care so much for others and who are willing to give of their time and resources to make the future brighter for youth. Our honorees this year are, once again, exceptional in the myriad of ways they share their time, talents, and treasure to help others locally and around the globe."

More Information:

With a 97 percent success rate of graduating children who are facing a wide variety of issues that are keeping them from achieving success, The Education Center offers area families a place of hope and help. The annual Kids’ Best Friend benefit directly supports the many programs of The Education Center.

For more information about The Education Center, please contact the center at 630-420-7807.  The Education Center is located at 113 East Van Buren in Naperville.