Wednesday, October 18, 2023 • 5 - 6 pm

Watch the Event

The Elgin Development Group, a division of the Elgin Area Chamber presents the Elgin Image Awards. These awards recognize individuals, businesses and organizations that have had a positive impact on Elgin by promoting the positives of why Elgin is a great place to live, work, learn, do business, get involved, visit and enjoy.

The Enhancing Elgin Committee of the EDG consists of members from School District U-46, Elgin Community College, Elgin History Museum, ColorWord Creative, DNA, Elgin Area Chamber, Elgin Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, Gail Borden Public Library, Grand Victoria Casino, and Caring Farewells Funeral Designers.

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Elgin Image Awards 2023 Night

2023 Winners

2023 Elgin Image Award Recipients


Click through Photos of the Submissions

Elgin Image Awards 2023

Creating a Difference Groups/ Excellence in DEI or Building Equity:

The Haight

Welcoming over 300,000 visitors since opening its doors in 2015, The Haight has not just been a venue but a thriving epicenter of community activity. This impressive footfall is indicative of its prominence and the trust it has garnered over the years. Beyond the numbers, It has witnessed stories of love, joy, and new beginnings, embedding itself in the cherished memories of many. The numerous fundraisers, festivals, and community donations exemplify their dedication to giving back. The countless volunteer hours dedicated by The Haight family team reflect their belief in hands-on community service. Their consistent involvement speaks volumes about their commitment to Elgin's betterment.

The owners' active participation in board leadership roles demonstrates their drive to influence positive change not just within their industry but in the broader community landscape. The Haight Elgin's dedication to the community isn't limited to business. Their involvement in various charitable events and causes speaks volumes about their commitment to making Elgin a better place for all its residents.  The owners of the Haight serve on the boards of EMSA, EACVB and also contribut to the efforts of the D-300 food pantry, Sandys Stockgs, and the Community Crisis Center.

Where others might have seen just an underutilized structure, The Haight recognized potential, ultimately reshaping and revitalizing a significant segment of Downtown Elgin.  Their ability to see beyond the present and reimagine spaces is just the tip of the iceberg. Consistently staying ahead in an ever-evolving industry demands continual reinvention, a challenge The Haight has consistently risen to. Their commitment to innovation isn't just for novelty's sake. It's rooted in a deep understanding of their clientele's desires and the broader trends of the events industry. The Haight has become a Catalyst for Tourism, significantly contributing to our local economy and boosted our status as a must-visit destination.

The Haight is A Beacon of Inspiration: Their ability to reinvent and stay ahead in the industry serves as an inspiration for other businesses. Their story – of transforming a once-underutilized space into a bustling hub – instills a sense of possibility and encourages innovative thinking. In essence, The Haight’s influence extends far beyond its walls. It touches hearts, ignites dreams, fosters community spirit, and drives positive change.


Creating a Difference Groups/ Excellence in DEI or Building Equity:

African American Coalition of Kane County (AACKC) 

Ms. Bassett is the current President of the African American Coalition of Kane County (AACKC) and was the visionary leader who brought the 2 day Juneteenth Celebration back to Elgin this past June.  During this celebration, people inside and outside of Elgin learned the history of Juneteenth and enjoyed a family friendly festival. As one attendee stated, “Elgin’s Juneteenth reminds me of a Family Reunion.”   In addition to Juneteenth 2022, Shirley Bassett and AACKC have offered programs on entrepreneurship, finance, social justice and mental health for our communities of color. Shirley has been a supporter of the children and families who participate in the YWCA Elgin Programs. During this past Thanksgiving Season, Shirley organized and delivered meals to the Community Crisis Center. In addition, Ms. Basset and the AACKC have offered programs to Elgin area community members related to minority business ownership, "race relations" in Elgin. A Youth Ambassador Program has been created offering mentorship and training to Elgin's young people of color.

Ms. Bassett and the AACKC have been the most recipient of the City of Elgin's Dr. King Humanitarian Award. Shirley Bassett and the AACKC hasve been a shining examples of  servant leaders who face challenges with humility and perseverance. Her motto is “Failure is not an option”. Her vision and tenacity of spirit and belief in justice for all of us have inspired local leaders and community members to become part of Juneteenth.

Shirley Bassett is an ardent community activist and advocate whose whole life has been an answer to Dr. King’s challenge- “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?’ “  Shirley has been a voice for the voiceless, a shoulder for the weary to lean on, a woman with a plan and a purpose and an eternal willingness to serve others.


Creating a Difference Groups/ Excellence in DEI or Building Equity:

Elgin Hispanic Network

The impact of the Elgin Hispanic Network on the city of Elgin is profound. They have consistently worked to enhance the image and well-being of the Latino community, fostering a sense of unity and progress. Through their initiatives, such as educational scholarships and addressing housing issues, they have directly contributed to improving the lives of community members. Moreover, their involvement in the Adopt-A-Highway Program and virtual gatherings during the pandemic has had a positive influence on the broader community, showcasing their commitment to the city's welfare.

The lasting legacy of the Elgin Hispanic Network is one of empowerment, unity, and community development. Their establishment in 1987 and subsequent growth over the years have left an indelible mark on the Latino community in Elgin. The educational scholarships they provide have empowered numerous students to pursue their dreams, and their advocacy on various community issues has made a lasting impact. Their legacy will continue to inspire future generations to work towards the betterment of Elgin.

The Elgin Hispanic Network has positively impacted the lives of others in the community by providing educational scholarships, addressing housing concerns, and fostering a sense of community through their initiatives and events. These actions have directly improved the prospects and well-being of community members, particularly those from the Latino community. Additionally, their sustained efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic ensured that community members did not feel isolated, further highlighting their positive impact.

What sets the Elgin Hispanic Network apart and makes them unique is their long-standing commitment to the Latino community in Elgin. They were founded with a clear vision and have consistently grown and evolved to address evolving community needs. Their dedication to education, proactive stance on important issues, and ability to adapt, as seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, make them a unique and invaluable asset to the city of Elgin. Their unity, progress, and unwavering commitment to community betterment make them a standout nominee for the Elgin Image Award.


Creating a Difference Groups/ Youth Service Project (for people 21 and under):

Organization of Latin American Students

The Organization of Latin American Students (OLAS) hosts an annual cultural pageant called Miss Latinoamérica to promote the Latin American culture in the Elgin community while also providing an opportunity for a local high school or college student to win a scholarship and help them pursue their education. The students involved in the preparations and planning for this event volunteer countless hours from promoting the pageant in the community and recruiting contestants, to partnering with local businesses and getting sponsorships.

As a community with over 47% Hispanic population, this pageant is especially impactful for young Latina women in the community to stay connected with their Latinx heritage roots and help to support their pursuit of higher education through the opportunity to win a scholarship. Most importantly, OLAS identified a need in the community to provide a scholarship opportunity for undocumented and mixed status students so the pageant is also open to all young high school and college Latina students regardless of their status.

Through OLAS' Miss Latinoamérica cultural pageant, they inspire and empower young Latina women to embrace their culture and pursue a higher education to achieve their dreams and the dreams of their family regardless of their citizenship status. Oftentimes, contestants also become inspired to return for future pageants as volunteers, judges, hosts, etc. and continue their participation by giving back to the organization in order to provide the same experience for other students.

OLAS was founded in 1990 by Elgin's very own influential community leader, Jane Barbosa. Her legacy of creating this organization alone has made a huge impact in the lives of the students who stepped up to lead this organization year after year. OLAS' legacy is evident in the many current Elgin community leaders who were former OLAS members and are now serving in leadership positions in the Elgin Hispanic Network, CHSE, and Centro de Informacion, just to name a few.

When students get involved in the pageant whether as leaders, contestants, performers, or volunteers, there's a sense of pride not just in their culture, but also in spreading that awareness in their community.  It takes a big commitment and responsibility to make this event a success and students spend countless hours planning and preparing for the event. Students volunteer their time because they see the value and impact of creating a sense of community among their peers and providing a support network for each other.


Gamechanger Project:

Elgin History Museum

The Elgin History Museum fundraised and managed the rehabilitation of the Nancy Kimball Cobblestone House at 302 West Chicago St. in Elgin improving the entryway to the near west side. The problem property at the corner of West Chicago and Crystal Streets sat boarded up for six years. This cobblestone house built in 1846 was one of the oldest residences in Elgin, had unique architectural style and was originally built for the Kimballs, a founding family in Elgin.

The building was so dilapidated, the City could not use it as planned and mothballed the house. By rehabbing the building the Museum focused Elgin's attention on the often unrecognized local history of the west side. It made the house useful for educational programs, exhibits and events, and it was a project that everyone could get involved. The building will serve as a gallery space for local history exhibits, decorative art and architecture, as a space for educational programs for adults and students, as a work room for hands-on demonstratons and community projects and as a meeeting space for small groups and events.

The Nancy Kimball Cobblestone House Rehabilitation was an 8-year project. The Museum fundraised during this time raising $650,000 from grants, hundreds of individual donors, and several bequests to get the house stable and usable. Partnerships were developed with the Wild Ones Garden group for the natural landscaping, in-kind professional donors, neighborhood associations and Museum volunteers. Everyone pitched in to Save the Cobblestone, Build the Neighborhood.

The Nancy Kimball Cobblestone House is now an eye-catching, unusual building that brings you back in time to the Elgin's beginnings in the 1830s and 1840s and provides a connection to one of Elgin’s founding families. The care that the building now has makes a positive impact on the immediate neighborhood and on Elgin as a whole. The building is now an Elgin landmark and public access building that generations will enjoy.


Gamechanger Project:

Go With the Flow

Describe the volunteer community service performed by the nominee:

Carrie Zaccaria is the founder of a local non-profit called "Go With the Flow" that helps collect and distribute hygiene products, toilettes and other necessities for those experiencing difficulty in obtaining them.  Carrie's vision for 2023 was to have "Hygiene Hutches" available in areas of need inn Elgin so recipients could take what they need when they needed it.  The "Hygiene Hutch" principal is similar to the micro pantry and free library boxes you see around the area.

 In order to make this vision a reality, Carrie was able to enlist the help of the Elgin Areas Men's Shed, a local nonprofit that does woodworking projects for the community,, to build the hutches and help with the installation.   The first "Hygiene Hutch" was installed on August 19,2023 at the Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren, 783 Highland Ave in Elgin.  In the short time it has been available it has seen a great deal of use.  It has been filled with both small food items and hygiene/menstrual products and Go With the Flow and others have been restocking it on a regular basis.  The area it was placed in is within walking distance of 3 schools, Mercy Housing apartments and is seemingly being utilized by the neighborhood as need is great at this time.

Carrie Zaccaria and the Elgin Area's Men Shed worked to make the building of the "Hygiene Hutch" as affordable as possible.  Four hutches in total were built and the Go With the Flow organization is looking for other locations and partners to place the remaining ones.  Personnel from the Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren have indicated to us that their neighborhood has a lot of low income residents and the products provided are greatly needed. 

We hope the "Hygiene Hutch" concept will catch on.  Future hutches could be installed at local non-profits, businesses or individual situations and are meant to be stocked and replenished by Go With the Flow.  If a group/organization wants to help "adopt" a hutch and keep it stocked, Go With the Flow, would assist with that as well. 

These hutches are durable and with community involvement can be kept stocked and maintained for years to come.  There will always be a need for hygiene products as "period poverty" is a real thing and this is a small way we can help individuals restore dignity, confidence and self respect during times of hardship.  

We are hoping that other service groups or organizations will see the "Hygiene Hutches" and want to "adopt" them with the guidance and resources available from Go With the Flow.  The hutches are designed for individuals to to take what they need, leave what you can as well which makes the opportunities for giving back to your neighbors even easier.


Gamechanger Project:

Firefighter’s Memorial Plaza

Mike took it upon himself to plan and organize all aspects of the building of the Firefighters Memorial Plaza at Fire Barn #5 Museum. Due to Mike’s hard work, firefighters from around the state can enjoy the plaza dedicated to Illinois fallen firefighters.

Mike spent untold hours with developers and builders as well as getting sponsors and donations from residents of Elgin and surrounding communities. Mike’s hard work and dedication to putting this plaza on the grounds of the amazing Elgin Fire Barn #5 Museum, showed that we can preserve Elgin’s amazing history, while also looking forward.

The Firefighter Memorial Plaza will memorialize all of Illinois’ line of duty firefighter fatalities, as well as all firefighters (active or retired) who pass each year. Mike spent 30 years as an Elgin Firefighter, the last 4 as Chief.  Over those 30 years he was involved in countless programs that helped the community he served.

Mike Falese took on this monumental project and volunteered his time to honor past, present, and future firefighters all across Illinois. Mike was retired from the Elgin Fire Department and was Chief of Bartlett when he got involved with this project, showing how truly special Elgin is to him.


Gamechanger Project:

Well Child Center

We nominate our organization, Well Child Center specifically for our "Food for Families" pantry which opened in November 2022 and has served over 2,300 families and 10,000+ individuals, to date, by providing food but also other basic essentials for families (eg, diapers, wipes, hygiene products, baby food, books and more).

The impact on Elgin has been tremendous. Providing food and other basic essentials to more than 10,000 community members in less than 8 months of operation and on a shoestring budget, means that the most vulnerable children and families in our community have more of what they need to survive in this current economic climate. The WCC pantry is a safe haven for families visiting Well Child Center's headquarters on Wing Street and Route 31. When families visit Well Child Center and its pantry, they also have access to the services and support of more than 10 other non-profit family-serving organizations who are tenants in the building. These tenants/non-profits also are able to refer families to shop at the pantry.

Well Child Center's leadership team and pantry coordinator have worked tirelessly to ensure that the pantry has the inventory necessary to meet the needs of community members who shop with us. The level of coordination involved in operating the pantry to the level that we do is extraordinary. We shop for food 2 times per week at Food for Greater Elgin -- our partner in operating the pantry; we have partnered with Gail Borden Library and its TechKnow Mobile to provide library services to the public 1 day per week as part of the pantry; we have partnered with 9 companies/businesses/organizations in the community on monthly donation drives for the pantry; we have received support from numerous family foundations and local churches and clubs for the pantry, as well.

We continue to inspire the community by offering a non-judgmental, clean, welcoming, and "different" way to shop for the most vulnerable members of our community -- women, children and families. We inspire others with our positive approach to providing support to families, our welcoming attitude and disposition, and our overall helpfulness. Each and every time someone visits Well Child Center for a tour or other purpose, they are beyond inspired by Food for Families and ask for input on how they can support our efforts. 

Well Child Center's Food for Families has positively impacted the lives of others in our community in many ways. Through anecdotes from neighbors who visit/shop at the pantry, as well as through surveys/assessments, we found that of the neighbors that took the survey, they found the pantry helpful financially and to supplement their food. They like the diapers, variety of food, and other items. Some of the most commonly asked for items include fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, milk, wipes, and baby shampoo.

The partnerships established through Food for Families are what makes it unique. We partner with local churches and clubs, other non-profit organizations, the public library, individuals, the Elgin Township, Advocate Good Shepard Hospital; Meijer Foods (on Randall Road), Share Your Spare, and so many others to ensure the options available through the pantry meet the needs of families in our community. Further, we are geographically located in the center of the community -- making shopping at Food for Families more accessible and convenience to families. Our positive spirit and passion to "help" at so many levels are what make us unique!

Gamechanger Project:

Violins of Hope

Educating our community about the Holocaust so that we will never forget and it will never happen again was the mission of The Violins of Hope Elgin Collaborative. The Violins of Hope Elgin Collaborative (VOHEC) joined cultural, educational, and governmental agencies to bring the Violins of Hope to the Elgin community. The Gail Borden Public Library designed the display and exhibited the Violins of Hope from April 2023—September 2023.  Over 75,210 people viewed the exhibit, with 23 docents guiding 542 of those visitors on 70 tours of the Violins of Hope exhibit. 11 programs were held at the library—concerts, plays, film screenings, and lectures—and attended by 1030 people.   Music provided hope during humankind’s darkest hours and continues to do so today. At one hope-filled event, Elgin Symphony Orchestra performed on the “playable” violins at Hemmens, moving the audience of 1161. ESO musicians played string quartets at the library and visited residents of care communities. Chamber Music On The Fox musicians presented a concert at Congregation Kneseth Israel of works by composers of the Holocaust era, notably those imprisoned at Terezín. The Rabbi and her congregation offered hospitality to concertgoers and to Avshi Weinstein, one of the collectors/founders/restorers of the Violins of Hope Collection. None of this would have been possible without the generous donations by the Seigle Family Foundation and Palmer Foundation. Their financial support ensured that the message of hope played by the Violins of Hope would be heard in Elgin.

“Great way to educate and inform the community about the wonderful contributions and positivity these violins represent.”  This comment from a visitor perfectly captures the mission of the Violins of Hope Elgin Collaborative. We set out to educate and inform Elgin so that someday there would be no hate. The word “positivity” in the visitor’s comment prevailed in the programs offered: Chamber Music on The Fox played a string trio by Gideon Klein, a musician who didn’t survive the Holocaust, but his music did; that concert was held at Congregation Kneseth Israel, where many concertgoers remarked on how hopeful they felt whenever they heard music by Jewish composers performed live. For one non-Jewish attendee, the music’s true power was revealed: “I had no idea about the role the violins played to help the Jewish people hold onto hope and survive.”

Each partner in the Violins of Hope Elgin Collaborative generously donated their unique gifts, talents, and resources. There were a lot of moving parts, but everything came together. Contributions included: • The Jewish Community Center of Chicago sponsored the exhibit, bringing the Violins and their curator, Avshi Weinstein, to the US and to the Chicago area. • The Gail Borden Public Library housed the exhibit, designing the cases, information panels, and other design elements. • 23 docents guided 542 visitors on 70 tours of the Violins of Hope exhibit, for a total of 285 volunteer hours. • Class visits for U46 students brought in 90 students, including South Elgin High School’s Beacon Academy students who created and debuted a film about antisemitism inspired by the exhibit.  • The South Elgin High School Drama Club worked with playwright Phyllis Zimbler Miller, a former Elginite, on a staged reading of The Thin Edge of the Wedge, a series of biographical vignettes compiled from Holocaust memoirs and diaries.  • The Elgin History Museum loaned its beautiful panel exhibit, The Jewish Experience of Elgin: Stories of Immigration, Identity, and Assimilation, to be displayed alongside the Violins at the Library. • Musicians from the Elgin Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Music On The Fox performed throughout the Elgin area, including Hemmens Cultural Center, the Gail Borden Public Library, Congregation Kneseth Israel, and 20 residential care communities. • The Hanson Quartet of the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra performed Shostakovich’s 8th string quartet at the film screening of Crescendo, offering cogent commentary about fascism and antisemitism as well as a mature, masterful performance. • City of Elgin/Hemmens Cultural Center waived the rental fee for the U46 student event and the concert featuring the “playable” violins. • PACE donated 50 round trip bus passes which were distributed to seniors who otherwise may not have had transportation to view the exhibit.

“These violins represent a history that tells us so much—forever connecting us to man’s inhumanity to man—and how we manage to survive. Never to be forgotten.”—A visitor to the Violins of Hope exhibit.  Rabbi Margaret Frisch-Klein of Congregation Kneseth Israel guided a bat mitzvah student through her mitzvah project on the Violins of Hope. Rabbi’s student was entranced by the Violins and their message of hope, and she wanted to share that legacy with others; her mitzvah project raised funds for the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra. Clearly the legacy of the Violins of Hope is hope, resilience, and survival, bound by the promise we make to each other today and tomorrow that this will never happen again. Antisemitism must be stamped out. Knowledge of humanity’s darkest hours, the courage to face these atrocities, and the commitment to spread love not hate have been instilled in our community, from youth to the elderly, thanks to the Violins of Hope.  Elgin’s great strength is its people—when we come together, there is nothing we can’t accomplish. The Violins of Hope Elgin Collaborative proved something we already take great pride in—our ability to work together.

The outpouring of love and volunteerism was amazing! Visitors came forward to lead tours of the exhibit at the library, spread the word to family and friends far and near, and share their own stories of the Holocaust. One woman taking a docent-led tour of the exhibit pointed at a portrait of a Belgian nun on the “Upstanders” wall and said simply: “She rescued me.” That was Margaret Mishkin, who then went on to share her gripping story at a library program on August 13th, “Voices of Hope: Survivor Stories of The Holocaust.” Gale Jacoby, the daughter of survivors, volunteered to be a docent, leading many tours over the last few months. Jacoby also gave several presentations to high school students, moving them to tears. Violinists Jennifer Silk and Daniela Folker performed for residents of care communities, bringing the Violins of Hope experience in 20 programs to 425 people who were not able to come to the library. Silk also led tours of the exhibit, adding her musical accompaniment.

Violins of Hope was an astounding success because it was truly a community collaboration. In August 2022 the Jewish Community Center of Chicago invited Gail Borden Public Library to host the Violins of Hope, a huge honor, and no small endeavor. Community buy-in was essential. The Library gathered its longtime trusted partners from various sectors and began working immediately to plan the exhibit, concerts, programs, and marketing.   The Violins of Hope Elgin Collaborative partners included: Chamber Music On The Fox—Mark Fry, Sara Sitzer City of Elgin/Hemmens Cultural Center—Butch Wilhelmi Congregation Kneseth Israel—Rabbi Margaret Frisch Klein Elgin History Museum—Elizabeth Marston Elgin Symphony Orchestra—Eric Gaston, Marc Thayer, Rylan Virnig Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra—K. Eric Larson Jewish Community Center of Chicago—Ilene Uhlmann, Hillary Wenk Gail Borden Public Library—Sadia Ahmed, Tish Calhamer, Ana Devine, Laura Espinosa, Miriam Lytle, Carole Medal, Denise Raleigh, Jeanie Ziegler PACE—John Kokoris, Melinda Metzger Palmer Foundation—John Steffen School District U46—Brian Erlich, Jacob Vandemoortel Seigle Family Foundation—Mark and Robyn Seigle


Gamechanger Project:


The wonderful group of volunteers making up ELGbtq+ worked tirelessly to create Elgin's first-ever Pride Parade and Festival! The impact was huge. The mission of ELGbtq+ is to create a safe, welcoming environment for all lgbtquia+ humans and allies, and they did just that. Through the parade and festival they reached hundreds of Elgin area lgbtquia+ individuals and allies, and provided a platform for all to celebrate and learn from each other, as well as create unity within the community. The group brought hundreds of people to downtown Elgin for its event.

ELGbtq+ worked with numerous businesses and organizations over years to make this event come to life. Originally planned for 2021, the group of volunteers remained steadfast through the height of the Covid pandemic and beyond, raising funds, hosting smaller events, gathering artists and sponsors, and so on. Through working with collaborators such as the City of Elgin, Martini Room, Side Street Studio Arts, Elgin Community College, and so many more, the group brought an important and excellent event to our downtown.

This group and event are inspiring on so many levels. Being the first to do anything is an uphill climb, but they worked through barriers, prejudices, and frustrations to bring the first Pride celebration to Elgin. Seeing this happen has inspired many to engage, create, and uplift. Even more importantly, the welcoming, inclusive, and safe environment created inspires all of us to strive to create safer spaces for the lgbtqia+ community in Elgin and beyond.

The work of ELGbtq+ teaches are community to love, respect, and care for all of our citizens. It inspires us to celebrate and cherish our differences, and to respect the humanity of all around us. These lessons are important, timely, necessary, and ongoing. This is the best part - ELGbtq+ celebrates the uniqueness in us all!


Professional Rockstar:

Dianha Ortega-Ehreth

Describe the volunteer community service performed by the nominee:

In addition to her work experience, Dianha has a long history of board/volunteer service to Elgin, starting with serving on the City of Elgin's Human Relations Committee & Martin Luther King, Jr. Planning Committee from 2011-2017, also being in the Elgin Leadership Academy's Class of 2011. She has been highly active in the Elgin Hispanic Network, serving as its President in 2018 and Treasurer from late 2022 to the present, and from 2021-2023 served on the Board of Directors of Elgin Public Museum, first as Secretary and then as Treasurer. Her locally based work experience has included Executive Director of the Youth Leadership Academy from 2010-2017 and Office Coordinator for The Literacy Connection in 2021-22, before being selected as Executive Director of Centro de Informacion in the summer of 2022.

A natural-born organizer, Dianha has an amazing capability to see any situation, from a mountain of paperwork to a humanitarian crisis, and start sorting it out in her head -- and then bring that vision to fruition. I can personally attest to the miracle she effected as Treasurer of the Board of Directors of Elgin Public Museum, untangling decades of neglected financial records and creating a new system to replace obsolete accounting methods.

Once a newly-arrived immigrant herself, Dianha knows exactly how that experience feels, and can empathize with those in the same situation. In return, they see Dianha and the incredible network of support and hard-earned achievement that is Elgin's Latino community, and know this is a caring place of opportunity -- making it a better Elgin for all.  

There are, and there will be many more, people in Elgin and beyond who, because of Dianha and the organizations she has worked and volunteered for, have jobs and roofs over their heads ... have received legal counsel they otherwise could not have afforded ... can speak and read and write in English ... have health care for themselves and their children ... received food when they were hungry ... received assistance to further their educations ... the list goes on and on!

When Dianha tackles something, it shall be done. Never be fooled by her mild-mannered, quiet approach! Dianha Ortega-Ehreth in three words: Soft-Spoken Determination.


Creating A Difference Group/ Green Initiative/Sustainable Business of the Year:

Elgin Math and Science Academy

Participating in outdoor recreation is a significant part of the culture and community in Elgin, Illinois, yet the outdoors is not accessible to everyone who lives there, in fact we are seeing a large “nature gap” particularly around environmental equity. Many of our students come from high-poverty communities that are underresourced. Students and families have little or no access to nature.

Creating opportunities for our students to take part in the outdoors and to become the next generation of outdoor leaders addresses a real need in our school community and the larger outdoor industry. In addition to our expeditionary-style curriculum,  EMSA is beginning to expand our outdoor environmental education programming. EMSA has assembled leading experts in environmental sciences to teach our students about the world around them, specifically the rare ecosystem that surrounds our campus, the forested fen. A unique site where the only comparable habitats found in the boreal forests of Minnesota and Canada.

Our Environmental Outdoor Education program connects students to nature where they live, develop, and empower future stewards of the natural world, creating a culture of  ELGIN MATH & SCIENCE ACADEMY CHARTER SCHOOL  conservation within their community. Post-pandemic, parents and teachers are more aware than ever that outdoor learning and play are key to a child’s health and well-being. By developing a “sense of place” and a connection with the natural world in EMSA’s backyard, our students will become stewards of the environment and engage in more active and proactive lifestyles, ultimately resulting in increased self-worth, confidence, resilience, future aspirations, capacity for learning and decreased obesity and community violence.

Our environmental education curriculum includes both indoor and outdoor components. This inquiry-based program inspires students to be experts, sharing what they already know about based on their classroom learning and general observation skills. The students are also tasked with creating a research project which is met with excitement given their first-hand experiences in witnessing their chosen natural habitat.

Our overall goal for the Outdoor Environmental Education program is to build advocates for nature through education and outdoor experiences. We believe the knowledge, skills, and confidence gained by young people who study the environment will lead them to care more about nature near where they live and spend more time outdoors. We hope that anyone that comes to our campus will leave to love the beauty of nature and become an advocate in their own community to take care of where they live, work and play.

The Elgin Math & Science Academy (EMSA) is an Illinois 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, it was formed in 2018 by local parents and community stakeholders to establish the first free, public charter school in the U-46 School District. The Elgin Math and Science Academy is an EL Education public charter school. We strive to support the whole child and develop socially responsible leaders who aspire to create a better world. EMSA will be an inspirational model for K-8 public education. Together, we will equip our students to be successful in a changing world and we will empower them to think critically with a global perspective while living out our Habits of Scholarship: Respect, Responsibility, Courage, and Creativity.