Wow! What a month!

April, 2017, was the busiest and most exciting month of my entrepreneurial life! I traveled to MOSCOW to co-host a conference for female entrepreneurs, April 11-19, then we hosted our first ever Sexual Assault Prevention Week in Chicago, April 23-29. It all concluded on the 29th with our second annual liftUPlift Ally Awards fundraiser gala.

I’m on the right (in purple) with Sarah, one of the cofounders of DesignerShare.

The Ally Awards celebrate, connect and inspire collaboration between the greatest champions of Women Power in Chicago and beyond.

All proceeds from the event support our 501(c)3 nonprofit programs that engage communities around the world in ending violence against women.

Meet all of our 2017 Ally Awards Honorees at!

This is a black-tie formal gala, and we encouraged our guests to get fancy and have fun with it. I rented my dress through DesignerShare a female-founded Chicago tech startup and a member of liftUPlift’s Alliance. I also listed some of my formal gala dresses on DesignerShare, and you can do the same, because it’s a peer-to-peer fashion rental platform! <3 <3 <3

Our event was hosted at Catalyst Ranch for the second year in a row!

This spectacular woman-owned venue is Chicago’s most creative and colorful meeting and events space. Watch my interview with Eva Niewiadomski, the owner and self-proclaimed “Czarina” of Catalyst Ranch, to learn how she found her inspiration for this business after losing her job of 15-years at Quaker Oats.

Our first hour was a cocktail mixer while everyone arrived in their finest attire.

Live music from a jazz quartet led by alto saxophonist, Jenna Przybysz!

Working on a very tight timeline, Jenna pulled together an awesome jazz quartet that totally delighted our guests and set the perfect mood for our event! Jenna led the group on alto sax, with a smooth, dark-hued tone. She also instigated some great musical dialogue between the other band members, who proved to be a very impressive coalition of improvisers!

At 7pm, we moved to the Polka Room for dinner and the Awards presentation.

The day before, my cofounder Rachel and I had bought out every single color of plastic plates, cups, silverware, table clothes, and pitchers for water at our local dollar store. The rainbow effect meant we didn’t need to find 80 of everything all in one color, PLUS it looked PERFECT in Catalyst Ranch!

Our honorees were seated with their guests and with other Allies whose work aligned with their own. The dinner seating arrangement was an important part of our effort to inspire collaboration between the honorees.

I introduced the honorees one by one, and there was much embracing!

To conclude, we announced our first ever Powerful Woman of the Year, Thanaa Al-Rais!

Thanaa Al-Rais was born in Syria. When the war began, she fled with her family—husband Muhammed and their five children, three girls and two boys—leaving behind several businesses and their house.

They moved to Egypt, where they made ends meet until their daughters were horribly wounded in a freak accident in a Turkish camp.

Last year, Thanaa and her family came to America through Refugee One, searching for a better life. Though they have found it, Thanaa’s oldest daughter remains stuck in Egypt due to the Trump administration’s latest crackdown on international VISAs.

Thanaa and Muhammed are fighting for justice. They are working with RISE movement in Chicago and have appeared on ABC and WGN to talk about the extreme vetting they went through to come here and their fears that they won’t see their daughter again.

Despite those challenges, Thanaa is thriving in America! She and her family have explored many places with their host family, Genevieve Thiers and Daniel Ratner and their sons, Ari and Leo. They have enrolled their kids in school, learned some great English, and Thanaa launched a catering company!

Thanaa catered our event, and it was WONDERFUL!

The MENU included:

Appetizers: Warm pita bread with fresh veggie platter, hummus, and olives; Tabouli salad; Stuffed vine leaves

Dinner: Falafel and Boregs; 3 large meat platters; Rice and faro platters; White lasagna; Syrian pizzas (3 varieties)

Dessert: Baklava; Chocolate cake; Crème caramel dessert

Thanaa made sure some of the menu items were vegetarian and gluten free. I would hire her again in a heartbeat! 

To learn more about Thanaa and her company, visit


Read about our 2017 Ally Awards Honorees this month in Chicago Woman Magazine!

Thank you to all our Ally Awards sponsors!