Benedictine University program aims to help create diverse women leaders

A new program at Benedictine University in Lisle aims to help create diverse women leaders and future change agents.

L.E.A.D.S. — Leadership, Empowerment, Action, Development and Service — is a four-year, cocurricular program for freshmen undergraduate students. The program is in its inaugural year with 22 students chosen this fall.

Applications for the 2022 school year are being accepted now. Enrollment is capped at 25 students. Candidate interviews will begin in January and selections will be made by June 1.

“Part of the objective of this program is to make sure that we get a diverse group of young women,” said Nicki Anderson of Naperville, program director and former head of the Naperville Chamber of Commerce.

Anderson said she aims to help students discover leadership styles embodying benevolence and authenticity.

Anderson, 60, was the first female CEO in the chamber’s 112-year history, before being asked to develop and oversee Benedictine’s program. She previously owned a health and wellness business in downtown Naperville for 20 years.

For more information, visit

Chicago's Black Santa will make a special appearance in Aurora Monday. "Dreezy Claus," played by Andre Russell, will greet Aurora-area children and families from 5 to 7 p.m. at Belle Salle Banquets, 1920 E. New York St.

Chicago’s Black Santa will make a special appearance in Aurora Monday. “Dreezy Claus,” played by Andre Russell, will greet Aurora-area children and families from 5 to 7 p.m. at Belle Salle Banquets, 1920 E. New York St.
– Courtesy of Andre Russell

Black Santa

Chicago’s self-proclaimed Black Santa will make a special appearance Monday in Aurora.

“Dreezy Claus,” played by Andre Russell, will greet Aurora-area children and families from 5 to 7 p.m. at Belle Salle Banquets, 1920 E. New York St.

Registration for the event is closed, but to get on a waitlist visit

Aurora’s African American Heritage Advisory Board and the city’s Office of Equity and Inclusion are hosting the visit.

Registered children will receive a copy of Russell’s new “Dreezy Claus Magical Coloring and Activity Book.”

Last month, Russell was the first Black Santa to lead Chicago’s 108th annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Millennium Park.

Asian Christmas

The Archdiocese of Chicago is celebrating its 36th Simbáng Gabi, which began last Wednesday and runs through Thursday (Dec. 23).

It is one of the oldest and most popular Filipino Christmas traditions, sponsored by the archdiocese’s Asian Catholic Initiative office.

The nine-day novena is celebrated in a series of dawn Masses including liturgies, music, the Filipino Christmas star-shaped symbol of the parol lantern representing the star of Bethlehem, and native delicacies. The tradition dates back to the arrival of Spanish missionaries in the Philippines. Simbáng Gabi culminates with the Misa de Gallo on Christmas Eve, welcoming the birth of Jesus Christ.

Chicago-area Filipino Catholics have organized evening Masses at nearly 60 archdiocesan churches commemorating 500 years of Catholicism in the Philippines. For a full schedule of Masses, visit

Kwanzaa celebration

Aurora-based African American Men of Unity will host a virtual Kwanzaa celebration on Dec. 26.

Kwanzaa is an annual holiday observed primarily in the United States from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1. It emphasizes the importance of the Pan-African family, community, culture and social values. It became popular during the Afrocentrist movement of the 1980s and 1990s.

The virtual gathering will include lighting of the Kwanzaa candles, spoken word and musical entertainment, singing, dancing, games and prizes. Livestreaming will begin at 6 p.m. on Facebook,

Black arts

The African American Arts Alliance of Chicago will host its 20th annual Black Excellence Awards on Dec. 27, celebrating Black artists, voices and stories across various artistic disciplines.

Selected honorees, including Illinois Poet Laureate Angela Jackson, will be recognized during the virtual ceremony, which will be broadcast live on Facebook at

The event is free and open to the public.

Choosing orphans

A Bridgeview-based humanitarian group is changing the way people choose to sponsor an orphan to make the process more equitable.

There are roughly 153 million orphans worldwide, but thousands of children are not chosen for families because of the way they look, say officials at the Zakat Foundation of America.

“In a world consumed by vanity and dominated by touched-up photos in the media, our ability to see the humanness in one another has vanished” said Amna Mirza, the organization’s chief marketing officer. “When I saw that playing a role in the orphan sponsorship world, I knew I had to make a change.”

Zakat Foundation has removed all photo selection options for orphan sponsorship from its website,

“There is no room for bias — conscious or unconscious — when offering help,” Mirza said. “In a humanitarian organization, there is even less room for conditional support. We have seen that younger girls with fairer skin and lighter eyes were sponsored more often than older boys with darker skin. It had to end.”

The foundation has supported more than 634,000 orphans in 15 countries, and its sponsorship program is growing. Donations provide food, clothing, education, hygiene, health care and other urgent aid.

It costs $50 a month — less than $2 a day — to sponsor a child.

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December 20, 2021 at 06:37AM

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