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Thrive Counseling Center honored Tony and Chatka Ruggiero – two of Oak Park River Forest's most dedicated community leaders – at the annual Thrive Spring Benefit on Saturday, May 52012. The Oak Park Country Club was filled with guests showing their support for the deserving couple, while also supporting mental health services in our community. It was an unforgettable night filled with friends, philanthropy and surprises. Tony and Chatka Ruggiero received the "Rita Johnson Humanitarian Award" which is the highest honor given by Thrive Counseling Center. The award was established in 1987 in honor of a woman who was dedicated to assuring mental health services and other community causes. The award represents truth, courage, and concern for others. "Tony and Chatka have had a tremendous impact on the community over the last 40 years," said benefit co-chair and Thrive board member, Mike Lennox. "Their work has created a better tomorrow for all of us."
The event theme "Join Hands Today for a Better Tomorrow" was creatively integrated into a spectacular atrium garden, designed by the talented team at McAdam Landscaping. The atrium garden was surrounded by enticing raffle and silent auction prizes, most of which were donated by local businesses. The dining room blossomed with a spectrum of fresh green and purple flowers, gorgeously crafted by Tulipia Floral Design. Oak Park's own Jack Crowe was the Emcee of the event, keeping the energy high with his quick sense of humor and fundraising prowess. The Tau Gamma service sorority from OPRF High School helped sell raffle tickets, and assisted in a very successful paddle raise. The nationally acclaimed acting troupe Erasing the Distance performed two monologues, transcribed verbatim from interviews with real people living with mental illness. Thrive President/CEO, Nina Allen, spoke about the importance of Thrive Counseling Center for the community. "Our staff sees stories of mental illness every day," said Nina Allen.
"But they don't get to see the outpouring of support that was exhibited by community members at this event. They saw how much their work was appreciated. They will never forget it." Carolyn Poplett, a longtime Oak Park resident and mental health advocate, began the award presentation by commemorating the work of Chatka Ruggiero in a witty and heartwarming speech. And just when the crowd thought the night was over, in walked WGN Radio's Garry Meier, with a surprisepresentation for Tony Ruggiero! Meier worked with the Ruggieros at his first radio job at WFYR Chicago in the 1970s, where Tony worked as a DJ and Chatka worked as his manager. Meier gave a funny, yet heartfelt presentation, attributing the start of his radio career to the Ruggieros. The final surprise of the evening came from Kimberly McCord, an acclaimed soprano and Oak Park resident. McCord sang a piece from "Songs to Chatka" a series of lullabies written by Lora Aborn, Chatka Ruggiero's late mother and accomplished opera composer.
"Tony and Chatka have led fascinating lives and it was an honor to recognize their service," said benefit co-chair and Thrive board member, John Meister. "Our benefit committee worked really hard to make sure this event was special for both of them."
Tony and Chatka Ruggiero have had a lasting impact on Thrive and numerous local organizations. Tony Ruggiero has volunteered with Thrive Counseling Center since 2006, serving on both the board of directors and the Spring Benefit Committee. Chatka Ruggiero has worked with Animal Care League since 1998, serving as board president for the past seven years and chair of the annual fundraising luncheon for the past five years. The Ruggieros have worked closely with other organizations including the Economy Shop, Oak Park & River Forest Chamber of Commerce, The Newcomers Club, Infant Welfare Society, West Suburban Medical Center, the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation, Community Bank of Oak Park River Forest, and many more.
"I am very grateful for the years spent as a Thrive board member," said Tony Ruggiero. "I worked with some of the finest dedicated and passionate people on the board of directors, as well as the staff and committee members. All of us had one goal – sustaining Thrive as a social service agency, most needed in our community."
Event photos and information about Thrive Counseling Center can be found at www. Thrivecc.org.