Inside their Oak Park home is a change jar in the kitchen that the family’s oldest child, 15-year-old Sadie Briggs, says symbolizes the legacy of her great-grandfather, Joseph R. Shaker. 

“It’s always in my head that if you have extra change, it goes to St. Jude,” Briggs said, referencing the Memphis, Tennessee-based pediatric hospital that Shaker was influential in founding.

“[The jar is] just kind of there and if we have extra change from ice cream or something we put it in,” said Briggs during an interview last week. “Anything makes a difference. My grandfather is very involved [with St. Jude] and that’s always what he told me.” 

Last week, Briggs prepared for a trip to Memphis, where she would tour St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and participate in numerous philanthropic activities as a participant in the inaugural St. Jude Leadership Society. 

The program is an offshoot of American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities (ALSAC), St. Jude’s fundraising and awareness organization, which Joseph Shaker and his wife Helen — along with five other Chicago-area couples and St. Jude’s primary founder, the entertainer Danny Thomas — started in 1957, roughly five years before the hospital opened.

“While attending leadership development classes during a four-month period, the group of 28 students set personal fundraising goals,” ALSAC officials explained in an email. “Together they raised more than $60,000 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. … Sadie set a goal of $2,000 and raised more than $3,400 by selling St. Jude bracelets, among other activities.”

Each student was paired with an adult mentor. Sadie’s mentor is her mother, Kimberly Briggs, Joseph R. Shaker’s granddaughter. 

“We used the jar to try teaching the kids to always think about others and to give back,” Kimberly said, noting that the Memphis trip will be a pilgrimage of sorts for her and Sadie, considering how deeply enmeshed their family is with the hospital’s support system. 

Generations of Shakers have followed Joseph R’s footsteps as members of ALSAC’s board of directors. And there’s a similar dynamic in force at what’s now called Shaker Recruitment Marketing, which the patriarch — a child of Lebanese immigrants, born in Niles, Ohio — founded in 1951. Shaker died in 2006 and his wife, Helen, died in 2015.

The company would grow to become one of the largest privately held and family-owned recruitment ad agencies in the country, eventually setting up shop in downtown Oak Park. The company’s board chairman and principal is Joe Shaker, its president Joe Shaker Jr., while other family members populate the company’s leadership. 

They, in turn, give back — not just to St. Jude’s but also to entities much closer to home, such as St. Vincent Ferrer in River Forest and St. Giles in Oak Park, two organizations that have benefited from the Shaker family largesse. 

The ALSAC leadership program is designed to perpetuate this virtuous cycle of philanthropy, Kimberly said. 

“The program is here to show teens how to raise funds and to get them in the door because once you get in the door you don’t ever want to leave,” she said. “We’re trying to get these young kids to find an outlet to give back. Once they see the hospital and become part of it, they’ll want to keep it going.”

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com 

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