Youth Leadership Awards Dinner


On June 25th, over 400 supporters of UCAN gathered at the Four Seasons to honor five amazing youth with scholarships at the 16th Annual Youth Leadership Awards.  A special award was presented to the John E. Rooney Dynamic Scholar of the Year, which is sponsored by the family of the late John E. Rooney, former CEO of U.S. Cellular. The Host Committee for this year’s event included David Casper, Frank Clark, Jeffrey & Julie Diermeier,  Ronald J. Gidwitz, Shawn Lytle, Wayne Moretti, and Steve & Tonya Pemberton, and Rick Waddell.

John D. Nichols returned to pass along the third annual John D. Nichols Impact Award to Ronald J. Gidwitz for his exemplary leadership and commitment to children and families, especially within Chicago’s at-risk neighborhoods.

This year’s winners are listed below and we encourage you to read each of their stories and watch their powerful message in this video

  • Kiana Porter – After being introduced to UCAN through school, Kiana immediately started to display the signs of a true leader for the young girls who are often at odds with each other in her Austin community. She is devoted to her education and has maintained a 4.0 GPA while taking honors and AP courses each year. Kiana’s goal is to become an obstetrician because she adores caring for babies and has a soft spot for helping teen mothers. 
  • Naheige Lewis – Naheige believes his purpose is to educate, advocate and provide a voice for young men and women growing up in foster care. He strives to remove any stigma from the label of “foster child” so that tomorrow’s youth feel not shame or fear in revealing this identifier to others. Naheige is a model student and community activist. He serves on UCAN’s DFLN Youth Advidory Board and Chicago Peace Hub Youth Council.
  • Quinesha Johnson – Quinesha understands the importance of growth and healthy relationships, due in part to the rough start she’s had in life. She has found inspiration and gained strength from her younger siblings and by channeling energy into her poetry and storytelling. After exceptional recommendations and backing from the faculty at her school, Quinesha was successful enough to graduate a year early. Many of her peers in the Phenomenal Woman program admire her tenacity and determination to accomplish her goals.
  • Kevinnisha Rucker -Kevinnisha is the embodiment of resilience. Through a number of traumatic experiences she has maintained a 3.0 GPA, made time for extracurricular activities and has become a stabilizing influence for her family and peers. Kevinnisha is interested in the performing arts and also has a passion for problem solving. She hopes to channel this strength into a career for the police force one day and help other families in Chicago feel safe. 
  • Shamaura Talley -Shamaura refuses to let her future be impacted by the negativity surrounding her neighborhood of North Lawndale. Through her involvement in the Phenomenal Woman program Shamaura has been able to find her voice, speak with authority and address the hardships that plague youth affected by gang violence. She plans to attend college with a major in business. She has a flair for styling hair which she hopes will blossom into a promising business opportunity one day.