Scene and Be Seen

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Host committee member Jane Monzures with Cassandra Gaddo. Photo: Joe Dupree

Charity events in Chicago are a great time. On a social note, you’re bound to run into new and old friends, colleagues and acquaintances and ham it up all night long. As for your appetite, filling appetizers or a delightful buffet spread can be expected, along with creative signature cocktails and an open bar (an aspect that your plus one – at least in my case – asks about upon their invitation). And wardrobe wise, it ushers in the opportunity to wear that elegant dress that’s sitting in the back of your closet, put on an extra layer of eyeliner, and class it up like a Gossip Girl episode for an evening…especially if an Uber is involved.

It’s easy to make a whole night out of these alluring events, but the only problem? It’s even easier to forget why you’re there. As great as it is to give your $100 to a local, national or global cause, the point of our presence at a charity event has the tendency to get lost amidst the pretty BCBG dresses, vodka sodas and checking yourself and ten friends in on Facebook with a charming Instagram picture (I’m guilty, too). That is, until a drizzly August evening when I attended the most impactful charity event I’ve been to all year…Step Up Women’s Networks Second Annual Shine & Dine event.

Shine & Dine Honorary Chair Val Warner, of ABC’s Windy City Live. Photo: Elena Bazini

Step Up, led by newly appointed (and fabulous) Managing Director, Cassandra Gaddo, is a nonprofit membership organization that ignites women and girls to fulfill their potential. Cheeky provided Cheeky Card donations for the event, and I was happy to represent, support and make it a great night out. Despite some rain, Galleria Marchetti was a scene dream with talkative tastemakers, lively ActionBooth photos, a red carpet, glowing chandeliers, flowing drinks, food by ZED451, IPO, Quay and Shanghai Terrace, and a dynamic vibe that soared through the room. But then, like most charity events, the time came to quiet down, put all eyes on stage, and lend an ear to the cause. Most times, about half the room listens, but this time, you could hear a pin drop. Honorary Chair and spunky local celeb, Val Warner of Windy City Live, emceed and expressed her passion for Step Up’s mission, then introduced MaryAnn Feliciano, a Step Up success story who muted and melted everyone in Galleria Marchetti.

Step Up alumna MaryAnn Feliciano. Photo: Elena Bazini.

I met MaryAnn once before, as her Step Up mentor is my former boss, Kim Lichtenstein. I remember being impressed at how Kim took time out of her busy PR-biz owning schedule to take MaryAnn to nice lunch, and I wouldn’t have known for a second the extent of her struggle and story. And on August 9, like a pro, she got up on stage in front of bright lights and 500 people, and told her incredible story of losing connection with her parents and how Step Up pushed her when she didn’t think she would graduate high school, let alone go to college. MaryAnn stood tall and spoke honestly and eloquently about her circumstances, from being put into different classes because her school assumed she had behavioral issues, to the horrific experience of finding out about her mother’s death. Tears then streamed as MaryAnn explained that she graduated from high school and is a top student at Dominican University because of the guidance of Step Up and her mentor Kim.

With Michelle Molise, Nicole Townsend, and Cassandra Gaddo. (that's me on the right!). Photo:

That night, Step Up’s 500 guests raised $142,000 to help girls just like MaryAnn be whatever they want to be, and to date, 100% of Step Up girls have graduated from high school and been accepted to college. The organization sets out to “empower teen girls from under-resourced communities to be confident, college-bound, and career-ready, and propel professional women through connections, collaborations, and continuous development,” and MaryAnn’s class and character was a shining example of the cause.

Needless to say, it was a delight to depart altruistically from a glamorous night at Galleria Marchetti with a warm sentiment of true benevolence, sincere compassion and genuine goodwill.

To learn more about Step Up Women’s Network, visit