FRIDAY, DECEMBER 4, 2009 7PM-MIDNIGHT
The following award recipients have made an outstanding contribution to community and national efforts to protect farmed animals from needless cruelty and abuse. Their efforts are shining examples of the impact one person can have on building a kinder future for all beings.
The Activists of the Year Award
Marla Rose and John Beske
Marla Rose and John Beske are veteran vegan activists - each holding over a decade of advocacy experience under their leather-free belts. Marla became a vegetarian at fifteen when she opted out of dissecting a fetal pig in biology class and acknowledged what her conscience had been telling her for a while: that it was against her values to eat animals. John became a vegetarian more than twenty years ago after watching The Animals Film.
In 1998, Marla and John created Vegan Street, a website and business that gave them a voice for sharing their passion for social justice, creative nonviolence and kindness to animals.
The next year, the spunky duo launched EarthSave Chicago, which promotes a plant-based diet for the benefit of the animals, human health and the Earth through vegan potlucks and Conferences for Conscious Living.
Seeking to expand the vegan community to include children, they then joined with a handful of other parents to found the Chicago Vegan Family Network, a support and social network for families raising conscientious and socially conscious children.
Most recently, the compassionate couple worked with a core committee of dedicated volunteers to create the first annual Chicago VeganMania festival. The premier event, held this October, was a daylong celebration of vegan culture, community, cuisine, commerce and couture designed to create a dynamic and positive experience as well as challenge the preconceptions people might have about the vegan lifestyle. The event exceeded everyone's wildest expectations, drawing thousands of people and earning nearly universal rave reviews.
Frosting the vegan cake, Marla is a also freelance writer, acting as the Examiner.com Vegan Guide, and penning stories in publications such as VegNews magazine, as well as for her own blog, VeganFeministAgitator.blogspot.com.
John has his own communications business, John Beske Communications, which works exclusively with sustainable, vegan businesses and non-profits. This fierce team is a shining example of the powerful impact kindness, humor, creativity and dedication can make within a community.
The Youth Activist Award
It was a communications class assignment on factory farming that inspired college freshman Alexis Scherba to go vegan. This transition sparked her efforts to create the Loyola University Chicago's Vegetarian & Vegan Society. As president of the society for two and a half years, Alexis has worked tirelessly on animal advocacy and vegetarian outreach activities such as leafleting, tabling, volunteering with rescued animals at PAWS Chicago, and working with her college dining halls to add vegan options. Each year, Alexis organizes a vegan Thanksgiving banquet and speaking event, which is always a huge hit.
Despite her youth, Alexis is a natural leader - orchestrating an array of activities for the club's annual "Vegetarian Week," including speaking events, local vegan ethnic dinners, movie screenings, leafleting, and creating and distributing dorm-friendly vegetarian recipe CDs.
Since the beginning of the summer, Alexis has been interning with Mercy For Animals. As an intern, she has worked on many different projects, including organizing several feed-ins and protests, speaking at outreach events, exhibiting at festivals, coordinating leafleting events, and organizing a volunteer trip to SASHA Farm Animal Sanctuary. This summer, Alexis worked on MFA's Vegetarian Dining Campaign to encourage Dunkin' Donuts to add soy milk at its Chicago locations.
Alexis also co-directs the "Ban Horse-Drawn Carriage" campaign, protesting and leafleting at Water Tower Place each week. After graduating this December, Alexis plans to pursue a post-bachelor's certificate in pre-veterinary medicine and to attend veterinary school. Whether organizing an event, on the streets promoting animal advocacy, or working hands-on with animals, Alexis keeps a positive and friendly attitude in her efforts to support veganism and animal protection!
The Ariel Nessel Grassroots Activist Award
Darina Smith always felt a special attachment to animals, and was involved in activism from a very young age. In her home country of Slovakia, she organized rescue programs and volunteered her time for the countless animals relinquished to animal shelters. She became a vegetarian in college as she intuitively felt it was the right thing to do even though she did not realize the full extent of the animal suffering in modern agriculture.
Darina's real wake-up call came in mid-2008 while on a train to work, when she was struck by an ad with a picture of a caged pig in a modern factory farm and the question "How much cruelty can you swallow?" This Mercy For Animals ad awoke Darina's dormant activist; she looked up the organization and quickly became involved.
A year later, Darina is one of Mercy For Animals' leading Outreach Coordinators, conducting several leafleting events every month. She has also organized successful vegan food giveaways and protests. Darina, a new activist-turned-grassroots leader, heads MFA's Vegetarian Illinois Restaurant Outreach program, working with restaurants to expand their vegan menu offerings. Darina communicated with more than 20 restaurant owners in 2009. One early victory was with a downtown Chicago restaurant, Baba's Village, which resulted in the creation of an exciting new vegan menu that has been a huge success. The restaurant owner was so pleased with the results that he is now exploring opening a new veg-only branch.
Darina is active in Chicago's business communities, where she uses every opportunity to promote a vegan lifestyle and respect for animals, whether by writing letters to management or requesting cruelty-free food options at events. Darina gives the animals her all, saying, "I've never been happier or more fulfilled. I can't stand to see animals suffering, and doing this effective work is so empowering. It gives me a sense of pride, meaning and a very strong personal identity." As Darina changes the lives of animals, her work on behalf of them changes hers.
The Progressive Business Award
Josh, Betty & Eileen Alper started GFREEV (short for Gluten-Free Vegan) in 2006 to explore ways to turn vegan food and baked goods into a business. GFREEV has spun off into three different companies - The Balanced Kitchen, The Great Taste Cafe and The BOT Bakery.
GFREEV LLC is currently seeking non-profit status to continue its work with gluten-free education, food certification and testing. GFREEV also provides meals for people with food allergies and intolerances through existing food distribution entities that service people with challenges to employment and income.
Betty Alper is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America's Baking and Pastry Program and has been vegan for nearly 10 years. Her creative desserts and savory dishes bring the best of classical cooking and baking to the world of vegan food.
Betty is currently working on the re-opening of "The Balanced Kitchen" at the GreenExchange building in Chicago and preparing for her new venture, "The Great Taste Cafe," opening in November in Chicago. Both of these eateries are totally vegan & gluten-free and use mostly organic, local and seasonal ingredients.
Eileen worked in food service for Evanston schools for over 10 years and has experience in Foodservice bookkeeping and administration. Eileen has three vegan children and is herself an anti-war activist and labor advocate. Most recently Eileen was an Assistant Manager in a school book store and gained the purchasing and computer knowledge to complement the baking and food preparation skills of her daughter, Betty.
Josh Alper studied Biochemistry at the University of Illinois in Champaign, IL. He spent 20 years selling technology products worldwide in the security sector. His extensive international business experience and travel combined with an understanding of the science of human consciousness gives him a unique insight into American culture. Currently he is a consultant on issues of sustainability and green marketing with focus on food and electronic security. Josh was one of many organizers of the VeganMania event this past October at the Pulaski Park Field house in Chicago.
The Hope Award
Suzanne Fulton can still remember when, more than twenty years ago, after a family holiday, she was riding the train with her younger sister and asked her why she didn't eat meat. Her sister introduced Suzanne to the plight of animals living and dying on factory farms. Suzanne's sister told a heart-breaking story of the cruel treatment that animals endure in our modern system of farming. By the time the train reached Union Station in Chicago, fried chicken - Suzanne's favorite food - was no longer an option. Suzanne then knew that her life was changed forever.
Years later, during dinner, a family friend noticed Suzanne was not eating meat. The friend asked Suzanne why and then challenged her to take her compassion for animals and turn that into action by asking, "Well, why don't you protest these horrors?" Suzanne then realized that simply not eating animals was not enough and at that moment she became a life-long friend to all animals.
She went on to volunteer at the Anti-Cruelty Society, to rescue and foster animals from Mexico and the U.S., and participate in countless protests and marches against animal cruelty. She also wrote countless letters to government officials regarding animal cruelty cases for the non-profit organization, Kinship Circle. Suzanne was involved with Chicago-based Protecting Animals, USA, where she participated in demonstrations and vegan feed-ins.
She says, "In my long years of animal activism, with MFA I've finally found my home. Nothing has given me more satisfaction than working with Mercy For Animals. Since MFA is a small grassroots organization, I really feel that my contribution makes a huge difference for farmed animals." Suzanne started volunteering for MFA more than five years ago in MFA's grassroots campaigns departments.