The Tenth Congressional District has many advantages - great schools, beautiful natural resources, and a transportation hub at the intersection of our nation (to name just a few) - but undoubtedly our greatest resource is the people.

That's what the Tenth District Leadership Awards is all about - recognizing the every day heroes that make our community an amazing place to live, work and raise children.

The Tenth District Leadership Awards promote the public good and civic service by recognizing leaders in our community.

Thank you to everyone who submitted a nomination and voted! With more than 200 nominations and thousands of votes, this year's awards were a huge success!

Read more about this year's winners and finalists:

The Entrepreneurial Excellence Award is given to a businessman or businesswoman who has demonstrated entrepreneurial excellence as part of a small business or start-up in our community that has succeeded in implanting innovative strategies to establish a thriving local business.


Laura and Felix Castillo

Laura and Felix Castillo (Mundelein, Ill.) are co-founders and co-owners of Felix’s Famous Cookies. The business, originally ran by just Laura and her son, Felix (age 10), is now a team of eight individuals looking to grow even more in the future. So far, Felix’s Famous Cookies has donated to over 40 different organizations and charities. According to Mrs. Castillo, the mission statement of their business is: “Eat Cookies – Help Others.”



Meg Barnhart and Jane McKay

Meg Barnhart and Jane McKay (Lake Forest, Ill.) are the co-creators of The Zen of Slow Cooking, a cooking enthusiast website focused on finding ways to fit delicious and inspired homemade dishes into a busy lifestyle. They now sell their own spice packets, Zen Blends, and also established the Drishti Donation, which enables them to offer complimentary cooking classes to adults with developmental challenges as well as to donate a slow cooker to their community kitchens.


Chris Szymanski

Chris Szymanski (Zion, Ill.) is the founder of, a website that contains forums and calendars to bridge communication gaps in the community, and now includes a free, monthly printed publication: ZB Guide. Chris publicizes articles about existing and new businesses as a way to help drive consumers to the business. Chris also founded Nostalgia Days - a local car show that just celebrated its 30th anniversary. He is also the founder and a leader of the Buy Local - Choose Zion Benton group.


The Helping Heroes Award is given to a resident of the Tenth District who has answered the call to help America's heroes by bettering the lives of our veterans and their families. The nominee can be a veteran themselves or simply a dedicated community member.


Lon and Gander Hodge

Lon Hodge (Great Lakes, Ill.) is a retired Medical Corps veteran. He met Gander the labradoodle after he was rescued from a Colorado kill shelter in 2012, and the two have since been inseparable. Together, they have traveled the United States for Operation Fetch to encourage education and awareness for PTSD, veteran suicide, service dogs, and persons with visible and invisible disabilities.



Cindy Schmit

Cindy Schmit (Fox Lake, Ill.) has been sending care packages overseas since the U.S. put boots on the ground after 9/11. When her children were deployed 2004-2008 she began her own organization, Care Package Extravaganza, and started collecting donations from friends and companies, which continues today. Her last four drives have sent close to 3,000 pounds of much needed supplies to our troops overseas, all in an effort to let them know their sacrifices are appreciated.


Mary Jean Hodgins

Mary Jean Hodgins (Grayslake, Ill.), also known as M.J., volunteers at the Lake County Veterans & Family Services Foundation tirelessly seeking out resources, connecting people to begin mutually beneficial relationships, and encouraging others to think innovatively and take on new tasks in support of veterans. Her commitment to veterans' causes has been the catalyst for creating several counseling and other programs particularly designed for our men and women returning from recent combat tours.


The Exceptional Educator Award is given to a teacher at any level who has dedicated themself to helping our students achieve success in and out of the classroom. This individual will have effectively implemented innovative methods in their classroom and created a positive learning environment.


Julie Ahern

Julie Ahern (Waukegan, Ill.), from Andrew Cooke Middle School, is a veteran teacher with 23 years of experience behind her. She teaches in the community she grew up in, taking on a level of urgency to help low-income students by frequently taking initiatives to apply for grants and funds that benefit her classroom. In addition, Julie pushes her students to enter contests and competitions as forms of opportunities to learn business and life skills.



David Komie

David Komie (Deerfield, Ill.), from Alan B. Shephard Middle School, is a dedicated teacher of civics, history, and social studies. His pedagogical approach to these subjects allows him to engage his group of eighth grade students in ways no one else can. Loved by his peers, students, and administration, David is always the first to consider the impact of his decisions on others, and how he can empower them to succeed for the future. David is described by his peers to be reflective, yet decisive.


Michael Isaacs

Michael Isaacs (Zion, Ill.), from Zion Benton Township High School, has a talent for bringing out the best in each of his students. As a teacher, he prioritizes his availability to students above all else, and even sacrifices his hour lunch break for “Lunch Bunch," where students are able to have an open gym period to exercise and blow off steam. Mike spends countless hours with students outside of the classroom in order to help them grow and achieve their goals.


The Community Service Award is given to an individual who has positively impacted the welfare of our community through volunteerism. This individual will be committed to focusing on the needs of the region and enhancing the quality of life for members of our community.


Matt Thornton

Matt Thornton (Zion, Ill.) is an 11 year veteran police officer at the Zion Police Department. He saw that young kids were lacking positive role models and joining gang groups as a result so he started inviting these kids to play basketball at his church and now has over 100 of them regularly attending the program every week. Matt sees the potential in every young kid and adult and embraces them in creative and active ways.



Judi Goldman

Judi Goldman (Northbrook, Ill.) has been the heart and center of the North & Central Chicagoland Illinois Project Linus Chapter over the past 20 years. Project Linus provides handmade blankets to seriously ill and traumatized children in local area hospitals and trauma centers. The 20 year old chapter has grown from a small group of ladies meeting at Judi’s house to a membership of 600 individuals, and has donated more than 127,419 blankets.


Barbara LaFasto

Barbara LaFasto (Lake Forest, Ill.) is the co-founder, Board President, and acting Executive Director at Beacon Place NFP. In 2013, she began her role as the program manager for the largest Beacon Place program ever to be put in place – the Summer Lunch Bunch. In 2015, she was able to ensure 500 children in the North Chicago and Waukegan community have a nutritious meal and a safe place for summer fun.

Al Foresta

Al Foresta (Libertyville, Ill.) is a 90-year-old veteran who doesn’t believe in giving up. Not too long ago, Al was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Despite his age and circumstance, he is beloved by his town. As long as the community can remember, Al has been a volunteer for the Libertyville Days Committee, and while working at Jewel Osco, he used his vacation days to work on the Libertyville Days Festival.

Judy Armstrong

Judy Armstrong (Round Lake Beach, Ill.) was the Director of Business Development for Bolchazy-Carducci, a publisher of Latin and Greek textbooks located in Mundelein, IL. She has served as Round Lake Beach Village Trustee for 8 years, and as an officer and volunteer on numerous boards and organizations throughout Lake County. Currently, she serves as Vice President of B.E.S.T. and chairman of the Kindergarten Readiness Committee.


The Young Leader Award is given to a young person who has demonstrated leadership and is an outstanding example to their peers. This individual will have proven their exceptional character in their school and/or local community. Their leadership experience can come through a variety of different experiences, including but not limited to: athletics, arts, science, clubs, volunteering and academics.


Colton Horn

Colton Horn (Deerfield, Ill.), a senior at Deerfield High School, volunteers his time leading ACT test preparation for the organization Waukegan to College (W2C). He said that he was fortunate to benefit from private tutors and had done well on the exam and wanted to share what he had learned with those less fortunate. Colton has recruited an entire team of Deerfield students to help in the program, and now is giving up his weekends and evening free time to help others in need.



Aman Grover

Aman Grover (Buffalo Grove, Ill.), currently a senior at Adlai E. Stevenson High School, rarely has a moment to waste. As Captain of the Stevenson Debate Team, President of the Peer Tutors Club, Managing Editor of Production for the Stevenson Statesman newspaper, Director of Community Service for the Stevenson National Honor Society, Director of Community Outreach for Catalyst, varsity member of the Track and Field team, and much more! Not a day goes by where Aman does not positively influence his community.


Guadalupe Bueno

Guadalupe Bueno (Waukegan, Ill.), a Junior at Waukegan High School, completed her certification program with the Center for Conservation Leadership as an 8th grader and has since been committed to conservation efforts throughout Waukegan and North Chicago. This year, she works as an intern with the Green Youth Farms, where she continues to develop her knowledge of the environment. She also gave a presentation at the College Changes Everything Conference in 2015, in addition to being a cadet and leader in ROTC.


The Friend of the Environment Award is given to somebody who has worked diligently to keeping our air, water and habitat clean for future generations. This individual works to improve our environment and encourages others to join the cause.


Mike Trigg

Mike Trigg (Waukegan, Ill.) is the superintendent of Parks for the Waukegan Park District. He led the WPD’s sustainability assessment using the IPRA Environmental Report Card. His “Green Team” develops, leads, and monitors WPD sustainable practices and partners with other agencies to further environmental stewardship in Waukegan. An annual recycling event with the Solid Waste Agency of Lake County collects between 30,000-40,000 pounds of household recyclables.



Louise Wood

Louise Wood (Green Oaks, Ill.), with the help of many dedicated volunteers that she recruited, helped to transform a Northern Flatwoods forest in a Village-owned lot overgrown with buckthorn and other invasive plants into the pristine old growth forest that it should resemble. By recruiting, organizing and training a group of village residents on how to respect and work with the land over the past 3 years, she has proven an invaluable asset to the Dorsey Conservation Area.


Agnes Wojnarski

Agnes Wojnarski (Prospect Heights, Ill.) spearheaded the continued restoration of wild areas in the City of Prospect Heights. She commits countless hours of her own time with no compensation or reward other than a thank you from local citizens. She has inspired entire neighborhoods to come out and volunteer their time to improving the local environment and beautifying local parks.