The I.D.E.A. Store Welcomes Jessy Ruddell as Their New Retail Manager

Ruddell (1)Jessy Ruddell is excited to be starting her “dream job” as Retail Manager at The I.D.E.A. Store. Ruddell, a highly experienced retail executive with an eye for hidden treasures, has been volunteering at The I.D.E.A. Store since October and joined the store as manager on July 1st. Ruddell says, “Volunteering at the store has been a joy for me, and I’m thrilled with the opportunity to be a bigger part of it.”

Over the last ten years, Ruddell held three management positions with Common Ground Food Co-op and played a vital role in the store’s two successful expansions. A resident of the Champaign- Urbana community for more than 24 years, Ruddell is happy to be working for another values-driven and community-focused enterprise. She loves The I.D.E.A. Store’s multifaceted role in the community. “Where else can you keep stuff out of the landfill, take a class, support the local schools, and find inspiration?” Read more ›

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Two Teachers to Receive Cupcake Awards from CU Schools Foundation

Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation will honor Mary Coash, Kindergarten Teacher at Westview Elementary, Champaign Unit 4 and Jessica Wilson, Special Education High School teacher at Gerber School, Urbana District 116 with 2016 Cupcake Awards. Selected teachers are nominated by their peers and exhibit exemplary service, extra efforts, enthusiastic attitude and innovative ideas that noticeably benefit their students.

Mary Coash currently teaches Kindergarten at Westview Elementary, but she has played many roles during her 31 years in education. As Mary says, “I always had the right job at the right time.” Her students taught her to stay flexible and open to new ideas, and she adapts her teaching to meet the needs of her students.

Mary believes Kindergarten is the foundation of learning. “I want my kids to love school and love learning. I enjoy teaching Kindergarten because you see so much growth.” A fellow teacher says, “The feeling of Mary’s class is one of warmth, acceptance and love. She highlights students’ strengths each day and reteaches when a student struggles with a concept.” Mary also serves as the PTA liaison, co-writes school wide “Cool Tool” lessons and participates in many school initiatives.

Urbana District 116 teacher Jessica Wilson has been teaching high school students at Gerber School for the past seven years, and says she “absolutely LOVES it!” Gerber School serves students who live at Cunningham Children’s Home and many of the students have significant behavior and/or emotional disabilities. Jessica especially enjoys the students at Gerber and claims, “They teach me more than I teach them, especially about resiliency, patience, the ability to trust and how to be strong.”

A colleague at Gerber says, “These students require some special teaching talents in order to engage them in learning. Jess has just those skills! She is a master at creating a safe environment in which each student is valued and in which they can grow in all areas.” In addition, Jessica is a quiet leader who participates in the Urbana School District 116 Unified Professional Development Program. She learns new ideas, shares them with fellow teachers and bring fresh enthusiasm to her team.

Both teachers will receive a $500 grant for their classrooms and will be honored on Saturday, April 2 at the 2016 CUSF Gala at the Hilton Garden Inn. In addition, CUSF will recognize 5 graduates of our local public high schools with three awards: Distinguished Alumni Award, Local Hero Award and Local Business Community Impact Award. The event is open to the public with advance ticket purchase. For tickets or additional information visit: or call 217-398-2873. Deadline for ticket purchase is March 26. Proceeds from ticket sales support the mission of CUSF and our schools.

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CU Schools Foundation to Recognize Five of Our Public High School Alumni at 2016 Gala

Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation (CUSF) will celebrate the accomplishments of five of our public high school alumni on Saturday, April 2 at the 2016 CUSF Alumni Recognition Gala at the Hilton Garden Inn in Champaign. Three different awards will be presented: Distinguished Alumni Award, Local Business Community Impact Award and the Local Hero Award. The 2016 Distinguished Alumni honorees are Erika Harold, Urbana High School graduate, class of 1997, David Neuman, Centennial High School graduate, class of 1978, and Elliott Douglas Rodgers, Central High School graduate, class of 1993.

Erika Harold has distinguished herself in the areas of academics, public service, law and advocacy. She is a nationally recognized advocate of bullying prevention efforts and presents on the topic frequently. In addition, she serves on the Board of Directors of Prison Fellowship, the world’s largest outreach to prisoners and their families. After earning her bachelors degree in political science from the University of Illinois, Ms. Harold entered and won the Miss Illinois and Miss America contest. Her Miss America 2003 award paid for her tuition at Harvard Law School where she earned her Juris Doctor and the Boykin C, Wright Memorial Award. Ms. Harold practices law at Meyer Capel Law Firm.

David Neuman’s accomplishments are impressive. He is an executive, producer and media entrepreneur with unusually wide-ranging experience that spans television, film and digital media. He’s worked in high-level roles at three of the world’s blue-chip media companies (Walt Disney, NBC/Universal, CNN), as well as three startups.  He is highly respected as an innovator in news and information and a pioneer of original, made-for-the-internet content. He’s led creative teams with cutting-edge partners such as Google, Twitter and Yahoo! In 2007 Mr. Neuman was named Volunteer of the Year for the Los Angeles Superior Court for his work on behalf of abused and neglected children.

After graduating from Central High School, Elliott Douglass Rodgers was admitted and graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point. He served with distinction in the United States Army and obtained the rank of Captain. Later, he earned a Master of Business Administration from Harvard Business School. He has held several prominent business positions, including Vice-President and Assistant General Manager of Caesars Entertainment, Vice-President of Citigroup, and General Manager for Distribution Operations at Target. Currently he serves as Vice-President for Ulta Beauty Products Supply Chain Strategy.

Parham Parastaran, owner of CarX and 1989 graduate of Central High School will be recognized with the Local Business Community Impact Award. Mr. Parastaran is probably most well-known for the CarX Crazy K event, which he developed to raise more money for Champaign County charities. The one-day event has raised over $277,000 for local charities in five years.

John Hecker, Central High School graduate, class of 1969, will be awarded the Local Hero Award. In 1986, John Hecker and John Gnagey founded the Champaign County Crimestoppers organization in order to help police solve crimes by way of tips provided by the public. He served as the first president and still holds that position. Now over two decades later the Champaign County Crimestoppers is considered one of the finest Crimestopper organizations in the country. With Mr. Hecker’s leadership the organization has solved more than 1,600 cases.

 CUSF solicits nominations for the three alumni awards from the community at large. Distinguished Alumni honorees must have graduated from a Unit 4 or District 116 public high school at least 10 years ago and demonstrate distinguished contributions to our society. The Local Business Community Impact Award recognizes local business owners who demonstrate an impact on the community through their commitment to philanthropy, service, volunteerism and support. The Local Hero Award celebrates individuals who willingly volunteer their time and efforts to benefit the local community. All nominations are reviewed by a selection committee comprised of representatives from the school districts, alumni groups and CU Schools Foundation.

The 2016 CUSF Alumni Recognition Gala will be on Saturday, April 2 at 6:00 pm at the Hilton Garden Inn in Champaign and is open to the public with advance ticket purchase. For tickets or additional information visit: and click on the Benefit Events tab or call 217-398-2873. Proceeds from ticket sales support the mission of CUSF.

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CUSF Seeks Nominations for 2016 Alumni Awards

The Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation (CUSF) is encouraging community members to submit nominations for three public school alumni awards to be presented on April 2 at the 2016 CUSF Gala. The three different awards are: the Distinguished Alumni Award, the Local Hero Award and the Local Business Community Impact Award.

The Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes graduates of Champaign Unit 4 and Urbana District 116 high schools, including Champaign Centennial High School, Champaign Central High School and Urbana High School, whose achievements, strength of character, and citizenship serve as models to inspire and challenge today’s youth. Distinguished Alumni honorees may be nominated by fellow professionals, friends, family, or local citizens. Nominees must have graduated from a Champaign Unit 4 or Urbana District 116 public high school in 2006 or earlier, and demonstrate exceptional contributions to our society. Since 2003, this award has been presented to 20 local graduates including journalists Roger Ebert and Bill Geist, Olympians Bonnie Blair and Nancy Thies Marshall, artist and sculptor John David Mooney, lawyer J. Steven Beckett and civil rights advocate Eleanor Conrad Nelson. A complete list of honorees can be found HERE.

The Local Hero Award celebrates an individual who willingly volunteers time and effort to benefit the local community. The honoree must be a graduate of Urbana District 116 or Champaign Unit 4 high schools and live within either of the districts’ boundaries.

The Local Business Community Impact Award recognizes local business owners (with a business located in District 116 or Unit 4 boundaries) who graduated from Champaign Unit 4 or Urbana School District 116 high schools. Award recipients will have demonstrated a commitment to philanthropy, service, volunteerism and support, with a particular emphasis on employing local high school graduates.

Nomination forms are available on the CU Schools Foundation web site, or can be requested by calling the CUSF office at (217) 398-2873. Nominations should be mailed to CUSF, P.O. Box 1166, Champaign, IL 61824-1166 or emailed to The deadline for nominations for the three awards is December 31, 2015.

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