Helping Kids Succeed in School and in Life

2016 Kids' Best Friend Awards Event Honors Jeffrey, Stephanie Jones Kastelic, Ken Parcel, Kitty Ryan, Nick and Teresa Ryan

The Education Center achieved a significant milestone this year as the organization celebrates its 37th anniversary – with a record of helping thousands of local children successfully overcome obstacles and gain success academically, socially, and within their families. “Our kids may be struggling with a learning disability, the loss of a parent or sibling, or just need a helping hand to get through a difficult situation,” stated Dr. Michael Litow, executive director. “The mission has never changed for The Education Center since its inception in 1979 – that of helping every child succeed in school and in life.” The program consists of a unique “life-coaching” approach, which creates an individual approach for each child enrolled in programming and meets their specific needs.
At this year’s Kids’ Best Friend Benefit and Awards Dinner, The Education Center honored five local leaders who are dedicated to the well-being of children and families. Several of the award winners have been working with youth for more than 40 years.

This year´s awards and winners are:

  • Kid's Best Friend Award– Jeffrey and Stephanie Jones Kastelic
  • Outstanding Community Leader Award– Commander Ken Parcel
  • Making a Difference Award– Kitty Ryan
  • George and Pat Pradel Humanitarian Award– Nick and Teresa Ryan

Kids´ Best Friend Award
Jeffrey and Stephanie Jones Kastelic

This year's Kids Best Friend Award will be given to Jeffrey and Stephanie Jones Kastelic. The Kastelics are well known in the community for their volunteer work with numerous nonprofits and church groups. Jeff has coached Naperville Little League and is a supportive member of the Knights of Columbus at St. Raphael Catholic Church. Stephanie serves on the board of directors for Samaritan Interfaith Counseling Center and the committee of the "Silent Samaritan Breakfast." She has been a dedicated member of the St. Patrick's Residence Guild since 1996, serving as treasurer and vice president for over 12 years. She has also chaired and co-chaired the guild's largest fundraiser, the "St. Patrick's Day Party." A former board member of the Ecumenical Adult Care Center in Naperville, Naperville United Way, and Naperville Community Outreach, Stephanie is also known to many families as the thoughtful co-owner and pre-planning consultant at Friedrich-Jones and Overman-Jones Funeral Home. The Kastelics are the proud parents of three children - Jake, Will, and Julia - and also spend time volunteering at their children's schools. Dr. Scott Mitchell, president/CEO of Samaritan Interfaith Counseling Center, said, "Stephanie and Jeff are longtime members of the community and have been active in their support of numerous not-for-profits. Stephanie has been serving on the board of Samaritan Interfaith Counseling Center for many years and has been a key leader in helping Samaritan grow toward helping people in need through her fundraising work on our Silent Samaritan Committee - women helping women - as well as on our board. She has helped to secure funds which help single mothers and their children receive needed mental health counseling." Mitchell added, "Stephanie is one of the most compassionate, caring people I know, who leads with a strong commitment to her faith, her family, and the community. She is gifted at connecting people to one another who can be of help to various causes in the community. She and Jeff are a gift to the community of Naperville!"

Outstanding Community Leader Award
Commander Ken Parcel

Commander Ken Parcel of the Naperville Police Department says he is humbled to receive the Community Leader Award. His 27-year career on behalf of youth and families has been exemplary. After years of working to stop a heroine spike among teens and dealing with kids in crisis as a detective in charge of youth investigations, Parcel wanted to also work with kids on a friendlier turf. He joined the board of KidsMatter and soon took a leadership role in brainstorming and promoting what is now known as the KidsMatter Skaters' Picnic. This annual event takes place at the Centennial Beach Skate Park during the Last Fling. According to IdaLynn Wenhold, executive director of KidsMatter, "Ken has worked tirelessly to make this happen - and he rallies his fellow police officers to join him at this event that draws more than 225 skaters each year. You can find Ken serving hot dogs and participating in the donut-eating contest with the kids - and always exemplifying his dedication to serving and caring for this skating population that often feels disenfranchised and unappreciated." This outstanding community leader has also served on the board of Family Shelter Service, which supports victims of domestic violence, and the Heritage YMCA Child Development Committee. He continues to devote time to kids as a Mill Street School Reading Buddy. He also has taught BP Amoco's Parent and Parent-to-Be classes to help parents better understand dangers in the world of social media. Wenhold added, "Permeating all of these activities is the heart of a man dedicated to the health and well-being of the youth and families of our greater Naperville community."

Making a Difference Award
Kitty Ryan

Kitty Ryan, assistant superintendent for elementary education for Naperville Community Unit School District 203, is this year's recipient of the Making a Difference Award. She has served as assistant superintendent for almost a decade and began her career in District 203 as a third grade teacher in 1988. According to Superintendent Dan Bridges, "Kitty Ryan leads from the heart and uses her caring and concern to develop personal connections with everyone she meets. Most remarkably, she truly cares about the hearts of children; everything she does is aimed at helping children be successful. To ensure that our community is strong, Kitty builds leaders to mentor and support the adults who matter most to kids - parents, teachers, principals, and community agencies." In her role as the assistant superintendent for elementary education, Kitty supervises early childhood through fifth grade elementary principals and works closely with the assistant superintendent for secondary education to support the day-to-day operations of all 22 Naperville District 203 schools. Her leadership style is warm and creative, and she assembles diverse teams to tackle problems with fun and flare. This highly respected educator advocates for programs that empower students, parents, staff, and the community, encouraging programs such as HURRAH, the Naperville Education Foundation, and school/family/community partnerships. Kitty Ryan also volunteers with the Nicarico Fund for Literacy and serves on the board of directors of the DuPage Children's Museum. A co-worker states, "She is tiny but mighty. She just keeps going - she doesn't ever give up, and when you hit a low, she's able to redirect with humor that inspires you. Every decision she makes illustrates her constant care and focus on our children."

George and Pat Pradel Humanitarian Award
Nick and Teresa Ryan

Nick and Teresa Ryan are being honored with this year's George and Pat Pradel Humanitarian Award. While many local residents know Nick as the co-founder of the Marquette Companies and Teresa as managing broker/owner of Ryan Hill Realty, friends who know them well recognize this successful couple as inspiring humanitarians for their tireless work on behalf of children, families - and nature. Both of them live by the credo, "From those to whom much is given, much is expected." They both have a passion for young people and believe in giving them a "hand up" through education and opportunity and helping families to envision and realize their dreams. Ray and Paula Kinney have known Nick and Teresa for more than 20 years. In a letter nominating the Ryans for the humanitarian award, Ray wrote, "Nick embodies the reason for this award - he has been a great friend to kids all over the globe, not just here in Naperville. His company has supported nearly every cause in this community for many years - often as the lead sponsor. But Nick really shines in his personal involvement. He helped create Institute for Community which has helped organizations change lives of young people here and in other parts of the world. He and Teresa have spent the vast majority of their lives giving to others, and, in true humility, never once asking for anything in return." Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico added, "At a time when few companies would make such a commitment, Nick and his company helped form the Institute for Community to ensure a strategic and studied approach to providing the highest quality of life in residential communities. From after-school athletic programs and tutoring to weekend community brunches and commuter shuttles, Marquette Companies intentionally supports young people from school age through young adulthood." Together, the Ryans have been involved coaching youth sports teams with the Naperville Park District, supporting the YMCA and its Camp Edge program, and working with volunteers at Community Christian Church to help missions in the Philippines and Africa and to fight illicit trafficking of girls in those countries. They are also involved in their church's Student Community (StuCo) Program. Members of StuCo helped form Food Fight which has provided over one million meals worldwide. The Institute for Community recently expanded internationally, supporting the mission of Casa de Luz in Honduras which provides education and family support services. Nick grew up in a large Irish family, and he credits his determination to give kids "a boost" when they are facing challenging situations to his Christian faith and to the fact that he has two siblings with potential disabilities who "did everything" while growing up. "My blind sister waterskied, snow skied, and rode horses through the trees!" he explained. "My deaf brother was a coach of a basketball team and was on a championship team in high school. Because of the support they received from my dad and our family, they both overcame their handicaps, accomplished a huge amount of stuff, and are independent and feisty!" Teresa credits faith and family, too. "It's how I was raised. It's in my core," she said enthusiastically. "My dad would start the day whistling and making us laugh. We were taught to think, Today's a new day. What are you going to do to help others? How are you going to improve yourself?" She added, "My dad was a native Cherokee Indian. I spent a lot of time with him as a kid, enjoying nature." She believes this is why she is so in touch with animals and the planet. In addition to supporting local and worldwide efforts on behalf of children and families, Nick and Teresa also are strong supporters of organizations that help and rescue animals. Nick summed up their philosophy by saying, "We both have a passion for young people. We see them as the future. It is important to strengthen young people and help them move in a positive direction. Help educate them. Show someone a dream."

More Information:

With a 97 percent success rate of graduating children who are facing a wide variety of issues that are keeping them from achieving success, The Education Center offers area families a place of hope and help. The annual Kids’ Best Friend benefit directly supports the many programs of The Education Center.

For more information about The Education Center, please contact the center at 630-420-7807.  The Education Center is located at 113 East Van Buren in Naperville.