The Breakthrough Young Professionals Board hosted its annual networking event to connect emerging professionals with Chicago’s chief executives Thursday, June 18. This year’s event was filled with civically engaged panelists, sensational food, and a lovely, clear view of the city from downtown’s Jenner & Block law firm.

This Aspire panel featured people in leadership at some of the most respected institutions in Illinois, from the Circuit Court of Cook County to the Obama Foundation. They spoke on such topics as self-care, successful management styles, ways to build stronger relationships and how to network with a purpose.

Aspire: Destined for Success 1
From left to right: Terry Truax – Managing Partner, Jenner & Block; Michael Strautmanis – Chief Engagement Officer, Obama Foundation; Kwesi Smith – Research Analyst, William Blair; Jeanne Malnati – Culture Group Founder; Erica Reddick – Judge, Circuit Court of Cook County; Arloa Sutter – Breakthrough Founder; Michael Frerichs – Illinois State Treasurer

Illinois Treasurer Michael Frerichs noted that his rise professionally wasn’t smooth and he had to adapt to unconventional methods to find his way. Although he spent a large portion of his life preparing to become a lawyer, Treasurer Frerichs said he found his focus by experiencing new things and being content with changing his course if necessary.

“I kept trying. I learned that by stepping out of my comfort zone, I grew and learned an awful lot,” he said. “Find what interests you and dive into it.”

Michael Strautmanis, chief engagement officer at the Obama Foundation, added that he believes it’s in the best interest of young professionals to challenge themselves because growth requires some adversity.

“One of the challenges that I see is that [young professionals] have been positioned to ‘get the grade’ to succeed,” Stratmanis said. “What that means is that you are doing things that you already know and you will probably be good at that because it’s already what you know … but growth requires failure.”

The Young Professionals Board’s mission is to connect people with the mission and vision of Breakthrough while providing networking, professional development and volunteer opportunities for its members. According to President Jamie Lavigueur, the YP Board is an incubator for the next generation of leaders at Breakthrough and some of its most fervent advocates. She said this year’s Aspire was a reminder of the deep connections being built in the Breakthrough network.  

“This year’s panel reminded us that our path toward success may take many twists and turns, but that the journey to get there can be as rewarding as the result. We’re so grateful to everyone who joined us and hope that our journeys intertwine, in support of each other as young professionals in Chicago and through the awesome work and network of Breakthrough.”

Breakthrough thanks the YP Board for their dedication and service to its mission and grateful to Jenner & Block for hosting the 2019 Aspire event.

If you would like to know more about the Young Professionals Board at Breakthrough, please email


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