More than 250 people turned out Dec. 17, at the Columbus Park Refectory as the Austin Weekly News hosted its first annual holiday party. In the true spirit of diversity embellished with yuletide festivities, entertainment, and food, the event brought together a stellar guest list from Chicago’s West Side, Oak Park, Forest Park, Maywood, and even as far as Aurora. 

“Our goal was to bring people together from the Greater West Side for a positive evening of holiday entertainment and networking. And not a single speech,” said Dawn Ferencak, the Weekly’s marketing and advertising director. “It was a nice mixture of business professionals, community activists, families, clergy, and elected officials,” she said.

The event was borne from the Weekly’s ongoing efforts to build networking groups in Austin and also to build connections between Austin and Oak Park. Ferencak has led efforts under the umbrella of the West Side Business Network that include West Side Women, West Side Men and West Side Bridge.  These groups meet monthly around Austin and are sponsored by the Weekly and its sister paper, Wednesday Journal in Oak Park.  

“The groups are intended to grow relationships across the diverse and unique communities of the Greater West Side. West Side Bridge is specifically meant to bridge the gap between the West Side and Oak Park and other near west suburbs,” Ferencak said.

The presence at the party of Oak Park’s Village President Anan Abu-Taleb and Trustees Ray Johnson and Adam Salzman, furthered that goal. Also in attendance were state representatives La Shawn Ford and Camille Lilly, Alderman’s Deborah Graham and Jason Ervin, Judge Marianne Jackson, NAACP’s Windy Pearson, and Dan Haley, publisher of the Weekly and the Journal.

“I am really looking forward to working with Dawn and the West Side Women’s group,” said attendee Jian Kim. “I went to an all girls’ cocktail party yesterday, and it was just about the most fun I’ve had in a long time. I plan to seek out other women’s groups to attend.”

Pulling the event together was a collaborative effort with sponsors providing monetary and in-kind contributions.  Ferencak said the list of people to thank is extensive and includes the event organizer, Alicia Plomin, Ernie’s Catering, Leon Reed of Class A Photography, D’Lana and Antonio O’Neal for sound and entertainment, Brian Bragg, the event’s emcee, Therese McGuire of Garland Flowers, and Valerie and Jim Plomin, for shopping for the event.

Key sponsors included the Chicago Park District, Local-Motions, Inc., Fathers Who Care’s West Garfield Park Youth Council, Hoogendoorn and Talbot LLP, Bethel New Life, Garland Flowers, Circle Family Health Care Network, Larry Williams’ State Farm, Hogan Marren LTD, Momma Kemba, Its Marketing Now, and SomerCor 504, Inc. 

Many other sponsors generously donated holiday gift baskets and prizes for a raffle. The raffle proceeds were given to support Fathers Who Care and the West Garfield Park Youth Council whose members volunteered and served as some of the friendliest coat checkers to be found.

This family-friendly event had an intergenerational crowd. The entertainment included something for everyone with gospel and jazz musical artists, praise dancers, comedians, and Momma Kemba, a dramatic storyteller.