speakers & honorees  

Ben Austen, author of the book “High-Risers” Keynote Speaker: Ben Austen will be the2018 Moving Forward Together Keynote Speaker. Ben is the author of the new book “High-Risers,” which provides an up close and personal look at the lives of individuals and families who called Cabrini-Green home. He will explore the strong sense of community and family that existed in the Cabrini development before its demise, as well as its challenges from the perspective of its residents. Ben is also the author of “The Fate of American Public Housing.” He is a native South Sider, a graduate of Chicago Public Schools, and a Fulbright scholar. He has written about affordable housing and other issues of our time for the ‘New York Times Magazine,’ ‘Harper's,’ ‘GQ,’ ‘The Atlantic,’ ‘Wired,’ and ‘The Best American Travel Writing,’ among many national publications.

2018 Partners in Innovation Winners: The Wintrust Partners in Innovation Award is an annual award presented by Mercy Housing Lakefront and Wintrust Financial Corporation to honor a team for their role in helping to develop an innovative community development project. This year we are honor the financial and development partners that contributed to beautiful 70 unit River Station Senior Residences in Kankakee, IL. Their work has provided hope, healthcare and much-needed quality affordable housing to the seniors of Kankakee and surrounding communities.

The 2018 Wintrust Partners in Innovation Winners are: 

City of Kankakee

Heritage Development and Construction

Illinois Housing Development Authority

JH2B Architects

Kankakee County Housing Authority

McColly Bennett Commercial Real Estate

PNC Bank

Presence Health


Inspiring Hope Award: Krishna Ramachandran, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Illinois, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas

Growing up in Chennai, India, Krishna Ramachandran slept on the floor of his family’s home, a small apartment they were able to afford only because his mother pawned jewelry to make ends meet. As a result of their experiences, Krishna’s parents were adamant that he have the opportunity to pursue education and escape the cycle of poverty, raising money from friends and family for his school uniforms and encouraging him to complete college. In 2000, after being accepted to the University of Illinois at Chicago’s graduate school to study electrical and computer engineering, Krishna bought a one-way ticket to Chicago and arrived in the city with two suitcases, $150 and a handful of Indian spices with which to cook. With continued persistence in the face of adversity, Krishna successfully completed graduate school and began his professional career.

Today, 18 years later, Krishna is the Vice President of Health Data Strategy and Enterprise Network Operations at Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS), responsible for developing and executing their health data exchange strategy with providers and external partners across five states, in addition to supporting the analytics and operations for alternative payment models to increase value for more than 15 million members. Prior to joining BCBS, Krishna served in executive roles with DuPage Medical Group (DMG) and its subsidiary Boncura Health Solutions, DMG and Epic Systems Corporation. In addition, he serves as an instructor in The University of Chicago’s Master of Science in Biomedical Informatics program, teaching the Big Data in Health Care course and is an active member of the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) and the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS). He holds a Bachelor of Engineering degree from Birla Institute of Technology and Science (India); a Master of Science degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Illinois at Chicago; and an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Sisters of Mercy Spirit of Mercy Award: Howard Natinsky, Natinsky Group

With nearly 30 years of experience as an entrepreneur in Chicago’s real estate, dining and nightlife industries, Howard Natinsky is passionate about contributing to vibrant communities. Since moving to Chicago in 1989, Howard has launched numerous local businesses that contribute to the cultural fabric of the city, including Corner Pocket, Southport Lanes, Revel Room and Fat Cat Bar, among others.
After opening Fat Cat in the Uptown neighborhood, Howard looked for a vehicle to become active in the community, ultimately learning of Mercy Housing Lakefront (MHL). In 2011, he joined the MHL Board of Directors, making a commitment to raise awareness of MHL’s life-changing work by building bridges between residents and members of the community.

In the years since, Howard has done exactly that through activities like the “Uptown Initiative,” a series of community dinners hosted at MHL’s Uptown properties, with food prepared and served by Howard and his employees at Fat Cat. In addition, Howard has organized several successful fundraising drives for MHL at Fat Cat, donating a portion of drink sales to the organization to expand the service offerings available to residents.

These efforts have had a meaningful impact on residents’ lives, making possible a sewing studio at the Harold Washington Apartments and a flourishing art therapy program that allows residents to creatively express themselves and regain a sense of identity after experiencing traumatic life events like homelessness. Most recently, Howard has turned his attention to launching a pilot program for MHL residents that focuses on nutrition education to help residents live healthier lives and achieve their full potential.

Leading by example and inspiring others to do the same, Howard works each day to help create a more humane world, embodying the Spirit of Mercy.

Volunteer Service Award: Emil and Michelle McCauley