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Member Spotlight: Claire Bracco

Claire Bracco's career in hospitality began the summer of 2012 when she joined the team at The Plaza Park Grill restaurant. It was such a fun job and she loved interacting with all of the guests and being able to answer questions about Chicago. She was lucky enough to return the following summer. It was then that she realized her love for the city, and that working in the hospitality and events world was something she needed to pursue. So she transferred from a school in Ohio to DePaul University and started to take business and hospitality classes. She choose to major in Hospitality leadership with a concentration in event management at first because of how everyone kept talking about the super fun and exciting classes. But, it also helped that the program is a very unique one and provided her with the incredible opportunity to visit different venues around the city almost every week and to meet so many people in the Chicago event and hospitality world, but she never imaged wanting to make a career out of it. That is until she got my first internship as a part of an event team.

DePaul requires all business students to have at least one internship before graduating and she was fortunate enough to be connected to the development team at After School Matters and get the position of Events Intern. From day one she was hooked and hasn't looked back since. It has been two and half years and she is still with After School Matters but now as the Events and Special Projects Coordinator. Their team is quite small, in fact there are only two of them. That being said, Claire very fortunate and thankful to have this opportunity as it has allowed her to flourish as a young events professional and the opportunities that she has been given in her time here has done nothing but help validate that working in events and all of the long hours and hard work that comes with this career path is truly her passion.

Getting to Know You Q & A ...

Who/ what inspired you to go into event planning?

My mom played a huge role in my decision to go into event planning. I originally went to school with the goal of becoming an elementary school teacher but changed paths after about a year and came back to the city to explore other career paths. I grew up going to events with my mom and always had a blast and loved watching her plan and execute such incredible experiences and when I discovered that DePaul has a Hospitality Program it just seemed like a natural fit and path for me to take!

Tell us one thing we might not learn about you right away?

I am a city girl through and through, but I would absolutely love to own a small farm one day. When I am much older and ready to retire, I would love to be able to move to the country and have a small little farm with all kinds of animals, especially goats and chickens. 

What do you love the most about what you do?

As an event planner in general, I love to create experiences and memories for people. In my current position as a part of the events team for After School Matters, a Chicago based non-profit that provides out of school time programming for Chicago Teens, I love being able to work collaboratively with many different groups of people. From our staff, to our board of directors, and the teens that we provide opportunities for, planning and executing events for After School Matters allows me the chance to advocate for the future of Chicago, our teens. The teens that we work with everyday are a huge inspiration to me as well. They are all so incredibly talented and I love being able to create opportunities for our guests and supporters to see what they are working on and to learn more about After School Matters.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Oak Park, one of the western suburbs.

What made you interested in participating in ILEA? 

My supervisor at After School Matters encouraged me to join a professional organization because it is a great way to network with other people in the industry and develop my skills as a young event professional. She used to be a member of ILEA and after hearing her stories of the connections that she made and still keeps to this day, it really encouraged me to get more involved in the Chicago Event world. As a young professional, especially in Events and Hospitality I think it is so important to do things that push you to get outside of your comfort zone and build a network of people with similar interests and goals, and ILEA is one of the ways that I can do that.

Welcome Claire!


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Member Spotlight: Emily Wuerdeman

Emily discovered her passion for the special events industry while studying Arts, Entertainment, and Media Management at Columbia College Chicago. Upon graduating in 2016, she started her career with Event Creative, where she was previously brought on as an intern while still in school. As the Executive Events Assistant, she helped out in all areas across the board. She assisted with everything from event design, planning, and production. She supported the event leads and oversaw load-ins and strikes for large-scale events such as Chicago Gourmet and the PCMA Awards in Washington, D.C. She was also the event lead in their adjacent venue for smaller events such as company meetings and retreats. Currently, she works for Stitely Entertainment, where she’s excited to have the opportunity to combine her two passions- events and music. As the Planning and Operations Coordinator, she works directly with clients, musicians, and planners alike to coordinate the entertainment portions of events. She’s also lucky to be able to partake in networking within the community, like with ILEA!

Getting to Know You Q&A...

Who/What inspired you to go into event planning?
I went to an arts high school in Cincinnati and studied Stage Management. Originally, I attended for Theater Arts and Acting but realized I wanted to be behind the scenes. That’s where the fun is! I practiced stage management for all four years of high school, but always had a passion for the music industry as well. You’d always catch me at a local venue on the weekends catching a show. All of my friend’s parents called me “Concert Girl.” Now, I’m with Stitely Entertainment and I plan music entertainment for private events. How fitting!
 
Tell us one thing we might not learn about you right away?
I’m a big animal welfare advocate. In college, I interned with PAWS Chicago, helping to coordinate their special adoption events with the foster team. I’ve continuously fostered and volunteered for them since then. I have one cat that I got from PAWS and a dog that I adopted from a small rescue called Fortunate Pooches and Labs. Start a conversation with me about it and I could go on for hours, though I’ll be crying by the second sentence…
 
What do you love the most about what you do?
There’s two big things that stand out for me. One, as I’ve mentioned before, is that I get to combine my two passions of music and events. Second, is the opportunity to grow and network. Stitely Entertainment has given me the opportunity to be a part of the community and other groups such as ILEA. It’s been so rewarding- both personally and professionally.

Where did you grow up?
I grew up outside of Cincinnati, Ohio in the house that my father grew up in. So, I’m a small-town girl at heart. But, I started going to school in downtown Cincinnati in the sixth grade. So, it makes sense that I found my way to Chicago.
 
What is your event gone wrong horror story?
No event will ever be a horror story for me. Sometimes, you have to keep that mindset. Of course there’s been mistakes and mishaps. These are not horror stories. They are learning opportunities! I’ve still got a lot to learn so I don’t take things too hard when they go wrong. And I’ll still be saying the same thing at the end of my career. Just learn from it and progress.

What made you interested in participating in ILEA? 
As I mentioned above, I’m young and fairly new to the industry. I have a lot to learn and a lot to experience. I’m loving my journey in the industry and am excited to grow and continue with my success. Having the opportunity to meet and connect with other people on the same journey has been such an amazing opportunity and I’m really looking forward to what my future with ILEA, and the events industry in general, holds!

Thanks Emily and welcome to ILEA!

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Member Spotlight: Meet Thom Skibbie

Thom started his career in the sales and catering office at Indian Lakes Resort and shifted a bit into the restaurant, night club, bar, and banquet side of things there and a few other places for a decade or so.  After some time away from the industry he lucked into a great job at an event rental company that supplied tents, tables, chairs, and fun.  And by fun we are talking about the United States longest mobile zip line, over 400 inflatables for all ages, photo booths, graffiti walls, etc.  Thom created new revenue streams for them in the college market and expanded their presence in several other areas, churches, country clubs, villages and park districts, even casual weddings and other celebrations - he loved working and building relationships with all of the great contacts and friends.  When he reached a point where there were no more opportunities to grow with the family owned company, Thom joined Sodexo and the Museum of Science & Industry and so far the experience couldn’t be better.  The team is great to work with and he looks forward to going into work to learn from them and to help people plan their events.  Thom oversees all of the social business (weddings, Mitzvahs, graduations, retirements, any reason to celebrate) and daytime corporate meetings.

The team at the Museum of Science & Industry is top notch and in fact were just awarded the ACE Award for the 2nd year in a row for the best venue (over $2 million in annual revenue) for the Eastern United States (27 states and Washington D.C.).  The lead sales person on the team, Tara Kattan, has been there 17 years and was just awarded the Sodexo Award for Star Sales Professional at a company conference last week.  Thom's excited to have an award winning team to continue to learn from. 

Getting to Know You Q&A...

Who/What inspired you to go into event planning?

Part of my success at my last job was going above and beyond renting equipment to help clients build complete events.  When I felt that I was ready for new challenges I felt that this type of position would be that next step up.  It was rough going to find someone willing to look past my lack of a degree in event planning who would see the experience in operations and sales I had.  I am grateful to Sodexo for providing me that opportunity and am loving everything I am learning and all of the new people I am meeting. 

Tell us one thing we might not learn about you right away?

I have a friend with a dairy goat farm near me and I help out there when I can.  Last year I was “gifted” some chicks through a client and I started raising chickens at the farm.  I teamed up with a friend from grade school that home schools her kids to start our own chicken empire.  We have 8 hens and are happy to average 5 eggs a day during the winter when they normally slow down their egg laying.  We have 15 new birds coming in March and that same client will hopefully “gift” me more chickens again this year.  By the end of summer I hope to have about 3 dozen laying hens in a new “chicken castle” we are planning to build this Spring.

What do you love the most about what you do?

I am not fond of the 9-5 schedule where you sit at a desk all day doing repetitive tasks.  Event planning is different every day.  The tasks are very similar as far as creating proposals, answering emails and phones, etc. but I am able to talk to new people every day, build a relationship with them while we work to plan and execute a celebration of something special in their life.  I work with happy people, planning a fun event, and then I get the challenge of working with my team to execute the event.  There have not really been any limitations I have found yet and the whole team is willing to pitch in to make sure we are innovating and pushing the limits beyond the status quo.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in the Western Suburbs, Glendale Heights to be exact.  It was a great diverse community that left me with no stereotypes and an open mind.  I met many great people in the neighborhood I grew up in and through school.  I still talk to many of the people I went to school with, even more so in recent years thanks to social media.

What is your event gone wrong horror story?

I had a client I worked with all the time and they have a particular event in November that they flip theater style seating for over a thousand into an indoor amusement park in less than an hour.  It is usually planned to the minute for them to release the middle school aged kids in attendance, then they cleared the chairs as we set up a ton of inflatables for them.  It was always on a tight budget so we couldn’t have as many people as we would have liked to get the flip done as easily as we would have liked.  But this was a great client and a great group of people to work with so I would even waive my fees and just go to make sure things were going smoothly.  I was at a family event 2 years ago and trying to stay there as long as I could.  I was in contact with my delivery team.  They were there and waiting over an hour ahead of time waiting for word that they could start to set up.  Since they were there so early I was able to relax for a few extra minutes with family.  I showed up about 10 minutes before it was time to set up and we open the trailer to start organizing things.  The trailer was empty.  We were in St. Charles and the office was in Melrose Park.  They had hooked up the wrong trailer.  I call the operations manager who leaves his family dinner to hook up and bring the right trailer.  Meanwhile this is my first time working with the new director who turned another company that was also there to deliver and told them to have their team bring more equipment.  Operations gets on site 30 seconds ahead of the other company’s truck and we had everything set up in less than 20 minutes so it was ready to go on time.  We ended up comping the whole event from our end because they didn’t think we would get our stuff there in time and had to pay the other company.  It was the head of the delivery teams last day.  He was at the company longer than I was and had saved my butt too many times to count by going above and beyond.  The poor guy was devastated and in tears.  Nothing like this had ever happened with him before.  I tried to comfort him and point out all the good he had done over the years and how thankful I was to work with someone like him.  I knew it was an accident.  He even came in the next day on his way to move out of state to apologize.  I reiterated how I wasn’t upset with him and thanked him for everything he did for me and the company over the years. 

It was a horrible experience but the team pulled through, everyone went above and beyond to make things work out.  It is often the attitude and work ethic of the team that makes a difference.  You can plan everything down to the last minute detail, something unexpected can happen to potentially negate all the hard work preparing for an event.  Ultimately it is your attitude and the attitude of your entire team that determines if you can overcome those challenges or crash and burn.  In this case a good recommendation from the former director combined with the new director recognizing our hard work to rectify things earned us a second chance.  They remained one of my favorite clients and one of my largest clients until I left the company.

What made you interested in participating in ILEA?

It was a fortunate accident.  The Sodexo team at the museum had been looking for someone to represent them in ILEA so the opportunity was waiting for me when I started here.  I had been very active in several other networking groups with past positions and was happy to meet a new group of people.  As it turned out I saw a lot of familiar faces when I attended my first event in January and am looking forward to many more meetings in the future. 

Connect with Thom on Social Media!

Linked-In          https://www.linkedin.com/in/thomasskibbie/

Instagram         thomskibbie

Thanks Thom and welcome to ILEA!

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