2016 Summit Awardees Information

Summit Award for Small Business of the Year:

 Excuse Free Fitness

Excuse Free Fitness of Homewood and its owner, Caprice O’Bryant, is this year’s winner of the Summit Small Business Award for 2016.
Excuse Free Fitness is a health and wellness center designed to offer clients a fun and memorable fitness experience each time they come by offering personal training, group fitness classes and nutrition coaching.
Its owner, Caprice O’Bryant, 23 years old, is a National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) certified personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist and certified bootcamp instructor. Born and raised in the south suburbs, she is a Tinley Park High School graduate and lives with her parents in Richton Park.
Caprice O’Bryant has already doubled the size of her fitness center to 5500 sq.ft. from 2700 sq. ft. and has doubled her staff. She has embraced technology and has an active social media and web presence.
Beyond her entrepreneurial spirit, her success is remarkable becaus at a young age, Caprice faced challenges two accidents caused serious neurological injuries. With her strong will and her “No excuses” motto, she has prevailed, and now she’s inspiring others to get fit. Always athletic, she was encouraged to work out to help her recovery. People then started asking her to help them train, and she found her passion. Her business goal is to strengthen the health of our community by providing elite coaches, affordable prices and life changing results. Her inspirational story has been featured on several television shows.
Ms. O’Bryant’s passion also includes two community based fund raisers: one for Epilepsy research and the other for Breast Cancer awareness. Moreover, she coaches and mentors others who have a desire to become fitness instructors by providing an incubator program.


Training Excellence Leader of the Year:

Sterling Lumber Company

Sterling Lumber Co. of Phoenix, IL, is this year’s training excellence awardee.
Sterling lumber has been in business for 65 years. Five years ago they consolidated their Gary, Blue Island and Joliet operations into their Phoenix/Harvey location, renovating a 600,000 square foot plant in Phoenix/Harvey. During negotiations, they talked about their goals, the number of jobs they expected to have, the training they planned to provide, and their community involvement, and when they moved in, they set about fulfilling those promises. They now have over 200 employees. Their growth rate is 569%.
Training has included English as a Second Language, OSHA (in English and Spanish), and CPR First Aid Licensing Certification, as well as supervisor communication skills training, which they recognize as being critical to success. They have goals of ongoing personnel development.
Sterling’s products include crane mats, crates and pallets. We’re not talking “little mats, or little pallets.” Their products are often used to provide temporary site access over roads, platforms, and water crossings. They have large products and a large customer base; both depend on Sterling for major infrastructure projects related to highways, toll roads, overpasses, ramps, bridges and more.
Sterling received the prestigious Big Shoes Award in 2016 to celebrate excellence in manufacturing. They have also earned a spot in Crain’s Chicago Business Fast Fifty listing for the past two years.
They feel their greatest reward has come from the exceptional culture they have created for employees and pride in the quality products that the Sterling team helps to create and deliver. And part of this culture is to provide training to maximize the potential of their employees.


Economic Development Leader of the Year:

Sandra Zoellner, Assistant Director of Economic Development, Park Forest

Sandra Zoellner has worked as Assistant Director of Economic Development and Planning for Park Forest since 2008 and before that as the economic development coordinator. She earned a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Wichita State University and a BA in Political Science from Kalamazoo College.
Sandra believes in Park Forest and the Chicago Southland and wants to advance their image as a great place to live, work, study, dine and play. She represents the village at regional, statewide, and national conferences and trade shows; compiles and interprets data; and cultivates prospects, assisting them with market analysis and business plan writing. She also assists existing property owners with tax appeals and guides them through incentive review processes. Additionally, she works with community colleges and non-profit workforce development agencies to increase skilled workers and create a more competitive workforce.
• Sandra has gone beyond these time-consuming parts of her job by leading the formation of “Select Chicago Southland”, which is a collaborative of several south suburban communities to attract retail development to the south suburbs.
• She is currently leading our region’s efforts to create legislation that would substantially reduce the tax burden for buyers of large, obsolete abandoned properties.
• She has led our region’s efforts to lobby Cook County for business friendly revisions to their current incentive program changes.
• Hildy Kingma (Director of Economic Development) and Zoellner wrote a winning grant to bring a makers lab to Park Forest.
Sandra is also a board member of the Rich Township Food Pantry.
Sandra Zoellner is a strong supporter of the Village of Park Forest, and along with Park Forest’s values, she exhibits a generosity of spirit by investing time and skills for the region, not just the one municipality that employs her.


Creative Arts Excellence Award:

the drama group

The drama group has been producing live theatre in Chicago Heights since 1931. It is an all-volunteer organization, which has demonstrated its dedication to the arts simply by maintaining a continuous stream of live theater in Chicago Heights for over 85 years.
The group was awarded the 2015 Award of Excellence in Community Theater by the Illinois Theater Association, acknowledging their excellence and consistency of challenging productions. From comedy to drama, to musicals, to children’s theater, the group has taken it all on with high production values and extremely low budgets.
The drama group demonstrates both need and action for the arts in our region. They have scheduled a children’s summer theater camp for June 5-23 of this year and will be mounting The Wizard of Oz as a children’s theater production in April.
The drama group is made up of dedicated, passionate part-time actors, directors, set and light designers who have committed themselves to continuing the legacy of this under-recognized organization. This Summit Award serves as recognition for their contribution to the Arts in the Southland, and we hope that when you are looking for something to do, you will think to check out the drama group!



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