About 16 years ago, I received a letter from an organization called Esperanza Community Services asking if I could donate unneeded food from the restaurant I was running at the time. They wanted the food to help provide lunch for their participants. I see cooking as a way to take care of people, so I was immediately interested. I arranged to visit Esperanza.

As I walked through the agency, I was greeted with the biggest smiles I had ever seen. The participants radiated pure happiness and joy. I thought that this was the happiest group of people I’ve ever seen on earth!

I am a big believer in giving back to my community and supporting the causes and people that are close to me. I wanted to support Esperanza, but the participants had inspired me so much that I knew I could do even more than they had asked. That year, my friend Joel Nickson, owner of Wishbone Restaurants, and I organized a dinner to raise money that would help support Esperanza’s participants throughout the entire year. Over the years, this event grew into Celebrating Victories, Esperanza’s annual gala. Celebrating Victories is much more than a dinner or a fundraiser. It’s a chance to tell the community about the fantastic things that Esperanza’s participants are achieving, and to come together in support of a terrific organization.

Over the years, I have gotten even more involved with Esperanza. Every holiday season, I work with participants in Esperanza’s bakery to prepare hundreds of boxes of delicious gourmet fudge as a fundraiser. I also organize an annual feast just for participants and their families. As a chef, my schedule is hectic. But I am always able to find time for Esperanza for one reason – I love the people. These days, the smiles at Esperanza are just as inspiring as they were years ago. I have come to realize that spending time with everyone at Esperanza brings out the best in me. I wish I could visit more often!

This year, I am honored to co-chair the 2012 Celebrating Victories Gala with Joel Nickson at the Union League Club on Thursday, April 19. This event is a big step forward for Esperanza, and Joel and I are looking forward to preparing a fantastic meal. I hope that you’ll join us. It’s going to be a fantastic –and inspirational – night out.

Thank you,

Chef Jackie Shen

Get your tickets here!