Chicago’s Biggest Fundraising Event: the Lincoln Park Zoo Ball

Friday, July 15 at 6:30 p.m., the Women’s Board of Lincoln Park Zoo will be hosting its largest annual fundraiser, Zoo Ball. Themed “Birds of Paradise,” this year’s event is bringing back the in-person, black-tie gala to support not only the nearly 200 species who live at the zoo, but conservation efforts as well. For example, the Lincoln Park Zoo is the only place outside of Puerto Rico that’s home to the Puerto Rican parrot, an endangered bird brought back from the brink of extinction thanks to zoo scientists and partners. This incredibly unique bird and its rainforest habitat serve as inspiration for the event which will feature lush, tropical décor along with unique cocktails and creative cuisine. 

To learn more about this event that regularly attracts more than 800 business, civic and community leaders and Zoo supporters, I spoke to Christine Tierney, President of the Women’s Board of Lincoln Park Zoo. The Women’s Board of Lincoln Park Zoo is an organization that began in 1976 and currently has 80 active members.  It has been a leading fundraising force, contributing more than $30 million to a wide range of capital projects and habitats.

Thank you for taking the time to speak with me, Christine!  Tell me about how you got involved and how long have you been on the board.

I have been on the Women’s Board for 15 years, and previous to that when I was younger, I was also on the auxiliary board, which is our Junior Board.  I have lived in the city for a long time and have a long affiliation with the zoo.  What drives my passion for Zoo is the fact that it is free, and one of the only few free zoos in the country.  I love the fact you can walk and just be there for an hour, or spend a lot more time.  When you go, you see people of all ages, and a broad spectrum of Chicago. 

What has inspired this year’s theme?

Our co-chairs come up with the theme for the event every year.  They started with a tropical, Caribbean concept that was really elegant – a lot of men in white jackets – we thought about a big band.  One of our co-chairs has a house in Puerto Rico and when thinking about that, it brought us to the Puerto Rican parrot.  Lincoln Park Zoo has the only two Puerto Rican parrots outside of Puerto Rico.  At one point, they were very endangered, down to only 13.  We have been working with an environmental group, and now there are 813! This Ancient animal is very much a symbol of Puerto Rico, and that’s where the theme of “birds of paradise”came from.

Wow!  I didn’t realize that the Puerto Rican Parrot was so endangered.

Yes, and I think that’s something people don’t realize about the Zoo.  In the past, the Women’s Board has funded a lot of capital projects.  Zoo Ball highlights one of those projects.  Right now, some of those projects are done, like the Pepper Family Wildlife Center, and now it’s a great time to highlight conservation because it goes beyond what you’re doing for community, and it is something that is important for the environment.  The Lincoln Park Zoo, in conjunction with the Women’s Board, has a number of conservation efforts around the world.

Do you think this is something that those who criticize the existence of zoos are maybe unaware of?

People see animals at a zoo and they may make some assumptions, especially because there are certain places that do not represent the good that zoos can do.  Zoos have a very connected network to each other through the American Zoology Association, and there are global connections too. A lot of it is the observation of animals and how we can help them survive in the wild.  Some of that started happening, like in the case of the Puerto Rican Parrot.  They were losing their homes due to human expansion, and also because of people who wanted them as pets.  Now we have helped to grow that endangered population that was down to 13 to over 800.

What will make this event a success in your eyes?

Success is not just in how much money you’ve raised, but this is the largest fundraiser that supports the Zoo, so the monetary result is important.  This is a time where we have a lot of new people coming to the Zoo.  We want people returning, and want to come to the zoo where they can learn about conservation and all the things that happen here.  And of course, we’re always looking to expand our donor base through memberships.

How can people participate in this event?  

This is a very high-end event, and tickets are $1,000 per person.  We call it the party of the summer!  Anyone who would like to support the Lincoln Park Zoo, including companies who may want to buy a table, can come and enjoy a wonderful evening of great music.  We are also using one cause, a bidding platform.  That will be available a week before.  We have been doing virtual bidding for years, so that will still be an option.

Birds of Paradise takes place on Friday, July 15 at 6:30 p.m. at Lincoln Park Zoo. To purchase tickets, visit lpzooball.org.


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