What We Do

At the Justin Wynn Fund we recognize the leadership and contributions of the youth and adults in our community through our Awards; and through our Leadership Academy we work with our youth to fulfill our mission of leadership through community service.


The Justin Wynn Fund presents four major awards every year.  These awards honor exemplary youth and adults from across Evanston.



The Justin Wynn Award is presented annually to select fourth graders from each of District 65’s elementary schools. Recipients are selected by their teachers and other school staff for exhibiting strong leadership, citizenship, and sportsmanship - characteristics that were central to Justin Wynn during his life. Awards are presented at an annual ceremony in May which is attended by approximately 300 people from across Evanston including Evanston’s mayor, school officials, and other community members.

Each of the award recipients, or “Wynners”, are invited to participate in the Justin Wynn Leadership Academy until their graduation from high school. Starting with the first class of award recipients in 1988, almost 700 students have received the Justin Wynn Award and all have played a role in celebrating Justin’s legacy.

See the list of Justin Wynn Award recipients.


The Buddy Portugal Award honors an adult in the community who has made an outstanding contribution to Evanston’s youth. The recipient is selected by the Justin Wynn Fund Board of Directors from a list of nominees put forth by the Justin Wynn Fund community.  The award is presented at the annual gala, The Red Tie Soirée. Prior to 2011, this honor was named the Adult Leadership Award. The award was renamed after Buddy Portugal who was instrumental in the formation of the Justin Wynn Leadership Academy.

See the list of Buddy Portugal Award recipients.

The Michael Wynn Circle honors Justin’s father.  Inductees are high school senior Wynners who have contributed greatly to the Justin Wynn Leadership Academy.  They display qualities of dedication, inspiration, and compassion, traits that characterized Michael Wynn. The inductees are recognized at the annual Awards Ceremony in the spring. In addition, the Justin Wynn Fund makes a donation to a charity of the recipients' choosing.  See the list of Michael Wynn Circle inductees.

The Marcia Wynn Award honors Justin’s mother and is presented to a Wynner parent in recognition of his or her extraordinary service to the Justin Wynn Fund community.  This person believes strongly in the mission of the Justin Wynn Fund and possesses dedication, spirit, and compassion, traits that characterized Marcia Wynn.  The recipient is selected by the Justin Wynn Fund Board of Directors and is presented with the award at the annual Parent/Board dinner in September.  See the list of Marcia Wynn Award recipients.

Mikeand Marcia

The Catherine McKnight Scholarship

The Justin Wynn Fund created the Catherine McKnight Scholarship in 2019 to honor the matriarch of the Wynn family.  Mrs. McKnight, or as she was lovingly known, Granny, was beloved by all who knew her, including the countless students she taught over her long career at District 65. She was also an unwavering supporter of the Justin Wynn Fund.  

The Justin Wynn Fund annually selects two graduating ETHS seniors who demonstrate a passion for education and community service, and each recipient is awarded a $1000 scholarship.  All ETHS seniors are eligible to apply. 

See the list of Catherine McKnight Scholarship recipients.


Area youth serving the community

Video created by Jenna and Chuck Kent, 2017

The Justin Wynn Leadership Academy (JWLA) is a collaborative leadership and community improvement program that partners with many organizations around Evanston and the surrounding communities. Year after year, the JWLA brings together Evanston’s young people who have the potential to be tomorrow’s leaders. Through a carefully crafted process of leadership development and participation in community service, their potential is transformed and mobilized to inspire the world.

Membership is comprised of 5th - 12th graders who have received the Justin Wynn Award.  These youth, or "Wynners", attend monthly meetings in which they plan community service opportunities, engage in leadership training and team building exercises, and engage with community leaders.  The JWLA also provides several community service opportunities every month in which the Wynners can participate, including work with local food pantries, soup kitchens, assisted living facilities, and animal shelters.  Members of the JWLA are also invited to attend a weekend long leadership camp in August.

The JWLA Leadership Camp

Our annual August leadership camp is a critical component of the Justin Wynn Leadership Academy.  Wynners from grades 5 through 12 travel together to the YMCA Camp Duncan in Ingleside, IL where they spend three days embodying the mission of the JWF: Leadership, Service and Sportsmanship.  

The Wynners work hard and play hard during their time away at camp. They collaborate on developing the strategic plan for the upcoming program year, participate in team-building activities, and nominate other community organizations to impact throughout the year.  Having a wide age range of Wynners attend camp is intentional and allows the high school Wynners to mentor and lead many of the activities and the often spirited debates.

Camp is one of the highlights of the year for the Justin Wynn Leadership Academy, kick-starting our year and creating a forum for our Wynners to build life-long bonds and friendships.  We believe that every Wynner should be able to attend the leadership camp and work diligently to ensure there are no barriers to getting them there!

JWLA camp

The JWLA is a wonderfully enriching experience that allows youth of different ages from across Evanston to build friendships, problem solving skills, and confidence.


During the 2020-21 program year, the JWLA volunteered 352 hours and partnered with the following community organizations:

Partners - resized
Partners - resized (1)
Partners - resized (2)


John Kayaian with the Marcia Wynn Award plaque

2023 Marcia Wynn Award

Wynner parent John Kayaian received the Marcia Wynn Award at our Parent/Board Gathering held on Sept. 28, 2023. The Marcia Wynn Award honors parents who have been consistent supporters of the Justin Wynn Fund. John has been a dedicated supporter of the Justin Wynn Fund since his son Theo received the Justin Wynn Award. He has served on the JWF Board of Directors since 2017, including as Vice President for four years. John has been instrumental in planning the Red Tie Soirée each year, and has planned and hosted our annual Parent Mixers. Wynner Theo Kayaian presented his father with the 2023 Marcia Wynn Award on behalf of the Justin Wynn Board of Directors. Congratulations John!

2023 Catherine McKnight Scholarship recipient

The Wynn family selected ETHS senior Maria Martinez as the 2023 Catherine McKnight Scholarship recipient.  Maria plans on attending Northern Illinois University.  The Catherine McKnight Scholarship was presented to Maria at the Senior Scholarship Night held on May 10th.

Congratulations and best wishes to Maria!


2022 Marcia Wynn Award Recipients

The Justin Wynn Fund Board of Directors presented the Marcia Wynn Award to the Max Shure and Tracey Denlow.   Max and Tracey have been dedicated supporters of the Justin Wynn Fund for many years.   Max and Tracey were honored at the Parent/Board Gathering held on Sept. 12, 2022.

2022 Catherine McKnight Scholarship Recipients

The Wynn family awarded the 2022 Catherine McKnight Scholarships to ETHS seniors Taryn Robinson and Timothy Russell.  ETHS honored Taryn and Timothy at the virtual ETHS Senior Scholarship Night held on May 11, 2022.

Taryn plans to attend Duke University and major in Psychology with a minor in Dance.  Timothy will attend Northwestern University and study Mechanical Engineering.

Congratulations and Best Wishes to Taryn and Timothy!

2021 Marcia Wynn Award recipients

We honored Wynner parents, Carmen Wallace and Megan McDermott at 2021 Parent Board Gathering on September 27.  Wynners Maya Wallace and Logan McDermott presented their mothers with the 2021 Marcia Wynn Award.

The Marcia Wynn Award honors parents who have been consistent supporters of the Justin Wynn Fund and the JWLA.

Congratulations Carmen and Megan!



The 2021 Catherine McKnight Scholarship recipients

The Wynn family selected ETHS graduates Abigail Roman and Alex Johnson to receive the 2021 Catherine McKnight scholarship.  ETHS honored Abigail and Alex at the virtual ETHS Senior Scholarship Night held on May 12, 2021.

Abigail plans to attend Tulane University.  Alex will attend Georgetown University.

Congratulations and Best Wishes to Abigail and Alex!