As Adam Alonso, CEO of BUILD Chicago, stood out on the turf at Soldier Field during halftime of the frigid Bears-Bills game last Saturday, he made sure to stop, look around and soak in the moment.
Alonso, who joined BUILD in March 2015, was receiving the first-ever Inspire Change Changemaker Award from the Bears, a new league-wide initiative to recognize individuals creating a difference in their communities.
"It was a momentous occasion for me," Alonso said on earning the honor. "I don't like to sort of be celebrated in that way, but I had to tell myself like just take it in. Here you are on the field and in front of everyone and I don't know if everyone was paying attention, but my staff was behind me. I heard them yelling. That's exciting. It's humbling and I'm just grateful for the opportunity and excited for our work to continue on. So I'm super grateful and appreciative and I'm just thankful for this opportunity."
During the halftime recognition, Alonso watched as the videoboard played his live reaction from Nov. 23 when the Bears surprised him with the award at BUILD's annual Turkey Bowl. He recalls running late that day, rushing over to the park after back-to-back meetings and meeting up with former Bears defensive end Israel Idonije as he was walking up.
Once Idonije started to talk to the group of BUILD students and staff, announcing the Bears organization would be honoring a changemaker, Alonso's initial thought was, 'oh my gosh, which of these kids is gonna get it?'
"When he called [my name], I literally was in shock," Alonso recalled. "I was like, 'what?' Because I had a whole narrative in my head, about which of the young people who was there was going to be given that distinction. And so it was truly a shock for me, and I don't live to expect these things. I do the work for the work and that's what matters most, so it's really super cool and to see the video up there and watch my face from that perspective was funny. I knew what my face felt like and my staff they were like, 'Oh, my gosh, we got you good. We knew.'"
Being a part of the inaugural Inspire Change award is a "total honor" for Alonso, who believes that nod comes with higher expectations, which he plans to live up to. But the award signifies so much more than personal gratification. For Alonso, it's an ode to the entire BUILD organization, from the financial department to development to people on the frontline working in the community.
The Inspire Change award is also a significant distinction for the young people that BUILD supports. Alonso believes a big part of his and the BUILD staff's role is serving as people the kids want to look up to and take inspiration from.
"I think it's important for even our young people and for others who do this work to see how important it is," Alonso said on the league's creation of Inspire Change. "I always tell our staff that you never know who's watching you and you never know who is looking at us. And most importantly, we have to always be thoughtful about our young people who are watching us, even if they don't tell us.
"So how we act at work, how we act when we're out in the community, and when we're off work time, all of that matters. You can't really have this sort of double life. You act one way when you're on the job with young people and when you're out there, off the clock, you're something entirely different. When you're inspiring young people, there's got to be a consistency that they see because otherwise it doesn't feel authentic when they see you during the day."
As part of the Inspire Change award, BUILD Chicago was gifted a $10,000 grant from the NFL Foundation through Bears Care, which has partnered with the program since 2012.
Alonso announced at the halftime celebration that the grant will be used to expand BUILD's flag football leagues, particularly a girl's league. While the program already has a co-ed flag football team, Alonso is excited to bring young girls a sport of their own.
"Co-ed is great and we'll continue that as well, but we want to use this money to help really get our young ladies to think about athletics," Alonso said. "It doesn't have to be flag football, but this is a tool to get them in, get them excited, being healthy exercising, moving around, being sportsmanlike on the field is going to be important as well."