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Maria Bechily is keenly aware of how generosity transforms lives. In 1961, she immigrated to Chicago from Cuba as part of Operation Pedro Pan, an initiative to protect the children of parents who opposed the revolutionary government of Fidel Castro.

Through this program, more than 14,000 Cuban “Peter Pan kids” were relocated to the United States between 1960 and 1962—the largest recorded movement of unaccompanied children in the Western hemisphere.

After Operation Peter Pan made Chicago her home, Maria Bechily transformed a foundation’s commitment to diversity

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Bechily ended up in a foster home in Chicago at age 12, separated from her brothers and speaking no English. But with support from a social worker from Catholic Charities, and from her foster family, she acclimated to her new hometown—and was reunited with her parents two years later.

Today Bechily is one of metropolitan Chicago’s most ardent philanthropic leaders. She began working with the Trust in 2004 when she joined the Executive Committee, the Trust’s governing board. During her 10-year term, Bechily is particularly proud of how the board reinforced the Trust’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. The Trust created its diversity statement, and began giving more weight to the diversity of a nonprofit’s board and staff when evaluating grant applications.

Maria Bechily reflects on her experience in philanthropy, as part of the D5 initiative to advance diversity and inclusion. “To this day,” she says, “I feel humbled when I’m called a philanthropist.”

In addition, the Trust encouraged large nonprofits to partner with small nonprofits to effectively reach specific demographics and communities. And the Trust helped create identity-focused funds to promote collective philanthropy that meets the changing needs of diverse communities in the Chicago region.

In 2004, Bechily and fellow Executive Committee members Marty Castro, Adela Cepeda and Virginia Ojeda founded Nuestro Futuro, an identity-focused fund that inspires donors to work together to make a difference in the lives of Latinos.

“The ultimate beauty of Nuestro Futuro is the power of collective philanthropy at work,” says Bechily, who serves as co-chair of the fund. “Whatever gift I can make is leveraged by pulling my resources with other like-minded people.”

Maria Bechily and Adela Cepeda at the podium during a Nuestro Futuro reception, presenting an award to King Harris
Co-founders Maria Bechily, at left, and Adela Cepeda present an award from Nuestro Futuro to King Harris in recognition of his steadfast support. One of the largest Latino-serving endowments in the nation, Nuestro Futuro provides grant support to nonprofits serving Latino communities throughout the region.

Since 2004, Nuestro Futuro has awarded nearly $2 million in grants to more than 60 Latino-serving organizations in Chicago and the suburbs. In recent years, it has supported nonprofits that provide early childhood education programs, as well as health, workforce development and the arts.

Despite her vast philanthropic commitments and experiences, Bechily says her stint on the Trust’s Executive Committee gave her new insight into innovative and strategic philanthropy that delivers impact. “I loved my tenure at the Trust. It was the highlight of my philanthropic career,” Bechily says. “It should be the highlight of everyone’s philanthropic and civic involvement in Chicago.”