pictures of the six 2023 Excalibur and Excelsior Award finalists

Announcing the 2023 Excalibur and Excelsior Award Finalists

The Community Foundation of Northern Illinois (CFNIL), in partnership with the Rockford Register Star and the Northern Illinois Center for Nonprofit Excellence (NICNE), is thrilled to announce the 2023 Excalibur and Excelsior Awards finalists.

The Excalibur Award, created and launched by the Rockford Register Star in 1971, honors an individual who exemplifies excellence in community service. It was joined by the Excelsior Award, which honors an organization of the same merit, in 1979. After a hiatus in 2022, the awards are returning with an enhanced emphasis on recognizing excellence throughout Northern Illinois.


  • Mary Ann Abate: Retired VP of Public Policy at Rosecrance. President of the Winnebago County Mental Health Board, advocate and partner in developing Winnebago County mental health court, implemented the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (now known as 988 hotline) in Winnebago and Boone Counties, instrumental in bringing Crisis Intervention Training to Winnebago County and implementing that training with law enforcement, lead architect of the half-cent mental health sales tax leading to a dedicated funding source for mental health services in Winnebago County; board service with Easterseals, Carrie Lynn Advisory Board, NAMI Northern Illinois, Community Mental Health Tax Force, Behavioral Health Leadership Team of the Rockford Regional Health Council.
  • Armando Cardenas: Self-Employed Sales and Marketing Director at Affordable Insurance & Tax. Former and first Executive Director of the 4-S Center (now known as La Voz Latina), advocate for the first Bilingual program and the Mariachi music elective in RPS205, founder of Domingos En El Parque at Levings Park, RAVE Board DEI subcommittee member, founding member of the Rockford Regional Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; board service with Friends of the Coronado and Rockford Area Arts Council.
  • James Rhyne: Executive Director at Boys & Girls Club of Freeport and Stephenson County. Advocate for the establishment of the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Campus, leader of the “Uncomfortable Conversations” program, creator of the YIELD program providing avenues of entry into skilled trades, developed and implemented numerous enrichment programs for area youth, advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion in community leadership, board service with Highland Community College, Freeport School District, The Foundation for Northwest Illinois, member of Freeport Noon Rotary Club and NAACP.


  • Golden Apple Foundation of Rockford (Jennifer Stark, Executive Director): Inspires, celebrates, and supports educational excellence. Founded locally by Don Zimmerman and Dr. Richard Novak with the goal of mobilizing volunteers to recognize excellence in teaching. Today, provides four core programs: Award & Recognition, Teacher Scholarships, Classroom Grants, and Community Engagement. More than 400 volunteers participate each year and teachers, principals, and volunteers from more than 150 schools in Winnebago and Boone Counties are honored, with more than 200 Golden Apple “Alumni”, and over $238,000 awarded for classroom grants. 
  • Hoo Haven Wildlife Rehabilitation & Education Center (Karen Herdklotz, Founder and Director): Dedicated to the rehabilitation and release of injured and orphaned wildlife and community education about the importance of preserving our natural resources. What started as a small, part-time endeavor in Karen and Steve Herdklotz’s home, has grown to one of the largest state and federally-licensed wildlife rehab centers in our region, housed on a 20-acre property and featuring a fully-outfitted surgery suite. Completely staffed by volunteers 24/7/365, Hoo Haven cares for about 1,000 birds and animals annually and is a designated “Regional Eagle Recovery Center,” having cared for 150 eagles since 2004. Hoo Haven conducts over 150 educational programs on and off-site each year, introducing people to some of their unreleasable “Wildlife Ambassadors.” Hoo Haven also hosts and houses “HooTern” interns, college students who are interested in animal-related career paths who live on-site for a 12-week rotation.
  • Rockford Promise (Kaylene Groh, Executive Director): This location-based scholarship program transforms lives and serves as a powerful economic driver for the community by giving full-tuition scholarships to RPS205 graduates. Founded in 2006, what started as an all-volunteer endeavor awarding small scholarships to RPS graduates has grown to support 400 active Promise Scholars. In addition to scholarships, Rockford Promise connects Scholars to mentorship services and employs Academic Mentoring Specialists at each partner campus (Rock Valley College, Northern Illinois University, Rockford University). In an effort to connect Scholars to local employers, for the benefit of both parties and our regional economy, Rockford Promise is launching internship and job shadow programs.

In addition to the Excalibur and Excelsior Awards four new awards honoring “Community Champions” from each of the four counties of our region (Boone, Ogle, Stephenson, and Winnebago) will be presented. Each recipient will receive a cash prize which individuals may donate to the charity of their choice and organizations may use to further their mission and support their work.

Finalists will be honored, and the 2023 recipients will be announced, at the 2023 Excalibur and Excelsior Award Ceremony on Thursday, December 14, 2023. The event is free and open to the public, but RSVPs are required: visit to save your seat!

Find full details about the history of the awards, the nomination and selection process, and the 2023 Award Ceremony at the new website dedicated to these awards: