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Jim Belushi at College Fund Gala: ‘There Are Opportunities Right In Front of You’

The third and final 25th anniversary gala was held May 8 to raise funds for the American Indian College Fund to help Native American students.

During the third and final 25th anniversary gala celebration held May 8 at The Drake Hotel in Chicago, the American Indian College Fund held not only a silent auction, but a live one as well. The live auction was for a chance to sing and dance to “Soul Man” on stage with Jim Belushi & The Sacred Hearts. Attendees were encouraged to “put your wampum together” to raise as much money as possible to help Native American students through scholarships.

Nancy Jo Houk, the college fund’s vice president of resource development got the live auction started with a $1,000 bid, but by the time the song came around, three other women joined her on stage. Belushi announced that they had raised a total of $1,800 between them.

Leeanne Root

A number of items were up for silent auction, including pottery.

The entire evening was about raising money to help send more Native American students to college, like the six student ambassadors in attendance. All of the ambassadors have received scholarships from the College Fund.

Sabrina Hemken, Menominee, said the scholarships she’s received have made “day-to-day living bearable.” She’s a full-time student studying public administration and digital media at the College of Menominee Nation.

Eric Nacotee, Menominee, is in the same boat as a full-time student and also attends CMN. He’s studying natural resource, and says the best thing about attending a tribal college is the small class sizes, which allows students to get to know the instructors better.

Brian Grignon, Menominee, who is in a fast-paced electricity training program at CMN, said he enjoys the one-on-one attention the tribal college offers, and not feeling like a number.

“As a child of a large family, I know it is my responsibility to fund my education,” pointed out Miranda Perez, Menominee, the student ambassador who spoke to the gathered attendees during the gala. “Maybe Dr. Perez someday,” she laughed. “Yes, I do like how that sounds. I have a long way to go… transitioning into a mainstream college.”

American Indian College Fund

Student ambassador Miranda Perez also served as the student speaker at the College Fund's Chicago gala.

Perez, like the other ambassadors is currently at the College of Menominee Nation studying humanities. She will be heading to the University of Wisconsin Green Bay. She someday wants to work with the federal government on behalf of Native Americans to build more representation for Natives in the government. She said her time at a tribal college has given her the confidence to succeed at a mainstream school.

American Indian College Fund

All of the student ambassadors traveled from the College of Menominee Nation in Wisconsin to attend the College Fund's gala in Chicago. Pictured, from left, are Eric Nacotee, Sabrina Hemken, Miranda Perez, and Brian Grignon, who are all student ambassadors. On the right, are, Nicole Fish, financial aid director at the College of Menominee Nation, and Darrick Silversmith, program coordinator for the College Fund.

These students have seen success thanks to the provided by the American Indian College Fund, but, according to Dr. Cheryl Crazy Bull, College Fund president and CEO, for every student who gets help, there are three or four who don’t. She pointed out that a donation of $2,420 can pay a student’s tuition for one semester.

“I have been in situations where $50 made a difference,” Crazy Bull, Sicangu Lakota, said. Whether it is food for the student’s family, or gas to get the student to campus that day, every little bit helps.

Leeanne Root

This graphic, displayed at the American Indian College Fund's gala in Chicago, shows what your donation can do.

And help is what Belushi wanted to do, and why he was a part of the event. “Education is everything. Everything. As an actor I was exposed to great teachers and professionals, who guided me not only as an artist but also as a young man. They were beautiful people, they were mentors,” Belushi said before he performed.

“A college education was the most important thing I have done for my life and career. It separated me from the peasant life of my fathers and put me in a competitive realm in America, and today college is even more important. The playing field is so competitive,” Belushi, whose roots are in a small mountain village in Albania, said. He visited Albania recently to discover where his family came from.

Belushi helps organizations like the American Indian College Fund because education is close to his heart. He said getting an education is what got him where he is today, and he has advice for young people who may be at a disadvantage.

“My advice to economically disadvantaged young people; there are opportunities right in front of you. It doesn’t cost anything to get experience. There are many programs out there including this very organization, the American Indian College Fund, to get you in the door, but you have to open the door. It can’t be done for you, you have to find the opportunities, you have to want it,” Belushi said. “These opportunities can be found with your fingertips right on the Internet. You don’t have to wait for someone to tell you. You can find it.”

Belushi and his band, The Sacred Hearts were the headlining entertainment and wowed the crowd with favorites like “Soul Man” and “Sweet Home Chicago,” which they opened with.

Leeanne Root

Jim Belushi & The Sacred Hearts performed at the American Indian College Fund's Chicago 25th Anniversary Gala.

For more information about how you can help Native American students, visit

American Indian College Fund

During the Chicago gala, Gerald Gipp and James Shanley, both College Fund founders, were honored. On the left is Dr. Elmer Guy, and Dr. Cheryl Crazy Bull is in the middle. On the far right is Dr. Cynthia Lindquist, president of Cankdeska Cikana Community College.