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The Norman Bobins Leadership Award

If you should ever cross paths with Carlos Nelson, the first winner of the Norman Bobins Leadership Award, he’ll probably have a big smile on his face and a few exciting words to say about what’s going on in his neighborhood, the South Side community of Auburn Gresham.

Carlos, clearly, loves his work as executive director of the Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation(GADC), and he works tirelessly to promote and improve the neighborhood where his family settled in 1963. He considers Auburn Gresham one of Chicago’s “Best-Kept Secrets,” but the way he’s going, it won’t stay a secret for long.

When Carlos took the executive director job in January 2003, GADC was a one-person organization. Today, it boasts seven full-time and three part-time employees, more than 150 committed volunteers and a host of successful community projects and events. Under his leadership, GADC has attracted new businesses, upgraded housing and improved social services for local residents. One of his proudest accomplishments is the now-annual 79th Street Renaissance Festival, which brings out thousands of people for fun, music and shopping on the neighborhood’s resurging commercial strip.

Carlos is also a skilled leader and manager whose team has helped accelerate recent reinvestment in the community, which includes several new banks, a bakery, a sit-down restaurant, a new charter school campus, and new senior housing. GADC’s latest project is redevelopment of a vacant building as a model of energy-efficiency, with office space for GADC, a green-building learning center, and energy-saving apartments upstairs.