Duchess Award


Jack and Nan Schwemm believed strongly in the fundamental responsibility of people to act toward each other with respect and compassion. Jack in particular felt that in business dealings it was only with a strong sense of ethics and decency that employers, employees, and customers could succeed in their goals. And it goes without saying that Jack believed those standards should be even higher for people working in politics and public service.

The Schwemm Foundation trustees feel that Jack and Nan would have been sad and frustrated at the level of disrespect, animosity, and ethical devolution that has arisen in the current political climate in our country, and the overall degeneration of discourse and tolerance that has increased in recent years.  

In response, and in following what we believe would have been Jack and Nan’s desires, the Schwemm Foundation established a direct grant program to support efforts that teach tolerance, support social justice, and promote civic engagement.

Past Duchess Awards

2018 Duchess Award: GirlForward


The Schwemm Family Foundation selected the Chicago-based organization GirlForward for its 2018 Duchess Award.  Founded in 2011, GirlForward has created a support community dedicated to creating and enhancing opportunities for girls who have been displaced by conflict and persecution.  GirlForward provides adolescent refugee girls with individual mentorship, educational programs and leadership opportunities to help empower them to be strong, confident, and independent.

In addition to providing direct programming, GirlForward is dedicated to breaking down systemic barriers to opportunity for English language learners and students with interrupted formal education by improving educational access and resources, educating local communities, and building partnerships.

Towards these efforts, SFF funding will support the production and distribution of the 2018 GirlForward Zine, a publication tool designed to teach acceptance by sharing the girls’ life experiences before and after coming to the United States. SFF thanks GirlForward for the very important work they are doing to foster inclusion and diversity within their community.  As stated on the back cover of their prior year Zine – “We all belong here”!

2017 Duchess Award: Southern Poverty Law Center


In 2017, the trustees of the SFF decided to make one direct donation per year to an organization of our choosing. We named this annual gift the ‘Duchess Award’, after the St. Bernard dog that the Schwemm family had many years ago. Duchess was certainly a big dog, but she was also incredibly big-hearted and kind.   

This year we gave the first annual Duchess Award to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) Teaching Tolerance program. As described on the SPLC website, the Teaching Tolerance program is dedicated to “…reducing prejudice, improving intergroup relations and supporting equitable school experiences for our nation’s children.” Toward that goal they produce and distribute anti-bullying and tolerance materials for free to public schools, publish the Teaching Tolerance magazine, and sponsor ‘Mix It Up At Lunch Day’, among other efforts.

The SFF believes that only a greater level of love and understanding of our fellow planet-walkers will make a real difference in these challenging times, and that compassion and empathy begin at home and at school. As Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote, “You’ve got to be carefully taught.” The SFF thanks the Southern Poverty Law Center for all the very important work they are doing to teach tolerance of others.