Northwestern alumni perform, raise funds for local housing nonprofit


Brian Meng/The Daily Northwestern

Brian d’Arcy James (Communication ‘90) performs at a celebration concert for Evanston nonprofit Over the Rainbow. Before the performance, the organization honored several people who assisted OTR, which provides accessible housing to people with physical disabilities.

Gabby Birenbaum, Reporter

When Arlington Heights resident Courtney Stocking graduated college, she said she and her father began apartment hunting, looking at more than 1,000 places. Stocking, who uses a wheelchair, said buildings that claimed to be wheelchair-accessible often lacked elevators or ample bathroom space.

After she eventually found housing, she continued advocating for those who face similar challenges by working with Over The Rainbow, an organization that provides affordable and accessible housing for those with physical disabilities in Illinois.

“I became involved and told my story about my accessible living needs,” Stocking told The Daily. “I came and toured different buildings and said what wouldn’t work as far as accessibility.”

Stocking and others were honored at OTR’s 28th Anniversary Celebration Benefit Concert on Sunday at Galvin Recital Hall. The event also featured a performance by Northwestern alumni Brian d’Arcy James (Communication ’90) and Dan Lipton (Bienen ’97) to benefit OTR’s apartment communities.

James recently starred as King George III in “Hamilton,” both on and off Broadway, and as Andy Baker in the popular Netflix series “13 Reasons Why.” At the celebration concert, he performed everything from Broadway show tunes to Billy Joel for about 90 minutes after an awards ceremony that honored Stocking, among others.

OTR was founded by a group of parents in Des Plaines, Illinois, 43 years ago. They established a thrift store to fund their goal of creating independent housing for their children, who had physical disabilities.

Chicago resident Patricia Phillips, who works in support services at Hill Arboretum Apartments in Evanston, told The Daily she joined OTR last April.

Before joining the organization, Phillips said she didn’t know the extent of possible housing services for people with physical disabilities.

“I’ve just learned so much over the past year and a half,” Phillips told The Daily. “Being able to access services for them (makes me) feel good.”

OTR oversees accessible apartments in Chicago, Evanston, Waukegan and other locations in Illinois. The organization will open a new apartment complex in Des Plaines to 33 residents next month, said Joe Gustafson, who presented Stocking with an award named after his grandparents, Donald and Susan Gustafson.

The couple, who are both NU alumni, helped build the city’s Hill Arboretum Apartments, Joe Gustafson said. He added that their son, Robert Gustafson, has lived in the complex since 1991, and that his grandparents could be found helping at Hill every day.

During the awards ceremony, Joe Gustafson honored Stocking, the Arlington Heights resident. He paid tribute to her work that helped the new Des Plaines apartment come to fruition, and he also honored Arlington Heights resident Mike LoCascio for his advocacy.

Stocking and LoCascio volunteered to speak at Des Plaines City Council meetings to help convince citizens and board members to support the construction of Midtown Crossing Apartments, Joe Gustafson said.

Although James’ performance was the main event, Joe Gustafson reminded the audience of the importance of honorees like Stocking and LoCascio.

“They were pivotal in changing the hearts and minds of people at the City Council meetings in Des Plaines,” Joe Gustafson said. “We are deeply indebted to them for their support.”

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