Women of Distinction: Laura Dzielski-Johnson pursues causes and charity work with ‘passion to advocate’

Award recipient Laura Dzielski-Johnson speaks during the Northwest Herald's Women of Distinction award luncheon Wednesday June 7, 2023, at Boulder Ridge Country Club, in Lake in the Hills. The luncheon recognized 10 women in the community as Women of Distinction.

Many college students spend their spring breaks on beaches, sipping drinks and visiting bars.

Laura A. Dzielski-Johnson opted for something completely different during a college break, spending time seeking shelter from the rain, eating at a soup kitchen and immersing herself in the experience of being homeless in Washington, D.C.

“It’s called the Urban Plunge – 48 hours living as an undercover homeless individual,” she said.

From an early age, she has delved into causes, jumping in with both feet to provide compassion and work to help others.

When she joins an organization or lends her time to a cause, she allows herself to care deeply and give it her all, just as she did back in college.

While many of her undergraduate peers spent their spring break enjoying sun and sleep, she committed to learning more about those dealing with homelessness, trying to understand the issues and what could be done to provide more services to those in need.

Dzielski-Johnson said the National Coalition for the Homeless coordinates the program. The experience helped cement her decision to attend law school.

“Working as a lawyer, I am able to take that passion to advocate,” she said.

Dzielski-Johnson is among 10 women from McHenry County who are the latest recipients of the Northwest Herald’s Women of Distinction Awards, honoring those who provide leadership in their fields of expertise, serve as role models or mentors, advocate positive social change or give back to their community through time, talent and resources.

As a part of the estate planning team with Kelleher & Holland LLC, headquartered in North Barrington, she leverages her legal skills along with her compassionate nature.

She adeptly guides families through what often can be a challenging process, offering support in various areas such as will and trust planning, guardianships and probate proceedings.

She said she likes working with families and “seeing what works best and making sure everything is carried out. It’s nice to feel like you’re actually helping.”

Dzielski-Johnson said one of the aspects she likes about Kelleher & Holland is the support for the community, whether it’s through individuals’ pro bono work, companywide community service days or the projects she works on outside of work hours.

“We do have a good spirit in the firm,” she said. “I think everybody in our organization really does care about each other.”

The firm’s “We Give, You Give” program encourages everyone in the firm to help support an organization or event in the community by giving time and collecting donations, said Amy Rizzo, marketing manager for Kelleher & Holland.

Sometimes the inspiration to help others extends outside the law offices.

Last year, Dzielski-Johnson inspired Rizzo to join the DamYak Challenge, a charity event that Dzielski-Johnson and her peers established seven years ago.

It was Rizzo’s first time in a kayak, but she said Dzielski-Johnson cheered for her the entire time.

In addition to enjoying the beauty of the Fox River, the DamYak Challenge raises funds for and awareness of Kids In Need McHenry County, a nonprofit that supports families in the community including fostering families.

Family is important to Dzielski-Johnson.

She is one of five daughters, and she recalls how her parents were involved in local groups and organizations, from helping at the local food pantry to supporting the March of Dimes or raising awareness of the needs of homelessness.

When someone suggested that she look into The Break Teen Center, Dzielski-Johnson quickly found a place on the board for the nonprofit in Crystal Lake that provides a safe place for teens and young adults to hang out and connect with local resources.

“I was looking for somewhere I could help, and I wanted use my skills to help families,” Dzielski-Johnson said.

She’s also involved in the American Diabetes Association’s Tour de Cure, an annual 100-mile bike ride along the Fox River to support those, like herself, managing Type 1 diabetes.

Her husband, also an attorney, is involved in the community, and the couple will join forces to support each other’s projects and programs, whether it’s mingling at the Crystal Lake Lions Club Steak Fry, attending a golf outing or volunteering together for an event.

Dzielski-Johnson was selected for the Leadership Greater McHenry County, a dynamic program dedicated to fostering leadership skills and community engagement. Through the program, she is able to network with other community leaders and to understand and contribute ideas on matters for the county.

Dzielski-Johnson said she feels gratitude for the opportunity to connect with a multitude of inspiring individuals with the LGMC to work and grow together for the benefit of the county and its residents.

“I’ve met so many amazing people in LGMC,” she said.