On Monday, September 30, hundreds of guests gathered at Chicago’s Navy Pier Lakeview Terrace and Grand Ballroom to support the local youth non-profit, After School Matters. The night was the annual fundraiser for the organization that showcased what more than 300 Chicago teenagers had accomplished over the summer in After School Matters’ diverse set of enrichment programs.
After School Matters is a non-profit organization that provides local high school teens out-of-school time opportunities in the arts, communications, science, sports and technology year round. The organization was founded by former Chicago First Lady, the late Maggie Daley, and allows students to explore and develop their talents, while garnering critical skills for their future endeavors.
The evening began with students engaging guests with projects and interactive displays of their work set up around Lakeview Terrace. Students enlightened guests with knowledge of the fields in which they had summer internships and apprenticeships. From robotics to urban farming, to energy and the environment, aviation, crafts and more, it was evident that they not only learned a lot from their programs, but also a lot about their potential impact on the world around them.
Jose Hernandez is a senior at Whitney M. Young Magnet High School and most recently participated in the ComEd Youth Ambassador program (This is the first year After School Matters has partnered with ComEd) where he learned about the importance of alternative energy sources, solar panels and the “science behind the implementation of ComEd’s Smart Grid.” Hernandez, who plans to attend university next year and study electrical engineering, has also been a part of the After School Matters Junior Research Scientists program. He has always had an interest in energy and spoke to the importance of being mindful about the use of new sources of power and its future impact on the world.
“We can never depend on fossil fuels completely, and if we do, there’s always going to be an end to it. But, as long as the sun is there, we’ll be able to use that energy. It’s really the future.”
Sixteen-year-old Diane Vargas also participated in an environmentally conscious science program. She was a part of the Science, Innovation and Me program and presented a project on oil spills and the clean-up process. Her involvement in After School Matters has cemented her interest around science in general to the point that she mentioned her career path may lead to environmental science or forensics.
“…I’ve been in the program for a few years now and I’ve got an interest in environmental science. I used to hate science, but this program has introduced me to it.”
Two other students at the event were Joshua Gardino and Kyla Jasper, representatives of the robotics program. Gardino, a sophomore at Kennedy High School talked with enthusiasm about building robots. “We come together and build robots,” said Gardino. “We have challenges and we go to games and events. Last year, we went to a championship in St. Louis. We lost [he laughs], but it was a good time.”
Gardino also said that all the teens got a new and positive experience because of the technology program, and that they have been able to see new places and things, as well as meet new people. “I actually learned a lot of new things from this program, about technology and things happening in this world, right now. The kids are all friendly, and came up with some pretty cool ideas.”
Gardino motioned to his peers behind him as they drove remote controlled robots through a maze with the object of the robot grabbing the ball and bringing it back to the starting position first. He also mentioned that they use AR drones with cameras in the event that the challengers lose sight of the ball; something he hopes to use in the future. “I’m actually joining the service. Now with an engineering background, I’m looking forward to driving the drones [on the front lines].”
Jasper, a junior at Chicago International Charter Schools (CICS) Ralph Ellison, has found the program to be helpful now that she is enrolled in physics this year at school. She learned a lot having never done anything with robotics before. Jasper found it to be a productive way to spend her time out of school and really appreciated what the instructors had to offer. “It was just something to do for the summer, and I ended up having a fun summer because of this program.” She later said, “The instructors are really wonderful, they help a lot. They take the time to help you learn, and it’s not that complicated either when you think about it. It looks like it is, but it’s not when you sit down and do it.”
The Gala was hosted by Mellody Hobson, chair of After School Matters and president of Ariel Investments, and Dr. Mary Ellen Caron, CEO of After School Matters. Honorary co-chairs for the evening included Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Ms. Amy Rule. Guests moved into the Grand Ballroom after viewing the exhibits to find master of ceremonies Bill Kurtis who kicked off the second half of the night for speakers, performances and dinner.
The speaking portion of the program included Mayor Emanuel, ComEd President and CEO Anne Pramaggiore, Caron, Hobson and former Mayor Richard M. Daley. All featured positive remarks and words to inspire forward movement to encourage youth in the city of Chicago.
Hobson stated, “After School Matters programs are filling a critical need for educational, fun and safe opportunities for Chicago’s youth to discover their potential and find their futures.”
Earlier in the night, Mayor Emanuel told guests, “It is essential that Chicago’s youth are provided safe and productive learning environments, both in and outside of school.”
Song and dance numbers were showcased by After School Matters teens involved in the organization’s performance art programs. This included the Ray Graham Drumline, Move Me Soul, Hi Def Dance Ensemble, the HHW Vocal Arts Ensemble (Gallery 37 Center for the Arts) and the Musical Theater Experience program (Gallery 37 Center for the Arts).
Maggie Daley once said, “After School Matters…it really does.” As head of After School Matters, Caron takes that as a call to action to support teens in communities across Chicago. She mentioned that her biggest hope for guests at the Gala is to understand that these teens are spectacular. “They get a pretty bad rap in the press, so I’m hoping that we show another view of what high schoolers can really be like, how talented they are and how they can build our city just as much as everyone else.” Caron has shown that she believes in what the young generation has the potential to offer not only for themselves, but for the world around them. “We have to be sure that we are doing something valuable that is promoting their future.”
After School Matters Retail Store
66 E. Randolph St.,
Chicago, IL. 60601
All proceeds from Retail Store sales benefit After School Matters programming.