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After School Matters– the program that was the pride and joy of the late first lady of the city of Chicago Maggie Daley–continues to shine bright. With nearly 1,000 attendees from community leaders, corporate supporters and political heavyweights filing into the newly built Wintrust Arena, all eyes were focused recently on some of the program’s talented youth during its annual gala.

After School Matters has reached more than 17,000 Chicago teenagers who participated in the organization’s programs, which has highlighted everything from photography, jewelry making, animation, audio technology, robotics, boxing to creating hip hop beats.

After School Matters chairman, Mellody Hobson

President of Ariel Investments Mellody Hobson is the chairman of ASM and sits on several boards including The Estee Lauder Companies Inc., Starbucks Corporation and DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. The wife of film mogul George Lucas, they are parents and philanthropists—donating to various organizations that are close to heart. With a contribution of $25 million in 2013, the couple sealed their unwavering commitment to Maggie Daley’s mission to provide a creative outlet for Chicago’s youth.

“It’s important to me because we’ve seen that it changes the lives and it works at a huge scale. So, we were able to provide 26,000 unique opportunities last year to 17,000 teens. Those are big numbers and those teens give us some amazing feedback about how they feel safe in our programs,” Hobson said.

“Also, [they tell us] how they feel encouraged in our programs and so as a result of that we say, ‘what is not to like about this?’ Besides the fact that all the data shows we have a higher graduation rate,” Hobson continued. “The program has also shown a higher percentage of teens attending college once they graduate from high school.”

Growing up on the South Side, Hobson admits she was brought up in humbling beginnings with a single-mom who worked hard and hustled to provide a better way for her and her siblings. At times, when finances were tight—the resources for extra curricular activities weren’t always there for her. Her commitment as After School Matters Chairman is a constant reminder of what it feels like to be one of the 17,000 students mobilized in the program.

“One thing I know is I love Chicago. I always will and always have. It’s the best city in the world and I’ve been to a lot of cities. So, what I took from Chicago first and foremost—it was a city that I wanted to be in and a city that I felt wanted me,” she explains. She said in addition was the “importance of hard work.” She knew that the American dream was possible and that “you could be or do anything”, says Hobson.

After School Matters Junior Research Science students, Destiny and Ashley. PHOTO: Mary L. Datcher

ASM participants Destiny Alborn attends Lindbloom Math and Science and Ashley Dominic attends Taft High School. They both found a program that drew their interest in STEM.

“Many of my friends have done After School Matters and mainly arts programs and I’m personally interested in STEM so I searched for a STEM program to benefit me. Junior Reasearch science has done just that,” says Destiny.

Junior Research Science is based out of Columbia College and pairs students with professional engineers in the field.

Ashley has participated in previous ASM programs and this program peaked her interest . “I wanted to look at STEM programs because I’m interested in science. I found Junior Research Science and the college setting was what I was looking for.”

Both high school students are enthusiastic about their love for science and they are not discouraged from pursuing a career in a male-driven field.

Smiling, Alborn says, “I think women can do anything. I say that we are as capable as the next male. We are all the same and our brain functions the same if not better.”

Business leader, Marcus Betts talks with ASM student, Miguel Bailey.

North Lawndale College Prep High School student Miguel Bailey is mentored by Sergeant Daniel Allen of the 11th District. The musician and his wife started their own youth center, Divine Purpose Youth Performing Arts Center, in the Lawndale community to create a safe environment for students.

Bailey says, “The program is about beat making, video editing and filming. We do short films, music videos and film documentaries.”

Since 1991, more than 200,000 teens have benefited from the programs with hands-on, project-based and summer programs that have expanded over the last 28 years. With facilities throughout the city provided for students to attend at Chicago Park District, Chicago Public Library locations, community-based organizations and various participating centers—ASM has made it more accessible for youth to gain access.

Hobson reflects on her experience as a kid. “I’ve always felt so strongly about these programs. I remember going to ballet class for a few sessions and then just running out of money and we couldn’t go anymore. I remember the few piano lessons and then we didn’t have the money to pay for them. I remember that and here we have programs that are free and they span across 1,300 different programs.”

ASM currently has 950 participating teachers who find a way to share their expertise and knowledge with students. For many, this is also another form of income and most are CPS teachers. Hobson believes this is what makes the program authentic and credible.

“They are the heart and they are totally into making sure these kids are supported in every conceivable way. We’re always looking and welcoming those individuals who have unique talents and interests that they can share with our teens to help them grow with the promise and opportunity that exists.”

For more information on After School Matters: http://www.afterschoolmatters.org

Follow Mary L. Datcher on Twitter

 

 

 

 

 

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