Working in the Schools (WITS) is the largest volunteer corps providing yearlong mentorship to Chicago Public School elementary students. The cornerstone of WITS student mentorship programs is their partnerships with more than forty Chicago corporations which builds community both in the city and in the offices of some of the largest corporations in the Windy City.
The Chicago Athletic Association hotel is participating in the Mid-Day Mentoring program at Drake Elementary (Go Dragons!) for the sixth year with the 2022-2023 school year. As the Area Vice President/Managing Director for Hyatt Hotels based at the Chicago Athletic Association hotel and Vice President of the WITS Board of Directors, I am proud to say that in these last six years, the Chicago Athletic Association has had over forty team members from nearly every department mentor more than fifty third graders.
The Chicago Athletic Association hotel is active on both the WITS Board and the Associates Board. We have hosted Drake mentees for lunch, started a second WITS program with our restaurant partners, raised money to send hundreds of students home with books for the summer, and even threw a mid-morning dance party for the Drake Community at the hotel. All in all, we have positively impacted the lives of ninety students, team members, and those around them because good begets good.
There are a lot of things that make the hospitality business great, but the two that stand out are the people and the dynamic of the business. The people in our industry come from all walks of life. Many get into the business by accident and end up falling in love with the diversity of those we meet and work with. We have CPAs, sales experts, analysts, culinary artists, event specialists, artisan mixologists, sommeliers, laborers, cooks, and licensed engineers. Our employee community ranges from fresh out of college to those counting the nearing days of retirement, as we employ people from every corner of the city and planet. That being said, we are a reflection of Chicago. We all work together to take care of people traveling from all over the world for different reasons, but at the end of the day, our job is to create memories.
However, creating memories is not as easy as it sounds. It’s a lot of work in an ever-changing, dynamic environment, which takes me to the other thing that makes the industry great — no two days are ever the same. We can go from serving a Fortune 500 sales summit one day to a high-end wedding the next, followed by a roller-skating party and then a tour group from Germany. We serve fine dining in one room, beer and wings in the next, craft cocktails on the roof, and even deliver Shack Shake to a guest’s room. There are thousands of moments of connection and opportunity every day. In turn, these connections fuel us.
When looking for a community partner, we chose WITS because we love Chicago and want to do our part to make it the best city in the world. We believe equity and opportunity are critical to this mission, and literacy is one of the paths to deliver this. With the dynamics of our business, asking team members to “step away” for ninety minutes to read with third graders seems impossible and borderline irresponsible. I’m here to tell you that it is one hundred percent possible and that the power of the program and the connections not only changes students’ lives, but it also changes our lives as well. I, for one, can testify that it has changed mine.
I see this every week on the yellow school bus we ride to the program. As the program approaches, the clock starts ticking faster and faster, and “I don’t have time for this” crosses your mind, but ultimately, you wrap up and head to the bus.
While riding to Drake Elementary, everyone is buried in their pocket computers responding to emails, texts, and Teams chats. The ride back is the complete opposite. We all talk about our students, what we read, and what we learned. We oftentimes laugh but struggle, too, when we hear raw and humbling stories from our students. The connections we make are deeper than sharing words on a page.
Being with students at Drake Elementary for the WITS Program changes our day and makes us more productive, passionate, caring, and empathetic. WITS builds community both in the city and in the office. It makes us better human beings and sets our students on a trajectory for success. WITS matters.
If you are working with a corporation in the City of Chicago, I urge you to learn more about becoming a WITS partner. Not only will the program have a positive effect on your corporation’s culture, but it will also change the lives of Chicago Public School students and your workplace team.