Relationships are an essential component of the WITS mission. When our students and mentors come together throughout the school year to collectively learn and grow, an investment occurs. WITS mentors invest in fostering a shared love of reading, supporting social-emotional development, and building literacy skills in Chicago Public School (CPS) students. Delivering the WITS mission without reliance on school or city budgets similarly requires an investment; one which began in 1999 with the launch of our Workplace Mentoring program. WITS is celebrating corporate partners for their 20 years of commitment to our mission, our city, and our students’ development as confident readers.
In partnership with Cboe Holdings, WITS developed a unique model of corporate engagement in which financial and volunteer-powered investments go hand in hand. Over the last 20 years, volunteers from over 60 Chicago corporations have invested nearly $10 million and 775,000 hours of mentorship into CPS elementary schools. These investments matter not only because they allow WITS to provide programming at zero cost to CPS students and teachers, but also because of the proven effectiveness of building consistent, one-to-one mentoring relationships. Students in WITS Mid-Day Mentoring and Workplace Mentoring programs meet with a weekly or bi-weekly pair of corporate volunteers throughout the school year, driving 70% of WITS students to outperform the Fountas & Pinnell national average in yearly reading-level growth.
Partner Spotlight: Bank of America
Over the 2019-2020 school year, WITS worked alongside 65 corporate partners to serve thousands of students across 81 Chicago Public Schools. One such partner, Bank of America, has served with WITS over the last 18 years to provide consistent literacy mentorship to CPS students. Since 2001, Bank of America has supported more than 450 students through the Mid-Day Mentoring program at Walsh Elementary School. In 2018, Bank of America volunteers joined WITS Workplace Mentoring program, expanding their reach to McAuliffe Elementary School. Kanika Chakravorti, WITS Board Member and Senior Vice President at Bank of America, spoke to why WITS matters to her personally, and why volunteers are continually interested in deepening their impact. Kanika commented, “WITS allows me to help empower students to live the best life they can live. Supporting CPS kids through enriching their literacy skills sets them up for success in all subjects including math, science and social studies, not just reading.”
At the 2019 Blackboard Affair Gala, Bank of America was presented with the Outstanding Corporate Partner of the Year Award. Kanika noted, “My colleagues at Bank of America have experienced the power to change the lives of young people across Chicago firsthand through WITS mentoring programs. It has truly been our honor to not only receive the 2019 Corporate Honoree award, but also to share in the care and success of CPS students for nearly two decades through various programs such as the Mid-Day Mentoring Program and Workplace Mentoring Program.”
Bank of America employee and WITS volunteer, Rajni Gauni, believes that “I am who I am because of my education.” Because of this, Rajni has committed to mentoring students at Walsh Elementary for the past seven years. In describing her involvement with WITS, Rajni noted that spending time with her students always “brings a smile to my face, and if I can bring a smile to someone else’s face, it’s one hour a week well spent.” She also commented that the, “thoughtful structure of WITS Mid-Day Mentoring program helps volunteers to feel as though they are really making a difference.”
Over the last 20 years, WITS has engaged in continual reflection on how to best meet the needs of our students and mentors. Programs have evolved accordingly over time, with new structural additions such as the Mid-Day Mentoring Journal. This growth has benefited students’ development and helped WITS to maintain thoughtful and committed program partners.
Partner Spotlight: BlackRock
Ryan Kelly first became involved with WITS as a Workplace Mentoring volunteer during his time at BP. He was so impressed by the impact of the program that he decided to launch a Workplace Mentoring program at his new employer, BlackRock. Ryan commented that, “As a corporate citizen in Chicago, we have a responsibility to give back to the community.” He felt that his colleagues at BlackRock would be, “interested in showing students a workplace setting that is in students’ backyards but may seem unattainable.” The feedback he received from prospective volunteers was overwhelmingly positive.
Workplace Mentoring at BlackRock launched during the 2019-2020 school year, supporting students at Brownell Elementary School. Edia Lamboy, BlackRock employee and WITS mentor, found the program to be “inspiring for both me and my student. I knew that I was helping a child learn to read, all while making it fun!” Edia further remarked that she enjoyed seeing her colleagues completely focused on their student for an hour each week, noting that “it’s good to shake your day up a little bit. It’s not always about work, it’s always about giving.”
Building Communities. Empowering Readers.
The WITS tagline, “Building Communities. Empowering Readers.” speaks to the interdependent nature of our work. Successful relationships, whether between a student and a mentor, or WITS and our corporate partners, depend upon mutual engagement and investment. WITS would like to thank our corporate partners for 20 years of commitment to our mission, our city, and our students’ development as confident and joyful readers.