Remarks from our 30th Anniversary Event

Tena LatonaEvents

Remarks from our 30th celebration

If you missed our 30th anniversary event in December, take a moment to read my remarks from the event.

What a year. What. A. Year, or two? Can we give each other a round of applause for showing up and looking so good to celebrate 30 years of WITS. To everyone who is with us tonight. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. That could be the whole thing. The only thing I say for 5 minutes. Thank you. And… that reading matters.

First, please join me in thanking our top sponsors: GCM Grosvenor, Exelon, BMO Harris, and Jackson/PPM America. We could not do this important work without you.

This is my favorite thank you. I know it may be hard to believe, but I am quick to tears. But I am ok with it, especially when it comes to the WITS team. Please help me recognize the unbelievable work they do every day. Kristen, Ashley, Ellen, Kellie, Alex, Tra’Lisha, Shawn, Annie, Daphne, Nick, Delaney, Beth, Precious, Jessica, Elena, and Erin. Truly, thank you. I never have enough words to say about what they do. They are brilliant, kind, capable, compassionate people that bring to life our values of community, empowerment, and consistency. I could not be more proud to work alongside each of you to deliver our mission. Thank you.

The next big thank you is to the Chicago White Sox, who had one hell of a run this year! It’s hard to imagine a better Corporate Partner than the Sox. As the Corporate Partner of the Year awardee, they embody everything it means to be WITS. They have become embedded in the McClellan school community, which is about a ballpark’s walk away from the stadium. Since 2002, they have given $187,000, and over 15,000 hours of mentorship to support hundreds of students in Mid-Day Mentoring at McClellan Elementary in Bridgeport. They live our value of community, being ardent supporters of youth programming and neighborhood initiatives across our city. It is my pleasure to have WITS mentor, AB Vice President, and White Sox Senior Coordinator of Community Relations, Meg Heistand, accept this award on their behalf. To my fellow non-profiters in the crowd. Get yourself a Meg, she is next level good! Please help me welcome Meg and acknowledge the work of the Chicago White Sox for 20 years of partnership.

This thank you feels like it’s been a long time coming for our Alter and Stone Volunteer of the Year awardee. Can I have all AB members raise their hands? The WITS Associates Board started this event, The Blackboard Affair, in the early 2000s. It is now our single largest fundraising campaign of the year–generating one third of the revenue needed to be the largest provider of literacy programming in CPS. They are, without a doubt, an undisputed fact, the best Associates Board around. They go hard for our mission; they champion our students; they grow with WITS–five are current Board members, four of which are current members of our Executive committee, including our current Board President Lauren Rocklin. Honestly, they are simply great people. I’m so proud to work alongside them. When I say we can’t do any of this without you, it’s a mathematical reality. I’m beyond happy to recognize and honor all their work this year and every year. Please join me in a round of applause for all our WITS AB members.

And now, why we are here. Because reading matters.

We often talk about literacy in plateaus–what it means for attainment, what level a young person is reading at, what being literate means to someone professionally, what reading means to success. All of these are important and do matter. But what WITS does with reading is more important than all of that. We, this room of readers, bring people together through reading. Reading is naturally relational. We recount stories about sitting next to someone and learning how to read. We read to our children. We share what we are currently reading with people we care about. We reread our favorite books again and again. We support WITS, an organization founded on growing a love of reading in young people through relationships.

And if there is one thing we have all learned in the last 638 days, it’s that people matter. Relationships matter.

That relationship part of reading is more important to our teachers and students now, more than ever. We have a lot of ground to make up. Our work with Chicago Public Schools educators and students is necessary to address the unfinished learning our students have experienced. And we cannot do any of that without you showing up tonight as a guest, or as a mentor in our programs, or as an educator in our classrooms.

So back to where I started. Thank you from all of us to all of you. Thank you to our founders Joanne, Marion, and Rochelle. Thank you to our Board of Directors. Thank you to our program partners. Thank you to our schools and educators. And most importantly, thank you to our students, who are the reason we do what we do. I appreciate all of you.

I love that WITS moves me and moves so many others–and has been doing so since 1991. The last two years have been all the versions of the good, the bad, and the ugly. But tonight, this is all good. Thank you for celebrating with us.”