On Wednesday, June 26, 2019 WITS hosted it’s third Annual Meeting at Jenner & Block. The event was attended by over 100 members of the WITS community – including the Board of Directors, Associates Board, WITS Ambassadors, corporate partners, Rochelle Lee Teacher Awardees, and many other friends of the organization.
The Annual Meeting featured opening remarks from Debra Levin, daughter of WITS founder Marion Stone; a state of the organization by WITS Board Chairman, Phil Hildebrandt; and a Blackboard Affair kick-off by WITS Board President, Jeremy Cole.
The highlight of the event was the panel discussion around corporate social responsibility. This year, WITS celebrated its 20th year of corporate partnerships – a model formed around the Workplace Mentoring Program and Cboe in 1999. Through WITS, our corporate partners and thousands of volunteers have invested nearly $10 million and 775,000 hours into building the literacy skills of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students.
These corporations contribute nearly 50% of WITS’ privately funded budget, ensuring that WITS literacy programs are free to teachers, students, and CPS schools. With our 67 corporate partners this year WITS served thousands of students from 92 schools across 64 Chicago neighborhoods.
The panel featured speakers from various partner organizations and a principal at one at WITS’ partner schools, and moderated by the CEO of Nia Enterprises, Cheryl Mayberry McKissack.
As CEO of Nia Enterprises, McKissack propels revenue growth with a focus on entrepreneurial ventures and start-ups. She is a former Adjunct professor of Entrepreneurship at Kellogg School of Management, an author, sought after speaker, and is a director on the Chicago Public Library Foundation Board.
The panelists included:
Dr. Joseph Shoffner – Dr. Shoffner is currently the proud Principal of McClellan Elementary, a Level 1+ school located in the Bridgeport community. McClellan has been a partner school with WITS for over ten years with three programs currently running at the school. His students are all-star readers with 90% of third through eight graders outperforming peers in yearly reading level growth.
Josh Deth – Josh is the founder and Chairman of Revolution Brewing, currently the largest independently-owned brewery in Illinois, and the 38th largest in the country. Revolution is the official sponsor of all things fun at WITS, including our Blackboard Affair, teacher events, many Associates Board and staff events. They have been committed volunteers in both our summer and kindergarten programming at McAuliffe elementary in Logan Square for three years.
Julie Chavez – Julie is the Senior Vice President and Market Manager for Bank of America, responsible for managing philanthropy, community and civic engagement, volunteerism, and sponsorships for the Chicago area. She is also a board member of several of Chicago’s leading philanthropic organizations. Bank of America has been a supporter and volunteer partner with WITS since 2001 and currently partners with Walsh Elementary in Pilsen for Mid-Day Mentoring and Workplace Mentoring with McAuliffe Elementary.
Steve Solomon – Steve is Vice President of Corporate Relations of Exelon, the nation’s leading competitive energy provider, and President of the Exelon Foundation. Solomon oversees Exelon, ComEd and Constellation’s corporate relations activities. Exelon is a past recipient of the WITS Corporate Honoree Award and hosts one of the largest Workplace Mentoring programs with Lozano Elementary in Wicker Park since 2011.
Tena Kunik – Tena is Chief Executive Officer of WITS. She oversees the activation of the largest portfolio of literacy programming in Chicago Public Schools. Having taken over this role from her position as Chief Strategy Officer, she and the WITS staff hope to have 100% of students affected by WITS programming out-perform their peers in yearly reading level growth. Over 15 years, she has held development and leadership roles in higher education, healthcare non-profits, and youth development.
The panel began discussion by explaining what corporate social responsibility (CSR) means to them and their organization, as well as the role WITS plays in their CSR initiatives. Julie Chavez spoke to the work Bank of America is doing in Chicago communities and the millions of hours nationally the corporation is spending in volunteer hours. On a local front, Chavez discussed how Bank of America volunteers work in two WITS programs – Workplace Mentoring and Mid-Day Mentoring – to ensure that everyone who wanted to volunteer had a chance.
Josh Deth brought the conversation to the local level, where Revolution supports the community of Logan Square and Avondale. Deth discussed the importance of helping the community that has been so supportive of his business. He also touched on how WITS builds community within Revolution Brewing, as various people from the company volunteer – from bar tenders to himself, the founder.
Dr. Shoffner then spoke about the importance of one-on-one mentorship for his students and the powerful ways that mentors open students’ eyes to new ideas and experiences. He mentioned a story of a student who talked to him about the tallest building in the world – Burj Khalifa in Dubai – and when he asked her where she had heard about the building, she explained she read a book with her WITS mentor.
Solomon expanded on Shoffner’s discussion of the importance of mentorship and the community. Last year when Hurricane Maria hit, Exelon sent a team of volunteers to help with disaster relief. Lozano, the school Exelon serves, is a largely Latino community with many students with relatives who were affected by the storm. When students found out that Exelon volunteers were going to Puerto Rico, they made them signs and shared words of encouragement. The signs were then presented at the send-off to the volunteers – allowing for a meaningful connection between students, their mentors, the school community, and Exelon.
Tena Kunik brought everything together by saying it takes a village to serve our schools and communities. She spoke to the importance of our corporate partnerships and the future of what we can accomplish together – by deepening WITS impact in the schools and creating a culture of literacy throughout Chicago Public Schools.
The evening wrapped up with a brief thank you from Board President, Jeremy Cole, and was followed by a celebration of another successful year at WITS.