In the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope.”
― Barack Obama
Many are working to make Chicago a great place to live, learn, and work. Scores upon scores are contributing their time, talent, and treasure to these efforts in their personal and professional lives. The issues at play are complex and numerous; the challenges, seemingly insurmountable. Programs are being redesigned to better address employment, housing, health, and education. Neighbors are organizing; agencies, reimagining what might be done better, more effectively.
Still, I cannot think about this herculean work for even a minute without thinking of one or more of these women: Mischelle Causey-Drake, Adrienne Curry, and Melissa Mister. They are each talented, skilled, passionate, committed, and determined. I have seen each under unbearable pressure, and each has withstood those tests. They have crafted jobs, managed talent, and monitored progress. They have courted donors, designed monitoring systems, and thus shaped the future for teens so that their dreams can be realized while showcasing their talents today.
Mischelle is professionally trained as an attorney. But that education and experience alone could not have produced such a rock solid proponent of program quality as Mischelle. At After School Matters, Mischelle directs an excellent team that gathers and reports data that show their efforts with 15,000 teens who engage in 26,000 program opportunities annually meet the highest standards of quality out-of-school time instruction in arts, communications, STEM, and sports. When instructors and organizations sign on to work with After School Matters, Mischelle’s team provides training and then audits their efforts for quality standards.
Adrienne’s background is in medicine and public health. With a family of her own, she does the work of Chief Operations Officer with an eye to the teens whose lives are affected by her decisions and in support of the 1,100 people who work for ASM. I have experienced real joy in listening to her consider the needs of her co-workers as they produce payroll for staff and stipend payments for every teen with whom they work. From arts to STEM, programs have unbelievable needs for materials that must be delivered throughout the city with only weeks between program listing to program start. Her team is also critical in the production of amazing summer programs, some of which get mounted in Millennium Park in tents.
Melissa is an educator. Think teacher. Real teacher. She is moving ASM forward in the process of refining the scope of their work by creating even greater infrastructure, staff development, and planning that will advance many more youth through programs that will get them through high school and propel them into their post-secondary lives in work and school. When I meet with Melissa, I sometimes think, “She will opening the equivalent of ten high schools in the next month, then closing them two months later. How? How does she appear so incredibly positive?”
All of these women are attuned to symbology as well. They dress in ways that show who they are. Their language is precise; their thoughts, comprehensive. They inspire me to show up to consult with them wearing clothes through which I can communicate with them in that language as well. They have me on my feet, tracing my thoughts on a white board so we can reflect together on what more is possible, on what wants still to be done.
Kinder, more intelligent, more committed, more supportive advocates for teens do not exist.
These three heroes are shaping the history of Chicago for decades to come.
One author said ‘I write because I want to live a footprint in the sands of history.’ It’s hard to live a footprint in the sands of history when giants are passing through the same sands unless you are one of the giants”
― Bangambiki Habyarimana, Pearls Of Eternity