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A Letter from Our CEO on COVID-19

When Chicago Scholars was founded, our objective was to elevate the voices of Chicago’s young and talented people into leadership positions across the city. Since then, we’ve fostered an incredible community of people who support each other, motivate each other, and love each other. Through our Scholars, we have seen that leadership takes many forms, and shines brightest in times of crisis.

Our Scholars, spanning from high school to early career, are stepping up to support their loved ones and those most impacted by COVID-19. Take Cristal, who is leveraging her networks to highlight the unique challenges that low-income, first-generation college students are facing in their transition to virtual learning. Daniel, an alum and Chicago Elementary School teacher, is spending time cooking with his mother. Jeanpierre, a student at Loyola, helped his friends pack and store their belongings during nation-wide college closures. Across the board, we are so proud of our Scholars who are stepping up as leaders and doing what they need to care for themselves and others.

During this COVID-19 outbreak, things continue to evolve rapidly. Amidst this uncertainty, we continue to stay focused on people: getting our Scholars, our staff, and our community through this crisis and into a stable and hopeful future.

To this end, we have expanded our Emergency Lifeline Grant funding and created the Chicago Scholars Response Fund to support our Scholars with emergency funding for expenses like travel, rent, utilities, and technology resources as they and their families adapt to closed college campuses and losses of income associated with industry-wide closures.

Our staff continues to work tirelessly and collaboratively to transition our programming and events into meaningful virtual gatherings. This includes our Scholar Interview Nights, where Chicago-area professionals have the opportunity to help us select our next class of Scholars. You can still sign up for volunteer shifts on our website. Our staff, mentors, and counselors are also helping our Scholars in high school choose the best college for them; keeping our Scholars in college on track to graduation and launching them into fulfilling careers; and continuing to offer our Scholar Alums career and networking resources to ensure they maintain a growth mindset and nurture their leadership skills.

This work is not just about our Scholars but ensuring Chicago as a whole makes it through this crisis stronger and more unified than ever. We are strengthening our ties with community partners to identify and meet the needs of the people we serve. We are working with our corporate and foundation partners to envision how best to provide summer internships – a critical milestone in leadership and career development – in our changing and uncertain workforce. Our Associate Board is identifying ways to transition our UnTied fundraiser to a virtual platform and elevate the leadership of this year’s 35 Under 35. We are reaching out to families to ensure that they have not only knowledge, but access to both local and federal resources. You can view our compilation of resources here.

The true test of a leader is how one responds over time and under pressure. Determining how to respond to uncertainty is, quite frankly, uncertain. All of us face the question: how do you know what to do when you don’t know what to do? At a time when we want to hold those dearest to us close, we are told that we must stay distant, for the safety of them and the public at large. As a mother, friend, non-profit CEO, and proud Chicagoan, I know that our city and its people are resilient and tenacious. We have already seen incredible forms of leadership and solidarity as our Scholars and partners band together to uplift those most in need. Caring for each other is how we emerge stronger and more unified than ever.