Big Shoulders Fund gives thousands of Chicago kids a lift

SHARE Big Shoulders Fund gives thousands of Chicago kids a lift

On May 24, the Big Shoulders Fund will throw an energetic, technology-infused fete to recognize its 25th anniversary and honor its 10 founders. The silver anniversary dinner will celebrate Big Shoulders Fund’s mission to provide inner-city children access to an effective, values-based education.

Guests will be treated to a full multimedia evening served up on 500 new iPads that will be distributed to their schools to build on Big Shoulders’ strategy to infuse technology-enabled classroom experiences. Guests will enjoy a special performance by the Big Shoulders Fund Student Gospel Choir and additional surprises.

The 10 founders who will be honored at the gala include James W. Compton, Sister Mary Brian Costello, Lester Crown, Ronald J. Gidwitz, William A. McIntosh, founding vice chairman Andrew J. McKenna Sr., founding chairman James J. O’Connor, Edmund A. Stephan (deceased), Barry F. Sullivan and Arthur R. Velasquez. John A. Canning Jr. is the event chair. Cause & Event chatted with O’Connor, co-chairman of the Big Shoulders Fund and retired chairman and CEO, Unicom & Commonwealth Edison Co.

Q. How did you get involved with the Big Shoulders fund?

A. It really came from Cardinal [Joseph] Bernardin, a request from him about 25 years ago. He approached me and a few other individuals to form the beginning of a core group to address the increasing cost of operating inner-city Catholic schools. There was a special mission on the church’s part to do whatever they could do to provide these children with the opportunity to have the education that would take them into high school, eventually to college and then to be part of the future workforce of Chicago.

Q. When you look back at 25 years of Big Shoulders Fund, what are the major accomplishments?

A. We are giving 24,000 children an extraordinary education. Today 97 percent of our students graduate high school, and close to 90 percent of those children go on to college and the majority go on to a four-year college. That’s an incredible number when it applies to such a large number of children, especially when you know that nearly 65 percent of the children are living at or below the poverty line and 80 percent are minorities.

Q. It’s a night of celebration, for sure. How will you be honoring the founders and people involved in Big Shoulders?

A. Well, first we want to celebrate the teachers, principals, and students that we all come together to serve; that’s a fundamental part of this event, and they will be integral to the entire evening. We will also recognize my fellow founders, who came together in a time that was very challenging. If you look back in history, you’ll see that the mid-’80s were a rough time for education in the city of Chicago, particularly in the inner city. This group came together and said, “You know what, we are going to help find a way to give students a chance to study for a brighter future.” We are going to look back in history and remember the early years of Big Shoulders in some fun and exciting ways. There will be music, fun, and a celebration of the founders, the schools and, most importantly, the students.

The Sun-Times is a media sponsor of the event.

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