CIS of Chicago, one of the city’s largest education nonprofits, has received a major $4 million gift from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott’s charitable fund. The award is included in an even larger gift by Scott to the national Communities In Schools network.
I sat down with CIS of Chicago CEO, Jane Mentzinger, to ask how this major gift impacts the organization – and the students, schools, and partners that CIS of Chicago serves – and why this gift is so important at this time.
KR: What does an investment like this mean for CIS of Chicago?
JM: It means the world for CIS of Chicago. A gift like this from one of our country’s leading philanthropists further validates the work that CIS of Chicago is doing to support 50,000 students across the city. MacKenzie Scott’s philanthropy consistently reflects her commitment to educational and racial equity, and that’s core to the work that CIS of Chicago does, so we are thrilled.
KR: You mentioned her commitment to equity. What do you think it was about our organization and our impact that really resonated with?
JM: The donor doesn’t share the details of her selection process. That’s really only known to her and her team, but we do know that she carefully vets all of her prospective grantees. We believe based on some of what was shared with us that one of the core things was our track record of success that we’ve had working in schools and serving under-resourced communities and under-resourced students, along with our commitment to educational equity, which is core to her work.
KR: The past few years have been really challenging for both students and families. Why do you think this gift is so important now?
JM: Now is a critical time. It has been a challenging 2+ years for our students and families. They’ve really endured waves of stress and anxiety, and the data is clear that the pandemic has exacerbated the needs of the students and families that we serve.
MacKenzie Scott’s investment means that we can sustain the work that we’re doing right now – for years to come – and we can be flexible to meet some of these evolving needs that we’re seeing with our students and with our schools. I think after experiencing so much uncertainty, it is really imperative that our students and families can continue to rely on the array of resources that CIS of Chicago provides them, and this gift will allow us to do that.
KR: Does CIS of Chicago still need support?
JM: Yes! CIS of Chicago partners with 175 of the more than 600 Chicago Public Schools, and we serve 50,000 of the more than 300,000 students. We know that there are thousands and thousands of students who could benefit from the work of CIS of Chicago.
We are confident that we have a proven track record, we have a model for student success, and we have a vision that each and every Chicago Public Schools student has access to the resources they need to succeed in school and in life, and of course, that’s going to take more resources to do that. We hope this gift is really like fuel for us to allow us to sustain and to deepen and grow our work.