After the Table

After the Table

Communities in Schools Helps Students Vocalize Needs to Administration

Pictured above: Chicago Public Schools students from three elementary schools discuss their peers’ needs during a leadership training program sponsored by Communities in Schools of Chicago.

By Raquel Venado

Pictured above: Chicago Public Schools students participate in an icebreaker exercise during their leadership training program, sponsored by Communities in Schools of Chicago, which received a $2,500 Acting Up award to develop the program.

“It really does feel great to have adults listen to your point of view,” said one student at Communities in Schools of Chicago’s On the Table last year.

Communities in Schools of Chicago is giving students a voice. What started as On the Table conversations in 30 schools last year developed into a student leadership program supported by a $2,500 Acting Up award from The Chicago Community Trust.

Fifteen students in the sixth through eighth grades at Doolittle Elementary, King Academy of Social Justice and Westcott Elementary participated in the leadership program, which trained students in identifying their own leadership style, brainstorming the needs of their peers at school and conducting formal presentations.   

“The Student Leadership Program provides a space to amplify student voices by building students’ leadership skills, presentation skills and crucial social and emotional learning skills,” said Karen Roddie, intern program manager and behavioral and mental health specialist at Communities in Schools of Chicago.The program involved three training sessions and a final presentation. At the third training session, a CIS of Chicago staff member visited each school to help students prepare for their final presentation , where they told their school´s administrations their needs, why they were important and what potential programs would look like.“The program has allowed students to have a safe space to share their thoughts and opinions about who they are as leaders,” said Karen. “It has also allowed them to make decisions about what they believe students in their schools need in order to be successful.”

Pictured above: Karen Roddie, intern program manager at Communities in Schools of Chicago

Pictured above: Taken from

After the Table

Bridging the Racial Divide Through the Arts

Pictured above: The Evanston Symphony Orchestra’s Holiday Concert in 2016. The concert, which draws diverse performing arts groups and record diverse crowds, is a result of a collaboration of three members of the Enrich Evanston consortium, a 2016 Acting Up award recipient. Those groups are Evanston Symphony Orchestra, Evanston Dance Ensemble and North Shore Choral Society.

By Yolanda Harris

Penelope Sachs is an Evanston resident and British-American viola player on the board of the Evanston Symphony Orchestra, where she’s performed for 25 years. And though Evanston and some performing arts groups are largely racially segregated, she recognizes the power that the arts have to bring people together, no matter their racial background.

Pictured above: Penelope Sachs, Evanston Symphony Orchestra member and leader of Enrich Evanston, which was a 2016 Acting Up award recipient.

In fact, she led an initiative that did just that in 2016, with the help of diversity training and an Acting Up award, both funded by The Chicago Community Trust. Penelope is part of a consortium called Enrich Evanston, comprised of the Evanston Symphony Orchestra,  Active Gymnasium, Evanston Dance Ensemble and North Shore Choral Society, which took racial equity training in 2016 as a part of an initiative of The Chicago Community Trust.

“We’re all struggling with how to tackle lack of racial diversity in our organizations,” Penelope said.  “We said, ‘OK, if we got together, then maybe it would be a little better.’”

The consortium held an On the Table for its members in 2016 to talk about racial equity training, which was recommended to them by Enrich Chicago, a cohort of arts and philanthropic organizations committed to anti-racist organizing within the arts. Then shortly afterward,  Enrich Evanston received a $12,000 grant from The Chicago Community Trust’s Art Works Fund for Organizational Development to take four full days of racial equity training.On top of that, Enrich Evanston received a $1,000 Acting Up award in 2016 to put on a community workshop called “Enrich Evanston through Art” to explore ways the arts can break down racial barriers in Evanston. The free workshop convened on Oct. 19, 2016 at the PM Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center in Evanston and featured Dr. Gilo Kewsi Logan, a diversity consultant, writer and Northeastern Illinois University professor; and Dino Robinson, a historian, author and graphic artist.Some 150 people, including artists, performers, public officials and community residents, attended the workshop. Discussions focused on the history behind racial division in Evanston and how the arts could bring diverse people together.“It put our individual work that we were doing with each of our organizations in a much bigger community context,” Penelope said. “And we really heard from the community just how important the issue was.  I think that really brought us into greater action.”

Putting on a workshop was just the beginning of the journey to break down racial barriers.  

“This really was an issue we had to tackle,” Penelope said. “It wasn’t just us thinking ‘Oh this sounds like a nice idea to do.’ This was important work.”

Pictured above: Enrich Evanston’s On the Table in May of 2016

That work yielded more good fruit in the winters of 2016 and 2017. In December of 2016, Evanston Symphony Orchestra put on its first racially diverse holiday concert. Several diverse groups, including Evanston Dance Ensemble, North Shore Choral Society, Evanston Children’s Choir and the Evanston Symphony Holiday Gospel Choir, performed to a record diverse crowd of 1,150 people.  A similarly large, diverse crowd attended the holiday concert again in 2017.“We all came together and performed,” she said. “You get this incredible ‘aha’ moment when you do and you go, ‘Oh, this is great!”

Pictured above: The Evanston Symphony Orchestra’s Holiday Concert in 2017.

After the Table

Students Learn About Careers In Aviation With Support of Acting Up Award

Pictured above: Students of AeroStar Avion Institute learn about the aerospace industry.

By Sonya Lewis and Yolanda Harris

Before they participated in AeroStar Avion Institute’s “Giving Wings to Dreams” summer camp last summer, some students likely never imagined that they could have a career in aviation.

Pictured above: Tammera Holmes, a 2017 Acting Up awardee, and CEO & executive director of AeroStar Consulting Corporation and AeroStar Avion Institute NFP.

Thanks to Boeing, the summer camp’s sponsor, 45 students in fifth grade through high school were introduced to the aerospace industry through flight simulations, drone operations and model aircraft building. And, thanks to a $2,500 Acting Up award from The Chicago Community Trust in 2017, Aerostar Aviation was able to expand the summer camp to serve more students than in the past.

“Boeing sponsored our summer camp, and the $2,500 Acting Up award allowed us to really enhance our programming,” said Tammera Holmes, CEO & executive director of AeroStar Consulting Corporation and AeroStar Avion Institute NFP.

Tammera, an aviation consultant, hosted an On the Table in 2017 with her board members and organization supporters to discuss the next generation of African-American aviation professionals in Chicago.“There are not a lot of African Americans in the aviation industry,” Tammera said. “We we wanted to focus on strategies to build capacity and a pipeline where kids could develop a love for aviation.”One strategy was expanding the Giving Wings to Dream program. Traditionally, the program only served high school students in After School Matters. The Acting Up award enabled Tammera to expand the summer camp program to students in the fifth through eighth grades.

Giving Wings to Dream was held at the Harold Washington Cultural Center last summer. The program featured a two-week summer camp for children in the fifth through eighth grades and a three-week camp for high school students.

Tammera, who hosted an On the Table event again in 2018, said this about On the Table: “It’s a forum to share ideas and make attendees accountable to organize. Everyone has good ideas, but only those who put action behind their ideas make progress.”

Pictured above: Students of Aerostar Avion Institute explore the aerospace industry. Aerostar hosted two  “Giving Wings to Dreams” summer camps last summer to help youth learn about aviation careers.The summer camps, sponsored by Boeing, were expanded to serve students in the fifth through eighth grades, thanks to an Acting Up award from The Chicago Community Trust.

After the Table

Acting Up Awardees Create A New Way for Children to Share a Love of Reading

By Jasmine Browley | May 14, 2018

When Deidre McGraw decided to host a conversation around youth literacy during a 2017 On the Table conversation, she never imagined that it could birth poetry workshops, each featuring a successful writer. From her roundtable discussion, one singular point rang true: She needed to do something to make children want to read and write more.

“We wanted to introduce young children to the wonderful art of poetry,” said Deidre, a Northwestern Medicine technical analyst and co-founder of the Woodlawn Community Summit. The On the Table talk prompted the idea to pair a professional writer with children in an effort to spark interest in literature. As a result of her incredible conversation and with the integral help of her friends, Jawanda Hairston and Elizabeth Gardner, Deidre applied for and won a $2,500 Acting Up award in 2017. This led her to invite her cousin, Pulitzer Prize winning poet,Tyehimba Jess, to speak to 6th – 12th graders about expressing thoughts and feelings through writing that same year at the University of Chicago.

“The event gave youth who have an interest in writing and poetry an opportunity to meet a new role model,” said Deidre. “He’s from an urban environment, just like us, and he has succeeded as a professional writer and poet.”

Following the reading, the youth participated in a one-hour, hands-on writers’ workshop entitled “Phone Book.” It was facilitated by Asadah Kirkland, writer and founder of the Soulful Chicago Book Fair.

As a follow-up to the successful event, Deidre aims to launch a mobile workshop series.

“We’re very grateful to have been a recipient of an Acting Up award, which proved instrumental in allowing us the opportunity to expand our initiative,” she said. “It provided us with funds to buy supplies, plan a future follow up youth workshop and organize a fun, writing raffle, but most of all, it helped us make children smile.”

Deidre McGraw

For more information about the poetry series, visit

Pictured above: Deidre McGraw took her empowering On the Table conversation about youth literacy and turned it into the Student Writers’ Workshop featuring Pulitzer Prize winning poet Tyehimba Jess in June 2017. The event was funded with the help of her Acting Up award.

Pictured above: Deidre McGraw (far right) poses with the aspiring young writers and Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Tyehimba Jess (center) at the Student Writers’ Workshop that was funded with the help of her Acting Up award.

Pictured above: Asadah Kirkland of the Soulful Chicago Book Fair speaks with the young students about the importance of literacy at the Student Writers’ Workshop that took place in June 2017 at the  University of Chicago.

After the Table

Biking toward more neighborly communities

Pictured above: Universidad Popular, an Acting Up award recipient, organized “Bike to Mole” last September. It took place on the last Saturday of September. Participants rode to UP´s yearly event, “La Feria del Mole.”

By Raquel Venado | May 14, 2018

Universidad Popular is no stranger to The Chicago Community Trust and On the Table. Having participated in On the Table since its launch in 2014, the community center’s discussion in 2017 focused on ways to bring the community together.

Located in Little Village, one of the largest Mexican-American communities in Chicago, Universidad Popular (UP) had received a donation of 15 bikes from Working Bikes. Then, thanks to an On the Table discussion and a subsequent Acting Up award of $2,000 from The Chicago Community Trust, the center was able to provide bike lessons to participants in its “UP to Youth” summer program.

Participating youth and their families came together twice a week to learn how to ride and take care of the bikes.

There’s a good amount of youth and adults who still don’t know how to ride them,” said Program Director Abraham Celio. “One of the things we really wanted to incorporate was active transportation and start working towards that.”

Pictured above: Universidad Popular used a $2,000 Acting Up award from The Chicago Community Trust to teach “UPtoYouth” students the proper care for bicycles during the winter months.

Pictured above: The Learning to Succeed Team (pictured above) helped write the Acting Up award for Universidad Popular. From left to right: Rocio Guerrero-Palomino, Jessica Rojas, Ricardo Valle, Anna Rojas and Cesar Lara.

Adult Education Coordinator Cesar Lara said they encouraged parents to bring their kids on their bikes to help them go around the block.

“Parents would teach them how to stop and listen to directions, and facilitators taught them all the signs prior to going out on their bicycles,” said Cesar. “We put together different activities to make sure everyone was involved in the organization.”

UP organized two events at the end of September to increase exposure between the Latino and African-American communities. The first one, called “We Bike Juntos,” (translated, “We Bike Together”) had 150 participants and was held during Labor Day weekend. It was a two-hour bike tour through South Lawndale and North Lawndale.  

“Participants were able to cross both communities and break down those invisible barriers that tend to separate us,” said Abraham.The second event, “Bike to Mole,” had 50 participants, and it was a cultural ride that ended at UP’s yearly festival “La Feria del Mole.” Participants in both events were provided with bike safety materials, including helmets and bike locks.For Youth Program Coordinator Karen Guadarrama, it was important to emphasize the biking culture.It is a mode of transportation, and we want the youth to do more than take their bikes to the park for fun,” she said. “Once you grasp the rules of the road when biking, and you know all the safety measures, you are able to take that bike out and you can go anywhere.”

Pictured above: Universidad Popular, recipient of The Chicago Community Trust’s Acting Up award, organized  a two-hour bike event, “We Bike Juntos,” which gathered 150 people through a tour of North and South Lawndale on Labor Day weekend 2017.

UP’s work toward creating a biking community is ongoing. They took the bikes out during Spring Break and, along with the youth and their families, did maintenance repairs. They also paired with the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO), which organizes “toxic tours” of the neighborhood, so kids can see nearby industrial and toxic areas harmful to community residents. “It’s something we want the kids to be aware of and they wouldn’t have been able to see and know about these places if they hadn’t been on a bicycle,” says Karen.UP is planning its next biking event for September 8.

After the Table

Meet the host: Marcenia Richards, Fierce Women of Faith

Pictured above: Fierce Women of Faith in a community march.

Edited by Sonya Lewis
May 7, 2018

Chicagoan Marcenia Janell Richards creates platforms and opportunities to share the principles of non-violence through her organization, Fierce Women of Faith. In 2017, Marcenia coordinated 15 tables — yes, 15! — on a variety of topics. The motivational speaker, teacher, author and host invited communities across the city to join her tables. She strives to help individuals channel anger and grief into activism, in solidarity with families and communities throughout Chicagoland.

What motivated you to sign up to host On the Table in 2018?

I am inspired and motivated to be an On the Table host because it’s an opportunity to meet community residents and people who are involved within their communities, doing great work, going unnoticed. At the table, we all have an opportunity to share our creative ideas about how to improve our communities in Chicago.”

Give a brief description of your table.

Great food and great conversation are on the menu for the various organizations participating in our On the Table  conversations. We have invited guests from Jewish synagogues, Englewood youth groups, Muslim organizations, Chicago Association of Women and Law Enforcement, CPD, Heal Thy Life Center and others.”

Pictured above: Marcenia Richards of Fierce Women of Faith, 2018 On the Table host.

We plan to meet at various locations around the city, including Soul Vegetarian Restaurant, Englewood Police District, Bronzeville Community Club House, and a rehab Center on the Near West Side. All of our tables will focus on topics that are important to bettering our communities, such as bridging the gap between Muslim and Christian women, finding freedom through reconciliation and drug use among youth.”

What excites you most about hosting On the Table?    

Meeting new people and hearing their stories and ideas to create better and safer communities.”

Pictured above: Guests at Fierce Women of Faith’s On the Table gathering on the city’s north side last year.

What are the challenges in your neighborhood?    

The challenge we face most within our community is the lack of resources. However, our community is very resilient. I have seen people be very creative and do more with less.”

What are the challenges in your neighborhood?    

There are many things I love about my community. One of the things I like most is the diversity of people in my neighborhood. There are people of all ages, backgrounds and cultures, with various beliefs. This brings home that Chicago is a very diverse city.”

What’s the number one goal you hope to accomplish with your guests?    

One of my primary goals I hope to accomplish with my guests is to garner their support in becoming proactive within our community. Often times, we react versus being proactive. Consequently, I hope to extract ideas on participants’ willingness to becoming proactive to participate in community building.”

What are your top 3 questions/conversation starters?    

  1. How do we bridge the gap between Christian and Muslim women?
  2. How do we establish trust between Chicago Police Department and the community?
  3. How youth can organize for a better and safer community?

Why are these issues important to you?   

If we are going to have safer and better communities, we need the communities’ participation and support.”

If you could invite a famous Chicagoan, living or deceased, to join your table who would that be and why?   

I would invite Mrs. Michelle Obama to join our table and gain her insight on how to work in harmony with women from across the spectrum, whose beliefs are all different.”

Describe your favorite table.   

With people I have never met before, experiencing new cultures and new foods.”

After the Table

Trumpets herald impact of Acting Up award for aspiring young musicians

Pictured above: Students in the Community Band program of the Hyde Park Youth Symphony and Progressive Beulah Pentecostal Church receive instruction on brass instruments during an after-school session.

By David Rudd | May 4, 2018

Just before an orchestra performs, the audience will hear a collision of sounds as each musician tunes his or her instrument, loosens the body and warms up in preparation for the pending performance. If you’d never seen such preparation, you might wonder how all of these different, individual sounds could come together to create wonderful music.

Well, it was kind of like that at the Hyde Park Youth Symphony’s first On the Table discussion.  The community organizations all shared a common commitment to youth development. But they each had their own mission, their own vision for success. Each had a laser focus on their own needs and challenges. But the On the Table discussion was transformative.

“Small arts organizations and nonprofits are often so dedicated to their missions that we struggle to find unstructured creative time with community partners,” said Matthew Sheppard, music director for the Hyde Park Youth Symphony (HPYS). “Through On the Table, we were able to creatively brainstorm with colleagues during our meeting, rather than focusing solely on the next event or logistics. This type of unstructured time is what allows us to dream big.”

At its 2017 On the Table event, the youth organization wanted to convene a discussion about building connections to better serve children on the South Side. Participants came from a diverse cross-section of community nonprofits, multiple music education groups, representatives from local churches and organizations focused on after-school programs, Matthew said.

“Though most of us are aware of each other’s impact in the community, it’s rare for us to have a chance to actually sit down with such a wide ranging group to exchange cross-curricular ideas,” he added.

One of the contributors at the discussion was Progressive Beulah Pentecostal Church, which is located in the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood. The youth symphony had been introduced to the church by a mutual friend, so they knew they shared an interest in a music education program for neighborhood youngsters, Matthew said, adding: “In sitting down with Progressive Beulah during On the Table, we were able to help bring hazy ideas and visions into sharper focus.”

Pictured above: Instructor Melissa Anderson works with Tessa, an aspiring trumpet player.

That sharper focus led to the decision to apply for an Acting Up award from The Chicago Community Trust. The $1,000 award, received in the summer of 2017, helped with the purchase of supplies like books and music stands. More importantly, it helped to fund time with music teachers for the Community Band program. The program is run jointly by HPYS and Progressive Beulah. It includes students from schools around the church, and it teaches youngsters who have had no previous experience with brass instruments.

“With the resources provided by the award,” Matthew said, “students could learn both the notes and the technique of playing brass instruments.”

Like a soaring orchestral piece, this program may start small, but its music will get larger and fill the ears of more children and families, Matthew said.

He added: “With the successful launch of this first community band, we are looking at opportunities to begin other similar programs throughout the community with different partners.”

After the Table

Meet the Host: Michael Cotter

Pictured above: Greater West Town Community Development Project’s previous On the Table event

Edited by David Rudd
May 5, 2018

Michael Cotter is assistant director of program development and communications at Greater West Town Community Development Project (GWTP). This is Michael’s second year participating in On the Table with a host agency. This table will tackle the toll of trauma and stress on communities and their residents.

What are some issues you’d like to discuss at your table this year?

We will focus on stress and trauma, and their impact on communities and the residents who live in them. Our focus will be on bringing to light the stress and trauma that may be caused by, or even affect, the state of a community.”

How did you like your last On the Table experience?

In my first hosting role, it was really interesting to see the geographic diversity at the table. While GWTP has a targeted service area, the agency’s clients come from communities throughout the city of Chicago. Each event participant shared his or her concerns about what they’d like to see changed in their community, and people seemed a little surprised to learn that their concerns were the same. People identified with their neighborhood pretty closely, but it was good for class cohesion to learn that we experienced some of the same community concerns, like violence and high school dropout rates. The whole point is to create actual plans that serve as hope.”

Pictured above: Michael Cotter, assistant director of program development and communications at Greater West Town Community Development Project (GWTP)

Why are these issues important to you?    

By speaking generally about different trauma and stress that affect individuals, we hope to reveal that these problems are not necessarily isolated or unique, but that we all silently deal with traumas each day that may also be shared by our neighbors, classmates or colleagues. By discussing and coming up with frameworks for solutions, our participants will work together to create ways to address these issues when they arise. “

Pictured above: Greater West Town Community Development Project (GWTP) discussed economic development issues facing the community at its last On the Table event.

What do you hope to accomplish through your table?    

After compiling and categorizing different kinds of traumas and stress collectively as a large group, smaller groups will be formed, and each group will be assigned a different issue to address. Each small group will consist of vocational training students and one or more staff members. Each smaller group will have a conversation to come up with possible adaptations or solutions to dealing with the problems that hinder individual and community betterment.”

After the Table

Meet the Host: Sarah Makela

Pictured above: From website.

Edited by: Sonya Lewis
May 2, 2018

Sarah Makela is the executive director of GROWCommunitySarah and her team hosted their first On the Table gathering in 2017 at Amundsen High School. GROWCommunity will co-host their 2018 table with three Local School Council (LSC) members, each one representing Amundsen High School, Lake View High School and Hamilton Elementary. The table, which is an opportunity for LSC members to share perspectives and best practices, will be held at Lake View High School.

What motivated you to sign up to host a 2018 On the Table gathering?

After hosting our 2017 table, we decided immediately to make it an annual event. Being a part of a conversation that is happening all across Chicago gives On the Table gatherings special meaning.”
Hosting a table is a great opportunity for GROWCommunity to bring together members of the school communities we work with and members of our community at large who wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to meet and talk.”

Pictured above: Sarah Makela of GROWCommunity, 2018 On the Table host.

Who’s on your 2018 guest list and what will they discuss?

We’re inviting LSC members from the 19 GROWCommunity schools for a rare opportunity to meet for cross-school discussion and collaboration. Our goal is to nurture a conversation among LSC members that allows them to share perspectives and best practices and lay the groundwork for future conversations.”

Why is this discussion important? 

Local School Council members play a critical role in their school communities and in CPS overall. It is important for LSC members to have opportunities to reflect on their role and to interact with peers beyond their own schools. These opportunities are infrequent, so we are excited that we can offer our table for this conversation.”

Tell us about your organization.

GROWCommunity is working to develop a seamless K-12 of public neighborhood schools that are the top educational choices for families in our community, which includes the North Side neighborhoods of Lakeview, North Center and Ravenswood neighborhoods. GROWCommunity is anchored by two Chicago Public Schools– Amundsen and Lake View high schools.”

Finish the sentence: If I could make one change in the city of Chicago, it would be…

…a guarantee of ample, stable, equitable funding for Chicago Public Schools now and always. I think the city of Chicago is doing a great job…..

…speaking out in cohesive and strong voices around many of the national-level challenges our city currently faces. I’m proud to call myself a Chicagoan.”

If you could invite a famous Chicagoan, living or deceased, to join your table, who would that be and why?

If I’m being honest, I’d say Oprah Winfrey, which is so cliché, and I’m not even sure she’s still considered a Chicagoan!”
More pertinent to our actual On the Table, I would love for CPS CEO Janice Jackson to join us for dinner and be part of our LSC-focused conversation as both a CPS leader and CPS parent.”

What tips can you offer a first-time host?

Don’t worry about providing detailed conversation starters or having to micro-manage the discussion: People welcome the opportunity to meet new folks who are similarly eager to build a strong community. This means that conversation comes easily and time flies.”
After the Table

Meet the Host: Richard Lalley

Pictured above: Richard Lalley with two of the 300 children who received new coats last winter as a result of Operation Warm’s $1,000 Acting Up award.

Edited by: Sonya Lewis
May 4, 2018

Richard Lalley is development director for Operation Warm, a national organization with an office in Chicago, that provides brand new winter coats to children in need.Richard coordinated Operation Warm brainstorm lunches for their On the Table gatherings in 2016 and 2017, and he’s excited about hosting for a third round in 2018.  Richard describes his table experiences as energetic, dynamic and collaborative. Each year the theme is the same, creative ways to improve our communities through gifting new coats to more disadvantaged children living in Chicago.

Last year, you won an Acting Up award. How did you use your award?

In 2017, Operation Warm received a $1,000 Acting Up award to help fund an idea that was born at our table discussion: a program and partnership with the Chicago Public Library to bring economically disadvantaged children and their families into neighborhood libraries. We combined the Acting Up award with grants from Union Stagehands Local #2 and area Rotary and Kiwanis clubs. As a result, 300 children received new winter coats and two new books for their in-home library.”

Pictured above: Richard Lalley of Operation Warm, 2018 On the Table host.

Who did you invite to your On the Table this year, and where will it be?

Operation Warm will again host On the Table for our Chicagoland community of funders, beneficiaries and fans at Wells Fargo, 10 S. Wacker.”

Why would you recommend On the Table to others? 

Here are five reasons:

  1. Our On the Table gatherings are brainstorm lunches and they have been an excellent forum to collaborate with our supporters to come up with new ideas to provide coats to more disadvantaged children.
  2. Operation Warm is headquartered in Pennsylvania.  Our involvement in On the Table raises our organization’s profile in the great Chicago philanthropy community.
  3. On the Table is a great time to personally engage with your community of funders, beneficiaries, donors, and fans. That’s our number one goal.
  4. Acting Up awards… Following our 2017 table, we applied and received an Acting Up award that enabled us to partially fund the “warm the hearts and minds of children” pilot program with Chicago Public Libraries.
  5. It’s easy… ‘just do it’!”

Pictured above: Operation Warm staff with On the Table guests.

After the Table

Meet the Hosts: Chefs Jason Hammel and Paul Kahan

Pictured above(left to right) are: Chefs Paul Kahan, Jason Hammel and Matthias Merges of Pilot Light

Edited by: Cassaundra Sampson and Kimberley Rudd
May 4, 2018

Usually, when someone says there are too many cooks in the kitchen, it’s not a good thing. But for the founders and organizers of Pilot Light, having many cooks means serving many children, and that’s all good. Pilot Light is a nonprofit organization that strives to teach students where food comes from and what its impact on the human body is, helping them to develop healthy relationships with food using lessons in math, science and social studies, according to Kendra Julion, community programs director. Founded in 2010 by four chefs who were inspired by First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative, Pilot Light works in 14 Chicago Public Schools, largely on the south side. We spoke with Kendra and two of Pilot Light founders – Chef Paul Kahan and Chef Jason Hammel – about their On the Table involvement.

What drew you to host an On the Table gathering this year?

I’ve been working in Chicago Public Schools for almost 10 years as one of the founding chefs of Pilot Light. On the Table gives us this opportunity, along with the rest of Chicago, to go out and meet with the community, go outside of the classrooms and really engage with the community.”

Jason Hammel

Pictured above: Chef Jason Hammel, 2018 On the Table host

Pictured above: Pilot Light program manager, Kendra Julion

Everyone knows that when you gather around a table, you connect to each other. And when anyone sits with these chefs, even for 10 minutes, they’ll learn something about food from them.”

Kendra Julion

What are some issues you’d like to discuss at your table?

I’d like to focus on giving the community a clear understanding of what Pilot Light is and the role of food education. I look at education, and I look at food, and I see them as a cure for all the bad things in the world. I know that’s too optimistic, (but) I feel like a child that’s engaged, a child that’s learning and understands the importance of food in his or her life can make better decisions.”

Paul Kahan

Pictured above: Chef Paul Kahan, 2018 On the Table host

We believe that talking about food will create empathy in society and in the world. It’s through this conversation around the table we can help create empathy and kindness, and we do that with food in the classroom, but now we can do that with the community around a table.”


Why are these issues important to you? 

People in this country are really divided, and kids are really feeling that division between adults. We want to create positive communication because discord is at an all-time high; so this On the Table is one of the ways that we can positively respond to it.”


What do you hope to accomplish through your table?

We want to walk away with an action plan on how to engage with members of the community on the daily basis of food education.”


We want to serve a great conversation and engage the community in learning food and using food in education. We also want to meet great people and feed them. On the Table is our chance to expand our vision for Pilot Light and learn from other people in the community on what our goals would mean to them. We’re really hoping to raise questions and get answers about how our program and resources can help, and how we can improve the next program year.”


After the Table

Meet the Host: Darius Ballinger

Pictured above: Chasing23 founder, Darius Ballinger with some of his members during a career development workshop in 2017.

Edited by: Jasmine Browley
May 2, 2018

Darius Ballinger takes the chase out of finding a safe space for youth to gather. Darius is founder of Chasing23, a youth empowerment group that mentors and tutors youth ages 13-21, and gives special attention to African-American males, on Chicago’s South Side. He is a second-year On the Table host who will focus his 2018 discussion on improving the quality of life for Grand Boulevard residents.

How did you first get involved in On the Table?

I was invited to a local On the Table discussion by a good friend in my neighborhood in 2016, and I’ve participated ever since. Last year, I decided to host my own.”

Pictured above: Darius Ballinger, 2018 On the Table host, speaks about the importance of mentorship.

Why did you decide to host an On the Table this year? 

I needed to have a productive conversation about ways to improve the lives of men of color in the Grand Boulevard area, an underserved neighborhood. I grew up there. This is very personal for me. In the spring of 2013, I started Chasing 23, a youth empowerment group, to provide a network of support and purpose through tutoring, project-based learning and focused mentorship.”

What inspired your founding of Chasing23? 

The organization’s name was inspired by my friend, Wayne “Chase” Drummer, who was killed at the age of 23. That day changed me forever. It made me realize how much young, impoverished black men are often overlooked by the people who can actually make a change. That’s exactly why I participated in the On the Table initiative for the first time a few years ago.”

What issues do you want to address at your table?

I plan to address some of the issues that make navigating adolescence and young adulthood more challenging in the Grand Boulevard neighborhood: poverty, lack of resources and lack of education. This reality rings true for many young, black men living on Chicago’s South Side as they enter adulthood.”

Pictured above: Darius Ballinger, founder of Garfield Boulevard-based youth empowerment organization Chasing23, said On the Table sparked his idea to expand his mentorship group across several schools in his community. Here, he speaks to members about career development opportunities through education.

Pictured above: The invitation to Chasing23’s 2018 On the Table