Dara Munson, CEO of Chicago Child Care Society, recently broke ground on the Hyde Park Center’s brand new preschool classrooms. Quite symbolic, as after 168 years, the CCCS continues to shatter opportunity barriers that under-resourced children and families face on Chicago’s South and Southwest sides.
Deeply woven into the thread of Chicago, the Child Care Society arose to meet the needs of children left homeless by the cholera epidemic in the mid-1800s and has since evolved to meet the profound and changing needs of children through the Civil War, the Great Depression, both World Wars and into the 21st Century.
“The organization itself has a historic commitment of serving Chicago’s children and families through high quality and flexible programming,” says Jeanne Marsh, CCCS board member, director and professor at University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration. “This legacy really comes to life through its board of directors, uniquely characterized by long-standing involvement that spans generations.”
Today, CCCS continues to address the essential needs of families and children who face significant challenges, from early childhood development to teen parents and at-risk youth, stabilizing families while tackling societal issues of poverty, teen pregnancy, and inadequate childcare and healthcare.
No doubt, that’s a large order. One that Munson has whole-heartedly embraced since taking the reigns as CEO in January 2016. At the helm of CCCS, Munson has an appetite for challenge, and the CCCS community continues to embrace her dedication and leadership right back. Touted as one of the “Young Leaders to Watch” by several publications, Munson hails from Detroit, where her roots in nonprofit run deep. She served as COO of the 31,000-member Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan and was president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit — at 33, the youngest to hold that position. Before that, she served as senior director with United Way for Southeastern Michigan.
“Throughout the span of her career, Dara has been an incredible advocate for vulnerable children and families, using her compassion and strategic vision to address the need,” say Dorri McWhorter, former CCCS board president and CEO, YWCA Metropolitan Chicago. “The Chicago Child Care Society has always ensured that children are first priority and has a deep understanding of the challenges that Chicago’s children and families are uniquely experiencing. Dara has every qualification to meet those challenges.”
Yet, simply reaching the bar isn’t in Munson’s nature. She has every intention to take CCCS to new heights until the reality of each of Chicago’s children having access to the resources they need to tap their full potential is no longer an ideal, but a promise.
“My hope is for our supporters to join us on this journey of helping children thrive because of their environment not in spite of it,” says Munson. “The work we do here creates a place where children are prepared for school and life success. They have champions and are raised by empowered families that support their optimal development. They have pathways and opportunities to thrive as they grow and create healthy futures for themselves and their communities.”
It’s a lofty goal shared by two other notable Chicago women working to better our city. Andrea Zopp, deputy mayor and chief neighborhood development officer, and Liz Dozier, managing director of Chicago Beyond, spoke on a short panel discussion lead by Munson at the CCCS Spring Luncheon this past May. The three took part in a discussion about strengthening neighborhoods and empowering young people. The conversation shared goals for the future of Chicago’s youth and education, while touting the work CCCS does to strengthen Chicago families.
An impactful question posed by Dozier struck the more than 200 guests. “How are the children,” she asked. She explained that by asking about the children, as opposed your children, one can learn about the well-being of a community in its entirety. As a life-long educator and founder of Chicago Beyond, Dozier has spent her career working tirelessly to interrupt a culture of inequity present in urban education systems. Likewise, Zopp believes that the strength and prosperity of a community rests on the vitality of the youth.
“Education opens doors for Chicago’s young people,” says Zopp, deputy mayor for the city of Chicago. “Organizations like Chicago Child Care Society provide opportunity for our youth so that they can accomplish great things. I think that we all have an obligation to make sure that doors are open, because most of us have had that support along the way.”
In a city where 1 in 5 children live in poverty and 60,000 young people between the ages of 18 and 24 neither work or attend school, CCCS responds with services and programming to assist development of the whole person throughout various stages in life:
- early childhood education during the most critical years of brain development, bonding and attachment
- the pathway young people embark on as they transition to adulthood
- helping families create stability when life becomes most uncertain
Compared to the 34.4 percent of students nationally who were academically prepared to enter kindergarten in 2016, 100 percent of CCCS’ Preschool graduates were prepared. A comparable impact is visible amongst a contrasting age group of at-risk teens in the Next Step program — 92 percent of whom completed high school and of these students, 100 percent of whom were accepted into higher education.
In addition to drawing attention to these staggering statistics, the Annual Spring Luncheon also honored the late Peggy Carr, who served on the CCCS Board of Directors for an unmatched 77 years. CCCS’s longest standing board member (her mother having served before her), Carr was a timeless and fearless member of CCCS and the Chicago philanthropic community. The afternoon showcased a lovely balance between past, present and future, paying homage to a rich history while looking to a bright future.
The time and care put into the event by chairs Judith S. Block, Francia E. Harrington, Steven V. Hunter and Robert K. Parsons, as well as the contributions from community supporters Abbott, Make It Better Magazine, RSM US LLP and Sidley Austin LLP, surely set the foundation up for success.
The luncheon raised nearly $130,000 to help CCCS continue its legacy of community and philanthropy, providing more than 1,500 under-resourced Chicago children and families access to essential education and supportive programs each year that open a world of healthy choices and relationships. The generous support of those who attended the luncheon was displayed during a lively paddle raise led by the vivacious Alyssa Quinlan, executive vice president, Business Development (Midwest) at Gurr Johns. Funds collected will support the construction of two new preschool classrooms at the Hyde Park center. These early education programs change the trajectory of young lives in crisis and help close the achievement gap for those that start to fall behind.
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Make It Better was a proud media sponsor of this event.