Current Issue

Oct. 26, 2011

Vol. 112, No. 3

alumni profile

Jane Mentzinger '82

Forging connections for schools

By Graham Meyer ’01
Published on October 14, 2011

Jane Mentzinger '82 brings services into Chicago's schools.

Résumé: Since 2001, executive director of Communities In Schools of Chicago (CISC), a nonprofit that connects ­public schools with ­programs and ­services at no charge. Previously spent 17 years at the Washington, D.C.-based ­nonprofit Common Cause. Majored in political science.

Getting Help Where It’s Needed Faced with a school system saddled with public-health problems, street gangs, and a high school graduation rate around 50 percent, Jane Mentzinger and CISC forge connections between needy schools and a broad stable of organizations, promoting — among other things — violence prevention, asthma screening, vaccination, and arts enrichment. Schools tell CISC staffers what assistance they require, and CISC tells partner organizations which schools can use what they have to offer. The weak economy has exacerbated schools’ problems. Budget cutting often hits arts programs hard, and CISC connected arts-poor schools with a theater in Chicago’s suburbs that assembled a one-woman show and curriculum about the history of civil rights in Chicago. “You could hear a pin drop,” Mentzinger says. “[The performer] tells a story that’s their story.”

Equal Opportunity As Social Justice Communities In Schools is a national organization with 200 local affiliates, of which CISC serves the greatest number of schools — in the last academic year 165 city schools with 69,000 students partnered with 155 community organizations. CISC also recently launched a program pioneered by other CIS affiliates that puts full-time staff members in schools as case managers who provide one-on-one counseling and social work. Because CISC runs on donations, fundraising takes the largest share of Mentzinger’s time. She also oversees the nonprofit’s finances and personnel, works with the board of directors, and acts as spokeswoman. Mentzinger sees equal opportunity in education as a civil-rights issue. “That notion of social justice is fundamentally what appeals to me,” she says. “Every student is entitled to a quality education.” 

A Brighter Future Some schools’ needs stare them right in the face: More than 75,000 students in Chicago need but cannot afford glasses. One partnership that has shown immediate results gives students eye-clinic visits and vision vouchers. Mentzinger remembers one such boy. “It turned his life around,” she says. “He went from wearing glasses that were his aunt’s to wearing his own. He said, ‘I see a future that’s much brighter for myself.’”



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