In 2003, WITS (Working in the Schools) received a $100,000 Humana Communities Benefit grant to support the organization’s work matching volunteer tutors with struggling students in 27 Chicago-area public schools.
WITS Executive Director Brenda Palm said that, in addition to the money, “Humana activated their workforce to come out and volunteer in WITS programs. Establishing that partnership served as a tremendous launch pad that allowed us to go to our other members of the corporate community and say, ‘Humana has done this, they’re in a leadership role when it comes to helping our students. Join them. Join us.’”
Among the ongoing WITS initiatives the Humana Foundation grant helped fund:
Power Lunch: WITS sends a yellow school bus to the entrance of a corporate partner’s building, picks up volunteers and takes them to a designated elementary school. Each volunteer works with the same student throughout the year, primarily focusing on reading skills, but also, as Palm said, “To be another positive adult voice in that child’s life. So many of these kids need that.”
Workplace Mentoring: Students in fourth to sixth grade ride a school bus to the offices of a corporate or community partner. Students get help at their tutors’ desks or in a conference room. For some kids, it’s their first time visiting downtown Chicago, riding in an elevator or seeing Lake Michigan. “They’re also, for the first time, sitting at a big fancy conference table and imagining themselves working for one of these corporations,” Palm said. “Teachers tell us kids often act a little more mature, a little more professionally in the classroom after these visits.”
The rewards of the tutor-student relationship work both ways. “I hear from a lot of WITS volunteers that they’re not sure if the student is getting more out of the relationship or if the volunteer is,” Palm said. “That’s the foundation that this organization is built on.”
Ten years after the Humana Communities Benefit grant helped bolster that foundation, WITS’ budget has more than doubled, and the organization now has 48 business and community partners and serves 2,500 students.
“So much of the success we’ve had with our corporate partners we trace back to that initial investment from Humana,” Palm said. “To have a company like Humana say, ‘We believe in the WITS model, we believe in this program, we’ve seen the impact and we’re going to help take WITS to the next level,’ – it’s been invaluable.”
- Watch a video about WITS above or by clicking here.
- To learn more about WITS or to find information about volunteering, click here.
- Humana grant helps promote “Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies, Healthy Communities”
- Humana grant helps provide A Safe Place for those who need it most
- The Humana Communities Benefit program has awarded more than $1 million to charitable organizations since its inception in Chicago in 2002. In 2012, the program provided grant assistance in Arizona, Austin, Chicago, Greater Cincinnati, Houston, Kansas City, Nashville and New Orleans.