When organizers started fundraising for scholarships for Proviso High School District 209 students, they aimed to raise $6,000, enough to fund a grand for the two recipients at each of the three schools. But after a successful fundraiser at Urban Pioneer Group, they pocketed about $18,000, enough to give each student $1,500, and award three previous scholarship recipients and extra $500 to apply to the cost of college books, supplies, housing, etc.

“The mood was jubilant, especially after we let them know we raised enough for an additional $500,” said Michelle Woehrle, a member of 209 Together who helped organize the “Great Chefs Feeding College Dreams” fundraiser with the Kiwanis Club of Forest Park. “The cost of college is very significant, $1,500 is going to make a dent.”

Woehrle estimated about 30 students, families and friends attended the awards ceremony on July 30, where students received the scholarship money, shared their stories and networked with community members. The connection has since allowed some students to form a mentorship with community members, who provide advice about their professional fields.

“We’re trying to do more to understand how we can be of service to the students in terms of maybe internships; this mentorship thing is happening organically,” Woehrle said. “If there is a role in collaborating with the schools, we’re very open to it. There’s lots of different skills in the community.”

Community members interested in helping grow an internship program between District 209 and Forest Park residents, or supporting the scholarship program, should email 209scholarship@gmail.com. There are also spots still available in the private cooking class led by Chef DiBenedetto of Gaetano’s Forest Park and Chef Paco from New Rebozo in Oak Park. Those interested in participating in the class should email Connie Brown at the above email.

“Whether they’re our kids, or someone else’s kids, we’re all in this together,” Woehrle said. “They are our future.”

Nona Tepper

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