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Feeding Imaginations and Cooking Up Opportunities for Chicago’s Youth

Editor’s note: Mary Ellen Caron is the Chief Executive Officer of After School Matters, one of the nation’s largest and most successful providers of after-school and summer program opportunities for high school teens.



Most of us needed a little help discovering our potential and finding our future. For teens on the South Side of Chicago, this help often comes from After School Matters.

After School Matters began in 1991 as a summer arts program under large white tents in a then-undeveloped lot in Chicago’s Loop area. The brainchild of two strong women, Maggie Daley and Lois Weisberg, the program recruited and paid professional Chicago artists to not only teach teens art, but to also instill in them the importance of showing up every day, on time and ready to work, in exchange for a monetary stipend and the chance to discover their creativity and express themselves through art.

Today, we design and deliver high quality, hands-on, project-based apprenticeship programs in a variety of fields, including the arts, communications and leadership, sports, and STEM. Our programs are offered in all 77 Chicago neighborhood areas at more than 400 neighborhood sites such as schools, parks and community centers, as well as in three flagships After School Matters’ buildings. We’re proud to say that we’ve engaged more than 350,000 Chicago teens since 1991 and are the nation’s largest and most successful provider of after-school and summer programs for high school teens.

Our participating mentors and sponsors are an integral part to the success of our programs. They work with us to create opportunities for teens to explore their passions and develop their talents.

Recently, we worked with After School Matters culinary instructor Chef Gloria Hafer, notable Chicago-area chefs, and the Naperville, Illinois-based Kellogg’s Away From Home team on a cooking competition that introduced teens to culinary careers by inspiring them to think creatively and develop new recipes. Thirty students from our summer culinary program were divided into 11 teams and challenged with creating unique sweet or savory recipes using Kellogg foods like MorningStar Farms® plant-based proteins, Kellogg’s Rice Krispies®, Pop-Tarts® and Pringles®. Each team was coached by a culinary industry leader during the two-round competition.

Following the first round of competition, four of the teams went on to the final round of judging at the Kellogg’s Away From Home base in Kellogg’s office in Naperville, Illinois, where the teens received a guided tour of the facility and learned about career opportunities from a panel of the company’s chefs.


While all the recipes were creative and delicious, the panel arrived at two deserving, delicious winners:

  • A sweet No-Bake Apple Cheesecake made with Pop-Tarts® crust from the team led by chef mentor Jimmy MacMillan of Pastry Virtuosity.
  • A savory Japanese curry made with MorningStar Farms® Incogmeato® Chik’n Tenders from the team led by chef mentor Tonie Houke of La Rabida Children’s Hospital.

In addition to this competition, we were incredibly honored to be a part of Kellogg’s presence at the Bud Billiken Parade—their first in the event’s 93-year history. The parade is quite significant for us: not only is it the largest African-American parade in the U.S., it also celebrates the beginning of the school year and the infinite possibilities that a good education can bring to young people. Our culinary students got to walk the two-mile parade route alongside the Kellogg float, and the winning teams had the opportunity to demonstrate their recipes to attendees at the Kellogg tent.

We know first-hand how big of an impact programs like ours can have on young people in under-resourced communities. We see it every day. That’s why it means even more to see organizations like Kellogg and their Away From Home team that are dedicated to supporting community initiatives like ours. For these 30 teens in Chicago—a small fraction of the 3 billion people for whom Kellogg is working to create better days by the end of 2030—the impact of this competition and experience will be felt for decades to come.

Visit the After School Matters website to see how you can support them.


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