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Movie mogul Lucas donates $25 million to After School Matters

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Updated: January 6, 2014 12:58PM



Movie mogul George Lucas of Star Wars fame on Wednesday made a $25 million gift to After School Matters, the award-wining arts and education program chaired by his wife and founded by former First Lady Maggie Daley.

Board Chair Mellody Hobson announced the extraordinary gift from her husband’s movie-making fortune at the Gallery 37 Center for the Arts, 66 E. Randolph, as Lucas sat glowing in the front row.

“George and I are just really excited to make this gift to the teens of Chicago . . . because we believe — and you all know that I’m in the investment business — that investing in young people is the best investment of all. There is no better use of money,” said Hobson, president of Ariel Investments.

Choking back tears, Hobson then thanked the man she married last summer at a star-studded lakefront wedding “for sharing the fruits of his movie-making” with Chicago teens.

“This is a very generous thing that he’s doing for the adopted city that he spends a lot of time in now, Chicago. I’m sure he never imagined that in all of his creative brain,” Hobson said.

With Mayor Rahm Emanuel standing a few feet away, Hobson paid homage to Maggie Daley, who took an embarrassing hole in the heart of the Loop and turned it into an arts and education program admired and duplicated around the world.

The wife of former Mayor Richard M. Daley died of breast cancer two years ago.

“I cannot help but to think about Maggie Daley and all that she did to make After School Matters what it is. She poured her heart and soul into this organization and into these programs,” Hobson said.

“It’s really poetic that we’re making this announcement two years after she passed away . . . which still leaves us with a little bit of sadness because we loved her so much and we still miss her. But the one thing I feel about this gift is that she will know in heaven the teens of Chicago are being looked after.”

Hobson said the $25 million gift — paid in five, $5 million installments — would be used to reinstate the stipend that After School Matters pays to all 22,000 participating teens.

Restored stipends paid to students during the school year range from $275 to $425 for each of the fall and spring sessions. The range depends on the number of days in session and the level of participation.

Teens participating in the summer program get anywhere from $336 to $761.

Two years ago, a decline in fundraising tied to the recession forced After School Matters to discontinue stipends during fall and spring, while continuing to pay students during the summer.

“What I felt — and what we saw happen — is teens who love our programs, want to be there, want to fulfill and explore all of their interests unable to come because of basic economics. Don’t have bus fare. Don’t have money when they get here to even buy a snack. Then maybe, their families need them to actually work,” Hobson said.

“Restoring these stipends from the day that I started as board chair has been my No. 1 goal because I knew we have an unbelievable program. Yet, not having those most in need show up because of bus fare just didn’t seem right to me.”

A portion of the gift will also be used to create, what Hobson called “challenge grants” over the next five years with the purpose of creating an “endowment that will sustain the stipend” for many years to come.

“This is not a hit-and-run. This is the building of a future that will be very, very solid for After School Matters,” she said.

Emanuel called Hobson and Lucas a “classic example of why Chicago stands out” among big cities.

“For our kids to live up to their full potential, we as adults have to live up to our full responsibility. And I cannot thank you enough, both of you, for your generosity and also for living up to your responsibility,” he said.

He told Lucas, “I know it’s your adopted home. Welcome home, George. ”

The mayor then marveled at how an after school program that began with a few hundred kids on a dirt lot at Block 37 turned into a program for 22,000 kids duplicated around the nation and the world.

“During those crucial hours between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. — winter, spring, summer and fall — they have a safe place. They have an adult that cares about them. And I say this as a former dancer — they have an ability to find something out about themselves after school that they can’t just find out any other way. . . . They can discover something about themselves,” Emanuel said.

Lucas, who is more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it, never did take the podium.

Asked why he gave $25 million to Chicago’s at-risk teens, Lucas said, “It’s an amazing, amazing program. It’s really fantastic . . . to see what goes on here.”

Email: fspielman@suntimes.com

Twitter: @fspielman



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