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Chicago’s First Lady Amy Rule gives inaugural interviews to promote jobs program

Students participate an Urban Alliance workshop non-profit brought from DC by Amy Rule Friday December 14 2012 ColumbiCollege Chicago. Amy

Students participate in an Urban Alliance workshop, a non-profit brought from DC by Amy Rule, on Friday, December 14, 2012 at Columbia College Chicago. Amy Rule sits in on the workshop. I Stacie Scott~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 17, 2013 6:32AM

She speaks.

Amy Rule, Chicago’s First Lady, gave her first interviews Friday since her husband Rahm Emanuel was elected mayor in 2011. Rule arranged the press event to promote Urban Alliance, a Washington D.C.-based non-profit now in Chicago that offers public high school students professional jobs and intense job training.

“I haven’t really had anything of civic interest to share,” Rule said, surrounded by five Chicago high school seniors who participate in Urban Alliance. “One public person in the family is enough, in my opinion.”

While she hasn’t been making headlines, since the start of 2012, Rule has been busy networking with Chicago businesses, trying to find companies who would commit to employing a Chicago public high school student for 12 hours a week during the school year and full-time over the summer.

“Most people who are parents would do anything to open doors or make connections for their children,” Rule said. “And we were able to do that for these students.”

Seventy-one high school seniors from six Chicago public schools already have made it through weeks of training, learning things like professional dress and appropriate office etiquette. The students were then matched with companies, like the Chicago Bulls, Ariel Investments or CNA, where they work Monday through Thursday after school. On Fridays, they attend skills training, a class that Rule often participates in.

Rule learned about the organization in Washington D.C., calling it a “game changer” for the students. Urban Alliance staff surveyed Chicago non-profits to make sure a similar program for public school students didn’t exist here before starting to connect with businesses in February 2012.

“I thought we should try to do it here,” she said. “And here we are.”

Rule and Emanuel married in 1994. A former employee of the Art Institute of Chicago and City Hall, Rule stopped working outside the home when her first child was born. The couple have three children, Zacharia, Ilana and Leah.

Those on the Chicago party circuit might know her — she’s hit a few benefits with Emanuel. And in what was considered her first official act, Rule joined Governor Pat Quinn on a March trip to Brussels to promote Chicago at NATO headquarters.

But Rule’s First Lady profile has been so low-key, it’s questionable if most Chicago residents would recognize her or her name. That was the case for the five Urban Alliance students chosen to sit in the interview with Rule, all who found out her husband was the mayor on Thursday or Friday. They seemed more impressed that she never told them.

“I thought that it said a lot about you,” said Briana Miller, 17, a Dunbar senior who is working at Burson-Marsteller. “You’re obviously like, really, really down to earth and humble. I think that’s awesome you being who you are.”

Rule isn’t the only power player the students are hobnobbing with. Tony Martinez, 17, a Hubbard High School senior working at Ariel Investments, said he met Ariel founder John Rogers, Jr. and president Mellody Hobson while attending the company’s holiday party.

“I was kind of nervous,” he said. “It was really a new experience.”

He was comfortable enough to take a turn at the karaoke mic, however, singing Maroon 5’s “She Will Be Loved” for partygoers.

Rule didn’t speak about Emanuel during the interview except to say “he’s happy if I’m happy” when asked what the mayor thinks of her involvement with Urban Alliance.

The non-profit receives no city or state money, she said, adding she hasn’t used Emanuel’s position as a selling point when trying to get businesses to participate.

She will be speaking to more businesses in the coming days. The program serves 200 students in Washington D.C., students from every public high school there. She has similar ambitions for Chicago, but couldn’t say at this point how much time she would be spending on the non-profit or if Chicago residents will be seeing more of her in the coming days.

“We’re hoping to expand our program rather dramatically so we have a lot of work to do,” she said.

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