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Michelle, Rahm’s wife boost program

Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama

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Updated: August 19, 2013 3:48PM

WASHINGTON — First lady Michelle Obama, back home in Chicago, on Thursday will visit with students participating in a jobs skills program run by Urban Alliance Chicago, giving a major boost to a group — in the city less than a year — that is the main “cause” of Amy Rule, wife of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Rule brought Urban Alliance, headquartered here, to Chicago, with the non-profit group launching its Chicago branch last September. The organization mentors disadvantaged teens and places them in paid internships. Rule learned about Urban Alliance while living here when Emanuel was chief of staff for President Barack Obama.

If you wonder why Mrs. Obama picked this non-profit to visit, the answer is — no surprise — that it has the right connections.

Rule is the co-chair of the Chicago office of Urban Alliance, along with Katie McCormick Lelyveld, Mrs. Obama’s former press secretary, now the communications director at Chicago’s Joyce Foundation.

Mrs. Obama’s team got a heads up about Urban Alliance Chicago from Rule and last Thursday when the White House told the organization that Mrs. Obama wanted to meet some of their students — a once-in-a-lifetime mentoring event.

During the first term, Mrs. Obama, a South Sider, rarely focused on Chicago-specific issues. This year, she has stepped up her involvement in trying to help disadvantaged youths in her hometown.

After attending the Feb. 9 funeral in Chicago for Hadiya Pendleton, the teen shot to death Jan. 29 near the Obamas’ Kenwood home, Mrs. Obama’s team asked City Hall how she could help curb youth violence. That resulted in her April 10 visit to boost Emanuel’s drive to raise $50 million to bankroll programs for at-risk youths.

On that day, she also met with a group of Harper High School students — and saw them again in June, when she hosted the same teens at the White House.

In Chicago, Urban Alliance is working with 71 students from six South and Southwest Side public high schools who were not necessarily on track to go to college.

Last September, the students started six weeks of professional development training: counseling on how to dress for work, how to write a professional e-mail and how important it is to show up on time among the topics.

In mid-October the youths started paid internships with a variety of Chicago companies, putting in three hours each afternoon Monday through Thursday. For example, at Walgreens an Urban Alliance student works with social media staffers; the Bulls intern is part of the support staff in the community relations department.

On Friday, the teens head to Urban Alliance’s office for workshops. There has been a lot of emphasis on going to college and financial help that may be available to the kids.

The budget for the Chicago operation is $1.1 million for 2013. Most of the funding comes from the companies participating in the program. They pay $12,500 per youth, with half the money for salary and the rest to run the organization.

The group plans to serve 150 students next fall, expanding into more high schools.

The late Maggie Daley, wife of former Mayor Richard M. Daley, while very well-intentioned, let the charity she founded, After School Matters, get funds through the “Chicago way.”

The city’s inspector general determined in 2011 that her group received $915,000 in contributions over a 10-year period from companies that got subsidies from the city. Rule has sent out the word — very clearly, I’m told — that Urban Alliance Chicago would not be a pay to play.

And that’s good to hear.

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