An Energy Company’s Strategy to Keep Chicago Students in School

We recently posed the question: "Will Exelon’s Funding Move Away from Chicago with This Leadership Change?" after the energy company hired a new philanthropy executive who will be based in Washington, D.C. Local nonprofits may have been a bit worried at first, but Exelon has emphasized that its philanthropic approach in the city and state would not be changing. The news of a recently renewed commitment is now helping to solidify those reassuring words, especially in terms of education.

Exelon created the Stay in School Initiative 11 years ago with ComEd and the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago. In short, it’s a mentoring program aimed at boosting graduation rates in Chicago Public Schools. For a bit of background, Exelon is a Fortune 100 energy company based in Chicago with the largest number of utility customers in the U.S., and ComEd is a unit of Exelon that provides service to approximately 3.8 million customers across Northern Illinois.

The energy company has chosen to stay the course with this initiative and continue funding it for the 11th year in a row, and for good reason. According to the 2015-16 Report Card, around 92 percent of students who actively participated in the initiative were excelling academically and eligible for graduation. And the percentage of students with 90 percent school attendance went up significantly in 2016 from 2015’s 77.8 percent.

School dropout rates have traditionally been the highest in the Austin, Humboldt Park/West Town, Bridgeport, Cicero, North Lawndale, and Grand Crossing neighborhoods, and this is where the initiative is most at work. And the energy company credits the initiative’s success to its wide variety of offerings, which include parent involvement classes, skill-building workshops, social services, and afterschool programs.

There are six community partners (i.e. local nonprofits receiving Exelon's support) that are involved in this effort: B.U.I.L.D. Inc., Corazon Community Services, Gary Comer Youth Center, Project: VISION, Young Men’s Educational Network’s, and Youth & Opportunity United.

“The students we serve through the Stay in School program have not always been given the resources and opportunities they deserve,” Steve Solomon, president of the Exelon Foundation, said in a press release. “For the past 11 years, Exelon and its partners have worked to give students the support they need to help their education and prepare for the future. We are so proud of what the students have been able to accomplish.”

Employees of both Exelon and ComEd volunteer as mentors as part of the initiative’s programs and focus on things like resume writing, networking, and interviewing for corporate jobs. Stay-in-school efforts and mentoring programs continue to be key strongholds for this corporate funder, but other educational areas of interest have surrounded STEM education projects. In 2015, Exelon contributed over $7.1 million to the education program area, which represented 22 percent of its total giving last year.

ComEd’s Senior Vice President, Fidel Marquez, shared at a student event:

We created this initiative to keep you students on track for graduation and you’ll hear more about the recent successes here today. Again, I can’t stress enough that what really makes this program work is our mentors not only in ComEd and Exelon but with all the agencies we work with as well. One of our top priorities in our organization is education; that’s where we invest our time and volunteer efforts; we invest resources to further STEM education throughout northern Illinois. It’s also a way to help students with diverse backgrounds, again, to invest in your future.

Sign up for an account on Exelon’s grants website to apply for education program funding and event funding in Chicago.