At The James, we believe in giving back – whether it’s through the time we volunteer, the products we purchase or the resources we donate. So much of this philosophy is driven by our team members, who actively look for ways to support the communities where they live.

That’s why when we were approached by WITS (Working in the Schools) a few years back, it seemed like the perfect convergence of community, education and workplace opportunities to give back. WITS promotes literacy and a love of learning in Chicago Public School elementary students through a volunteer-powered, outcomes-based portfolio of programs. What that means for us is that every week during the school year our team in Chicago volunteers their time (often coming in for shifts early or staying late) to read with a fifth grader from a local elementary school and help them with their homework.

Below, see how WITS is taking a holistic approach to building communities and empowering readers in Chicago through five key facts.  

1. Community Beginnings
WITS was founded 25 years ago by Joanne Alter and Marion Stone who had befriended a teacher at Byrd Academy. Through this friendship they came to realize that students needed 1:1 reading time with caring adults to help them get up to grade reading level. Alter and Stone were inspired to act and cleaned up the school’s library, spent time reading with kids and when they saw improvement, the idea for WITS was born.

2. By The Numbers
Today, WITS has 1850 volunteers and 164 teachers that serve 8,000 elementary students and 89 Chicago schools. And it’s their time that’s extremely valuable. This year alone, WITS volunteers invested 36,000 hours into mentoring elementary students – a total of nearly 1 million dollars.

3. Results
Guess what? It works. 86% of teachers say that WITS has had a positive impact on their students. 95% of volunteers feel rewarded by the relationships they develop. And perhaps most importantly, 73% of students say it improved their overall attitude towards reading and schoolwork.

4. Recognizing Teachers
In January 2015, Boundless Readers became part of WITS, along with its flagship program, the Rochelle Lee Teacher Award. Named in honor of Rochelle Lee, a CPS teacher and librarian who inspired generations of leaders, the competitive essay based competition draws nearly 300 applicants a year. Continually, it is awarded to the CPS teachers that embody the same spirit as Lee herself.

5. Get Involved
Chicagoans, take heart. There are a plethora of volunteer opportunities to get involved, from WITS on the Weekend to WITSummer in the Park. Even if you’re not a Windy City native, you can still give back to the kids through program support, individual donations or even book donations.

Want to know more? Follow along with literacy progress using #IAMWITS, a movement to build a more literate Chicago.