Living The Dream: Everyone Deserves One Good Chance

Harvard College GraduationImagine how magnificent our world would be if every person got at least one good chance in life and made the most of it.  It’s easy for me to envision this right now, after I spent last week attended Harvard graduation events. The speeches, the exemplary lives honored and the hope for the future on display everywhere inspired this.

I was at HarvPatricia Grahamard’s commencement to celebrate with the Honorary Degree recipients. The group of ten included two of my friends, who also have been featured in Make It Better : Patricia Graham and Renee Fleming. A third recipient – Honorable Deval Patrick. – has a strong Chicago connection. He descended from slaves, grew up on the south side and was the first person in his family to attend college. After completing his eight year tenure as Governor of Massachusetts last year, Deval dove into the innovative and hopeful field of social impact investing at Bain Capital.

Of course, the other honorary degree recipients were inspiring too.  The entire list also includes:

Svetlana L. Alpers

Robert Axelrod

Wallace S. Broecker

Linda B. Buck

Denis Mukwege

Deval L. Patrick

Peter Salovey

Bryan Stevenson

Harvard College Honorary Degree Recipients 2015“We got our chances and lived up to them.” -Honorable Deval Patrick’s acceptance on behalf of all honorary degree recipients.

This is the statement that got me thinking about the possibilities inherent in our American society to give every person around the world at least one good chance in life.  We have the wealth, freedom, democratic structure and abundant good intentions to realize this magnificent dream – sooner, rather than later.  The dream to give every person at least one good chance, every family at least one good resource to help, and every child a caring village of support.

Deval Patrick

Deval Patrick

Every child should have at least one person who sees their potential and helps them develop it.  Every family should have at least one good community resource to help them with whatever struggle they face. Some type of committed, loving community should be available to everyone.

Our country’s vast resources can and should more readily align around the most effective problem solving programs and institutions to accomplish this.  Honorary degree recipient Patricia A. Graham serves as an example of someone who has consistently worked towards this and has had great impact.

“She not only illuminated the history of education, she made it.” – Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust’s comments about Patricia A. Graham.

I couldn’t be more proud of my association with Pat Graham.  I’m so fortunate to have her as my Godmother.   She is also a role model for everyone else, as well. Her career as a teacher, historian of education, federal agency director, author, first female dean of Harvard, president or chair of multiple foundations, corporate board member, highly prized education expert nationally and internationally is extraordinary. She used each role to create more opportunities for women and the indigent while she also helped the politically displaced receive a better education while exercising common sense and wisdom on behalf of each institution.  She lifts up each person and program she touches.

Pat’s vision and influence is intertwined with America’s growing determination to better educate every child. It was particularly delightful to hear President Faust declare Pat a maker of history. Pat’s example continues to inspires me in my own life and my Make It Better publishing journey.  I hope her extraordinarily well-lived life will inspire you too.

“She is both diva and divine, known for her arias, but not for her airs.” Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust comments about Renee Fleming.

Opera star, literacy advocate, National Medal of Arts recipient, author, crossover singer, teacher, fashion icon, champion of new music, TV host, Creative Director of Lyric Opera of Chicago, proud mother of two.  Renee Fleming is all of this and more.

She describes her work as “beauty, humanity and history every day, combined with the joy of singing.” This may be true of all great opera singers.  What inspires me about Renee is what makes her different from other divas – her focus on including the most meaningful facets of a well-lived life that aren’t related to singing, despite the demands and opportunities of being “The Voice.”   Renee once explained to me that few international opera stars marry, have children and enjoy a great relationship with their offspring; they are too busy enjoying the opportunities and demands of an international career.

Renee FlemingRenee has always prioritized her kids, given back, focused more on others than herself, taken risks, tried new things and helped others.  She’s a natural collaborator and an out-of-the-box thinker, working ever smart to grow new audiences for the music she loves and new opportunities for the next generation of artists.  This is exactly the type of thinking and opportunity creating we need to achieve my dream of giving every person at least one good chance in life.

“It’s much better to fail while daring greatly than to be a bystander.” Harvard Graduate School of Education Dean Jim Ryan, quoting Teddy Roosevelt. Watch his speech here.Dean James Ryan, Harvard

It’s such an exciting time.  New technologies accelerate our knowledge and our ability to connect every day.  Good people can spread good ideas faster than ever too. For this reason, in my own small way, I have dared greatly too – with Make It Better Media. This has been a journey inspired by a belief that paying good fortune forward is the best way to grow something of enduring value.   With the help of so many good people and the inspiration others like the honorary degree recipients, I’m living a worthwhile dream.

As Make It Better Media accomplishes its’ mission to be the most trusted, easiest to use community resource and magazine that helps our audience make their lives and the lives of others better, we’re growing a valuable network of good. More good people, finding more good ways to help, giving at least one good chance in life to those who need it the most.



THE 5 Ps Of Effective Philanthropy

Effective fundraising made easy by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and Make It Better:

Fundraise Like The Pros In Honor of National Philanthropy Day

Etymologically, “philanthropy” means love of humankind.

According to Merriam Webster Dictionary, philanthropy means “the practice of giving time and money to help make life better for other people.”

However you define philanthropy or choose to practice it in your life, you can celebrate it this Saturday, Nov. 15 on National Philanthropy Day. This day is sponsored by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), which generates philanthropic support for a wide variety of charitable institutions.Philanthropy

The holiday is meant to recognize the great changes that philanthropy has brought to the world and to encourage people to work to better the lives of others. President Ronald Reagan officially proclaimed Nov. 15 as National Philanthropy Day in 1986.

Tips for Wise Giving (and How Make It Better Can Help):

According to the AFP, there are five Ps to wise giving: Passionate, Proactive, Prepare, Plan and Powerful.

Here is how Make It Better applies these five P’s to our philanthropic efforts. We would be honored to help your favorite nonprofit this way, too.

Power of PhilanthropyPassionate: At Make It Better, we support organizations run by people who are truly PASSIONATE about the work they do—whether they work to improve education, fight for social justice or save the environment. We believe the attitude behind an organization fuels its long-term success.

Proactive: Make It Better PROACTIVELY seeks organizations to partner with across the North Shore and the Greater Chicago Area that are working to grow their support network and spread their mission. We are always open to hearing from new nonprofits. You can connect with us through our website at or email our Philanthropy Editor, Maura Flaherty, at

Prepare: Once Make It Better decides to partner with your organization, we will PREPARE a contract called a media sponsorship agreement. This agreement allows us to learn as much information as we can about your organization’s history, mission and fundraising events and details your role as our partner.Prepare

Plan: Make It Better prefers to partner with an organization several months prior to important events or fundraisers so that we can PLAN the most effective editorial coverage around them.

Powerful: By planning which editorial coverage to use with your organization, such as placement on our Online Calendar of Events, Better Letter Sponsored Listing or in the Give Time, Things Support section of our magazine, Make It Better allows your organization to receive maximum impact and POWERFUL support from our readers and followers.

Beyond Sports Foundation!

EL Da- Sheon Nix radiates joy for his work with Beyond Sports student athletes. As he explains, “I came from the same kind of neighborhoods as these kids and what a difference this makes. This is my work, my passion, and my life.”

IMG_3758Showing off their brand new hardware.

YOU = Unlimited Potential

“We are Y.O.U. We are Unlimited Potential.”

Y.O.U, Youth Organizations Umbrella is a youth development agency that provides services and leadership to meet the emerging needs of young people and their families in our community. Their commitment to improving the academic and social lives of children within the community is truly inspiring.

Thanks to Seth Green and Youth Organizations Umbrella for caring about and inspiring me, as well as the kids Y.O.U. serves.

City Year – Answered The Kennedy Challenge

“Some men see things as they are and ask, why? I dream things that never were and ask, why not?” – Robert Kennedy

Two college friends – Michael Brown and Alan Khazei – dreamed up City Year for young adults to serve their country by mentoring students in struggling urban schools. Their roommate Michael Alter helped.

City Year launched in Boston in 1988. Great ideas blossom. Now City Year corps members now serve in 24 US cities, including Chicago.

City Year became the model for AmeriCorps too. Imagine that, college students dreaming up a model adopted by their national government!

Paul Rodriguez, Nicole Camboni, Carly Siuta, Cythia Diaz in the City Year Corps space in Schurz High School.

I visited the newest Chicago City Year school yesterday – Schurz.

Now I’m more inspired than ever.

City Year provides leadership and other skill development for the corps members, a loving connection with and demonstrable academic improvement by the students they mentor, support for the CPS teachers with whom they work, programs for parents and community service projects which bring the corporate world side by side with youth and corps members.

Win for the corps members.
Win for the students.
Win for the teachers.
Win for corporate service community.
Win for the parents.
Win for the entire school community.

The Hour Of Code Opportunity & Why All Schools Should Teach Code

To celebrate Computer Science Education Week (Dec. 9-15),–with the support of Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, the Boys & Girls Clubs, the College Board, the NSTA, NCTM, and dozens of other partners–is organizing the largest initiative of its kind: a campaign to get 10 million students of all ages to try computer science for one hour. I’m writing to ask your help.

A message from Hadi Partovi, founder of

What is the Hour of Code? For all grade levels, no experience needed.

It’s a one-hour intro to computer science for all ages–on a browser, smartphone, or even “unplugged.”  We invite teachers from all disciplines to host an Hour of Code in US classrooms during Computer Science Education Week. will provide tutorials that require no prior experience, featuring lectures by Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, as well as Angry Birds.

Recruit your entire school to participate.

Most students are intimidated by computer science. This campaign is a chance to inspire them to try and to expose all students to skills foundational to success in today’s world. Consider recruiting all your teachers to get involved: share this brochure, and this homemade how-to video. See here for details.

There will also be prizes for every educator!  Each one who hosts an Hour of Code will get a gift of 10GB of free DropBox storage. And one participating school in every state will win a full class-set of laptops. Just register your school’s participation by Nov. 1 to qualify.

Please, start planning now and help make a difference. Let’s make history, Dec 9-15.

Thanks for your support,

Hadi Partovi,


A message from Wendy Serrino, former President of New Trier High School’s Board of Education:

Dear School Administrators,

Learning how to program or code is a new kind of literacy for the young people of today. Coding is like learning to write or knowing algebra – it will be the entry skill many will need to get a good job in the future.

Did you know that one million of the best jobs in this country go unfilled? Those jobs are in the tech industry where they have an overwhelming demand for young people who know computer science and know how to code. The salaries, working environment, benefits, opportunities for advancement and to be creative are amazing in these fields.

You can see applications for coding everywhere – knowing how to code allows anyone to come up with an idea – create it themselves on their computer and to immediately have an impact on society. It allows the software developer to have a platform or a megaphone to communicate their idea. You can come up with an idea, press a button and have a million people see or use what you created.

You don’t have to be a genius to learn to code. If you like math, puzzles or problem solving in general, you will enjoy learning to program.

Creating software is really about helping people solve problems by using computer technology.

The sad part is that computer programming or coding is only taught in 10% of high schools. This is a skill that would greatly improve the odds for lower income students. Students at any level love to learn computer science because the knowledge can immediately be applied.

I have watched my own children learn and embrace computer science and I have seen first hand how much it has put them at an advantage in the job market. I wish those opportunities for all young people.

Please seriously consider adopting and promoting an full computer science curriculum in your high school. Your students will thank you!


Wendy Serrino

Former President

New Trier High School, District 223 Board Of Education

Please join me for a lively KIPP Character Talk

Please join me at the Winnetka Community House this Tuesday at 9 am for a discussion of the importance of character development in public schools.

Mounting evidence supports that good character ultimately is the key to success in life. The KIPP charter school model is so successful because of its’ emphasis on character development fundamentals.

Please see below for more information.


Impact 100 Chicago Awards $100,000 to Umoja

Marybeth Lernihan Impact 100 Chicago, Lila Leff Founder of Umoja, Ted Christians CEO of Umoja and Michele Polvere, Impact 100 Chicago

Marybeth Lernihan Impact 100 Chicago, Lila Leff Founder of Umoja, Ted Christians CEO of Umoja and Michele Polvere, Impact 100 Chicago

Impact 100 Chicago is a women’s philanthropic organization that annually awards $100,000 to a deserving organization.  This year, they awarded $127,000 to four Chicago-area nonprofits at their annual Grant Award Celebrations on June 6th.

This year’s main winner–the recipient of $100,000–was Umoja, an organization that partners with Chicago’s most challenged public high schools and helps reduce school violence, promotes academic success, and increases college enrollment.  The grant will be used specifically to expand its Restorative Justice Program at two high schools.  Kudos to them.

The remaining three finalists were ENLACE Chicago, La Casta Norte, and Sarah’s Inn, each receiving $9,000 for their work.  Find out more about Impact 100 Chicago and its amazing women here.


Woodlands Academy’s Conge Annual Fundraiser April 27th

Images from Woodlands Academy

The mission of the Woodlands Academy of the Sacred Heart in Lake Forest is to “inspire young hearts and minds to excel, to lead lives of integrity and to serve the community.”

For young women only, the school is committed to faith-based community building.  One-third of their students receive financial aid, all of which comes from their annual fundraiser and the school’s budget.

The fundraiser will be held on Saturday, April 27th at the Glenview Country Club, starting at 6pm.  Please attend and help support the school’s service-oriented young women.  More on the event is here.