WITS is proud to honor 14 individuals who laid the foundation for creating the organization we are today.
“I’m a reader and I want everyone else to be readers.” Grace Chun is an empowered parent who believed in and supported Rochelle Lee’s vision of making reading a part of children’s lives.
Meeting Rochelle during her sons’ enrollment at Oscar Mayer Elementary, Grace became involved as a volunteer at the school library. Alongside other invested parents, Grace volunteered to help Rochelle keep the doors to her inspiring library open and to welcome to students. As a vehicle for community building, the library was more than just a site for reading. The library offered students a place to explore books, volunteer, and learn from members of the community. Rochelle’s library engaged students in a way that fostered meaningful connections between literacy and their lives. Grace recalls that sustaining the activity held in the Oscar Mayer library required a lot of energy, but ultimately was a very fun time devoted to enhancing the education of students.
Upon Rochelle’s retirement, Grace along with a few other committed Oscar Mayer parents and family members decided that they wanted to share her passion for reading with other schools. Working together almost every day from Rochelle’s house they launched the Rochelle Lee Fund to celebrate her legacy of inspiring young readers. Since, “Rochelle was a staunch believer that everyone should read regardless of what it was they wanted to read,” providing students access to high-interest books became a pillar of the organization. The Rochelle Lee Teacher Award was formed to underwrite classroom libraries and provide workshops on effective literacy teaching practices – stemming from the conviction that teachers play an integral role in developing students’ love of reading. Through working with principals and a network of involved teachers, Grace helped the Rochelle Lee Teacher Award grow from a neighborhood organization to a renowned citywide professional development program for teachers that has distributed over 1.5 million books to classrooms throughout Chicago.
In 2015, to expand its reach, the Rochelle Lee Teacher Award became a part of the WITS program portfolio. As a result, the Combined Classrooms model was created, joining Rochelle Lee Teacher Awardees with WITS volunteers, further driving student outcomes and sharing the joy of reading. While Grace has loved seeing the growth of the Rochelle Lee Teacher Award, it is this collaboration that most excites her in WITS’ 25th year. “Rochelle would have been very pleased with all of this,” Grace reflects while looking back at the impact on the lives of students that has been and still is being made by great volunteers and partner teachers.