Newsmakers Making A Difference: Alex Scheidemantel, Pitch In

Lisa Fielding
August 14, 2018 - 7:13 am

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- It's a Thursday morning at Lawndale Community Academy, 3500 W Douglas Boulevard, and Alex Scheidemantel leads a group of soon to be 8th grade students in a photography lesson.

"So what are you guys going to photograph today? The garden? Basketball?" she asks a group of preteens, who is spending the next three hours learning how to take pictures. 

Scheidemantel is the Director for the Wood Family Foundation's Pitch In Program which began in 2014.

"Kerry and Sarah Wood are our founders. For awhile we were doing those baseball programs where we formed great relationships with students over the week and it just wasn't enough. We wanted more," she said. "That kind of helped birth this idea of where can we build long standing relationships in the community and go deeper and spend more time with families and students." 

Wood is a former pitcher for the Chicago Cubs who, along with his wife, founded the Wood Family Foundation in 2011. 

Pitch In started working with Lawndale Community Academy with a "Warm Wishes" program around the holidays.

"It's our holiday school adoption program. This was one of the schools we selected to transform over the holidays. Every student got a coat and some toys that they requested. Through that, we built great relationships there. We kind of saw there wasn't a ton happening, there wasn't extracurricular. It looked like a school that could definitely benefit from more support after school so we decided to pilot our program here." 

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

Scheidemantel said they even got their own recreation room. The students meet once a week after school with mentors who work with them throughout the program.

"We start with a group of 25 fourth graders and we follow them through the 8th grade. We are a five year program. That's one of the unique, special things about us and each year we take on a new cadre of fourth grade students." 

During the course of the year, students learn about money, personal branding, theater and other careers.

"Each month is a different theme. It's a lot of social, emotional learning. We bring in academic support as we meet with teachers and see areas where our program can really lean in and help to boost grades," Scheidemantel said. 

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

Pitch In serves about 85 students at Lawndale and 2019 will mark a special milestone.

"We'll have five years officially next year. This is our 8th grade big graduation year for that first group that started in 2014. They'll find out soon where they're going to high school. We're just trying to prepare them to transition."

Pitch In bridges that gap between elementary and high school. The program is designed to make sure these young people make smart choices.

"It is an area of high crime and there's lots of gang activity and there are other appealing options where you could make some money and do different things and so we are really trying to tell students there are a lot of better opportunities for them," she said.

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

"At first I was nervous," said Tominique Moffett, 13, who started the program when she was in 4th grade.

"I love the program. I learned how to be a leader, not a follower. I love the field trips. I feel more comfortable now that I've made friends," she said.

Moffett will attend Whitney Young Magnet High School in the fall of 2019. 

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

For Sheidemantel, she said she sees the evolution of these children who otherwise might not have a great chance in life.

"We've taken kids on their first camping trip, the first time they've seen a lake, canoed or gone fishing. We've taken them on a helicopter tour, one of a kind experiences," she said. "I've seen more confidence, they aren't as afraid to speak in public. I think they are proud to showcase what they've accomplished in our program and I think they feel more competent and ready to take on the next phase of high school."

Pitch In is launching at its second school this fall, Richard Yates Elementary School in Humboldt Park.

"We're incredibility excited to be welcoming another group of 4th graders there. It's a primarily Latino school. We're enrolling students as we speak." 

And even more expansion is on the horizon.

"We hope to be in ten schools by 2023," she said.

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

For Scheidemantel, Pitch In's mission has become her own in more ways than one. 

"The kids definitely feel like my own kids. It's a big responsibility. Each year, you realize how important the growing is. I become so attached to these kids. Everyone grows up different. We can't help where we're born. For me, it's been great perspective how important equality is. You don't see it everywhere. I think it's a personal responsibility to do the work we're doing and try and make positive things more accessible to everyone in the city," she said. 

The Wood Family Foundation is always looking for volunteer mentors. For more information about the Pitch In program, log onto www.wffpitchin.org.

"We're not just an after school program we are really part of the school community," Scheidemantel said.

As WBBM celebrates its 50th anniversary as Newsradio, this year we’ll be honoring 50 Newsmakers making a difference in the community.  Listen for reports each Tuesday.

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