Mellody Hobson for After School Matters
by paige wiser
Time, it seems, obeys Mellody Hobson. So when she was asked to chair the nonprofit program After School Matters, the head of Ariel Investments found a few hours a day more than the rest of us have. Hobson already serves on the boards of the Chicago Public Education Fund, the Field Museum, and the Sundance Institute, as well as being a director of the Starbucks Corporation, The Estée Lauder Companies, Dreamworks Animation SKG, and Groupon. But getting involved with After School Matters was an honor she couldn’t pass up. “This spoke to me,” says Hobson. “I believe you make time for things that are really, really important to you.”
The program was created by the late First Lady Maggie Daley to give high school teens an innovative way to explore different interests. Since 1991, After School Matters has taught 100,000 kids through a network of public and private partnerships, with artist Dale Chihuly overseeing the creation of glass chandeliers for O’Hare International Airport, and Magic Johnson leading a master class. “These are kids who can’t afford ballet lessons; they can’t afford to go to a science camp,” says Hobson. “This should be a time for exploration.”
Building on Daley’s “vision and her empathy,” says Hobson, her first order of business is to expand the apprenticeship program. “We work with 22,000 kids a year now,” she says. “We had 6,000 teens in the program this summer, but we had 30,000 applications. It’s like an Ivy League school, trying to get in.” She’ll be bringing back winter and spring sessions and trying to raise money to accommodate more teens. “I want to make sure that every teen has the opportunity to pursue his or her dreams,” says Hobson.
The overachiever knows the value of learning outside the classroom. As the youngest of six kids raised by a single mother, Hobson moved around a lot, but spent time in Lake Point Tower. At St. Ignatius College Prep, she first learned how to multitask. She wrote a column for the school paper, took part in school plays, joined the speech club, the French club, Students Against Drunk Driving—you name it. “I was after school for many hours,” laughs Hobson. “I think I turned out okay.”
After graduating from Princeton, she joined Ariel, where she rose from intern to president in less than a decade. She started giving back to kids at Ariel Community Academy, a magnet school with progressive approaches such as giving each first-grade class $20,000 in real dollars to invest.
Hobson has added more hours to her day for a personal life, too. Since 2006, she’s been dating producer George Lucas, and the pair have been spotted by the paparazzi at the Oscars and in Cannes. “Every single day I think, How did I get so lucky?” she says.
She hopes that After School Matters will create some luck for Chicago’s next generation. “I go and watch them, and I cry,” she says, tearing up right then. “Not because I’m some crazy sap, but because you feel this enthusiasm and optimism that floods your senses. You can just see how much is ahead for them.”
photography by katrina wittkamp