A Mentor Can Make All the Difference

A Mentor Can Make All the Difference

Every few weeks, Chicago attorney and entrepreneur Curtis Tarver has an important, can’t-miss meeting. The busy father of two young children picks up food and prepares for an agenda that might include anything from popular songs to favorite teachers or academic obstacles.

Tarver is a mentor to four middle school students through Big Shoulders Fund. Knowing some of the children in the program may lack a connection with an African-American male role model, he is committed to consistency. “If I say I’m going to show up, I show up,” he said. “Even without a specific script, it matters just that you’re there.”

Tarver is a big supporter of efforts to diversify the Big Shoulders organization, so when Big Shoulders President and CEO Joshua Hale mentioned the need to recruit more African-American men as mentors, Tarver organized an event at his South Loop brewery, Vice District Brewing. He invited a couple dozen friends with whom he regularly breakfasts to meet with Hale and Co-Chairman John Canning.

Curtis Tarver and mentoring group at Vice District Brewing“He has put his foot on the gas pedal for this,” said Hale, adding that many of the men Tarver invited to the event are now involved in Big Shoulders. “They’re doing it because they’re nice and civic-minded individuals, but also because a guy like Curtis is so well thought of, they thought, ‘If Curtis is involved, I should be involved as well.’”

Tarver said Big Shoulders Fund’s programming and purpose made it an easy sell to the group. They agreed, “It’s important for [the students] to see someone who looks like them and who can say to them, ‘I came from the same neighborhood you come from,’” Tarver explained. “It makes it a little more real for them.”

His own connection to Catholic schools goes back to childhood. “I’ve always been passionate about Catholic education. It had a big impact on my life,” said Tarver, who grew up in Morgan Park and attended Marian Catholic High School until his parents could no longer afford it. The transition he had to make after leaving Catholic school reinforced his desire to be involved with an organization that makes it possible for financially struggling families to keep their kids in a Catholic school.

After high school, Tarver graduated from Iowa State University and earned a law degree from the University of Iowa. He worked for a midsize law firm and in former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s office before starting his own law firm. Two years ago, he followed another passion and opened Vice District Brewing with a neighbor.

He started mentoring students through Big Shoulders at St. Elizabeth in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, the school his uncles and father also attended. He said the importance of a faith-based education was clear to his family even during times of hardship. “They were in housing projects, but they knew what they had to do to send their kids to St. Elizabeth,” he said.

For Tarver, mentoring is a way for him to repay those who saw something in him. “I always had someone who took me aside and said, ‘Hey, you’re a smart kid with a bad attitude’ and then helped keep me on the right path,” said Tarver, who lives in North Kenwood with his wife and children. “But these kids are far brighter than I was at their age. I’d be doing the entire world a disservice if I didn’t help out these kids, who are going to do really great things.”

Teacher Development Program Application Now Available – Deadline June 17th!

Teacher Development Program Application Now Available – Deadline June 17th!

Studying to become a teacher? Learn how the Teacher Development Program can help you finish your degree and support you in your first years in the classroom!

The Big Shoulders Fund Teacher Development Program (Big Shoulders TDP) recruits, prepares, and develops quality teachers to serve in Big Shoulders Fund schools. Big Shoulders TDP teachers are committed to three pillars that drive their work:community, excellence, and leadership.

The Big Shoulders TDP is a multi-year professional development program that offers a variety of supports specific to the candidate. In partnership with local universities – DePaul University and Loyola University at Chicago – Big Shoulders TDP provides tuition assistance, tutoring and clinical placement opportunities, and guidance on job selection. After graduation, a candidate will receive up to three years of customized coaching and professional development.

Currently, the Big Shoulders TDP supports pre-service teachers – two years from degree-completion – interested in pursuing an Illinois Professional Educator License and its associated endorsements, and in-service teachers in their first through third years in the classroom. The Big Shoulders TDP is actively recruiting pre-service teachers to participate, giving preference to those interested in focusing on STEM education.

Interested? Visit the Teacher Development Program page to learn more.

Extension Opportunities for former Brush Creek Ranch Students

Extension Opportunities for former Brush Creek Ranch Students

Check out these two fantastic extension opportunities for former Brush Creek students to apply for: an Action Research Mini-Grant and a Junior Counselor Position. Applications for both are due March 18, 2016.


Action Research Mini-Grant
Any current elementary student, who has attended Brush Creek in past years, is eligible to apply for an Action Research Mini-Grant. Students may receive up to $500 to design, launch, and implement an action research project that sustains the learning Brush Creek Ranch Science Enrichment experience. Projects that have received funding in the past include a school-wide recycling initiative, a coordinated neighborhood clean-up, and after-school science clubs.


Interested students must to the following:

  1. Identify a Teacher Mentor to advise and oversee the project.
  2. Confirm support from the school principal.
  3. Complete the BCR Action Research Project Application by March 18, 2016.


Junior Counselor Position (current 10th, 11th, and 12th graders preferred)

Former Brush Creek Ranch students who will be rising high school Juniors, Seniors, and graduates in the summer of 2016 (currently in 10th, 11th, or 12th grade) are eligible to apply for the Jr. Counselor Position, who will accompany students and chaperones during the one-week trip to Staddle Camp at Brush Creek Ranch. Rising sophomores may apply, but upper classmen will be given preference. Jr. Counselors will be responsible aiding the implementation of daily programming and support students as they complete various activities. All Jr. Counselors will be trained in CPR and First Aid prior to their trip. This application process is competitive with a limited number of Jr. Counselor positions available.


Interested students must:

  1. Be a former BCR scholar who is currently in grades: 10th, 11th, or 12th
  2. Be highly motivated, engaged, and exhibit leadership abilities.
  3. Be available to spend a week at Staddle Camp during Summer, 2016.
  4. Complete the BCR Jr. Counselor Application by March 18, 2016.


If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact Eliza Bryant, Director, Academic Programs and Enrichment, at ebryant@bigshouldersfund.org.

Big Shoulders Fund Helps Transform Struggling Schools

Big Shoulders Fund Helps Transform Struggling Schools

“We simply wouldn’t be here without Big Shoulders,” said Denise Spells, principal at St. Ethelreda School on Chicago’s South Side. This is a constant refrain from principals at Big Shoulders Fund schools.

St. Ethelreda and six other schools faced challenging financial and operating conditions in serving their communities. In response, Big Shoulders Fund agreed to temporarily take on the majority financial responsibility for these schools during a three-year period, along with helping the schools to address key operating issues. Big Shoulders increased its commitment from seven to ten schools starting in the 2015-16 school year, and is working with these schools to improve in both the short and long-term.

See how the Covered Schools Initiative is transforming these schools.